Ridhwan Sediqe broke in on his birthday during Ramadan in 2020. Noah Sediqe / Ridhwan Sediqe hide the caption
Noah Sediqe / Ridhwan Sediqe
Safiyah Zaidi, 21, has always enjoyed celebrating Ramadan. Growing up in a Muslim household, she considers the month when Muslims fast from morning to night to be the best time of the year.
“You see all the friends you normally don’t see the rest of the year, and there is food, there is lectures … and just a real sense of community,” says Zaidi.
Zaidi says it feels surreal to be home another Ramadan because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but she wants to make the most of it.
“One thing we did this year and not last year is that we decorated a lot,” says Zaidi. “I think it is very important to have a physical reminder that it is now your month.”
On Tuesday April 13, Muslim communities in the US began fasting during the pandemic on their second Ramadan. Last year, Ramadan was early in the pandemic from April 24th. So many events, including mosque prayers and iftars, the dinner that breaks the fast of each day, have been canceled or rescheduled virtual. Although mosques and community organizations continue to host virtual events this year, some Islamic centers are holding face-to-face prayers. Muslim Americans are also thinking about how the pandemic has changed their fasting experiences.
While the communal aspects of Ramadan are essential to the experience, the month also focuses on charity, worship, and developing empathy and connection with others, according to Tom Cloyd, 66. a councilor on the Board of Directors of the Brushy Creek Islamic Center in Cedar Park, Texas.
“We have made a really big effort this year to achieve a lot,” says Cloyd.
The center hosts a variety of virtual events and lectures to target different parts of the community. During the weekend they have conversations that are held by and focus on Muslim women. Youth-oriented events take place on Sundays.
“We started creating a community iftar through Zoom,” says Cloyd. “We had just started last night and had 45 people signed up.”
The mosque conducts low capacity personal prayers and adheres to other guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Everyone must bring their own prayer rug and implement social distancing and a reservation system. Sometimes they also use the outside area to accommodate the numbers.
Decorations on Safiyah Zaidi’s table on the first day of Ramadan this year. Safiyah Zaidi hide caption
“You [people] want to be together. This is a time of community and people togetherness, “says Cloyd.
However, there is still a sense of insecurity due to the pandemic. Ridhwan Sediqe, 23, who usually lives in the Bay Area but is spending Ramadan with his family this year, says he will hold back from personally attending prayers at his mosque this Ramadan.
“The good thing is that our masjid [mosque] is live streaming so you can try and join in, “says Sediqe.
“I try to get involved with how people are doing in other areas, like setting up WhatsApp groups where we can keep each other informed of our progress trying to … do virtual reading circles. “
Meanwhile, Zaidi is delighted with the prospect that personal prayers may be held in her mosque. Last year it was a challenge for her to take part in countless virtual events on Zoom.
“It felt like the connection wasn’t that strong and intense,” she says. “They couldn’t make eye contact with the person giving the lectures.”
Spiritual connection during Ramadan
Luma Khabbaz, 24, The Chicago-based person found that by fasting during the pandemic, they appreciated a quieter Ramadan and the opportunity to spend more time with their family.
“I’d rather celebrate and watch … with my close family. I think there is such a fun camaraderie going to dinner parties, but you kind of lose track of those days,” says Khabbaz.
She also feels that she can connect more spiritually. She usually went to the mosque for tarawih, night prayers that Muslims observe during Ramadan, and listened to the imam reading the Quran during prayers. But instead she read passages herself last year.
“Something I was finally able to do is read the Quran for myself in the environment where I felt I was leading my own prayer,” she says.
Removing Ramadan from its more social and “fun” elements has helped her reaffirm her spiritual commitment.
Luma Khabbaz celebrates her first oath during the pandemic in 2020. Luma Khabbaz hides caption
“This is the ultimate test for me. If there’s no one here to hold me accountable, I’ll fast and study,” she says. She also looks forward to spending more time cooking. Khabbaz grew up on Syrian food, but plans to experiment with recipes from other cuisines.
“I’ll try to step it up,” she says. “Usually I just make something to eat, but maybe I’ll make a starter or a dessert.”
Hope for a “more normal” Ramadan
For many Muslims who are now vaccinated, there is more to expect this year than last Ramadan. Sediqe says he’s excited to be going to iftar picnics with his friends, who are also vaccinated.
“I think it will definitely not resemble anything before the pandemic,” says Sediqe.
“But I think it’s enough to be a reminder of what this room looks like that I can hold onto it and use that for something satisfying.”
Zaidi also plans to meet other vaccinated friends for potlucks safely and in small groups.
“We feel safe and secure enough because many of us live with older grandparents. That is why it is important that you have this security,” says Zaidi of the vaccination.
Zaidi says the pandemic has changed her perception of Ramadan as an experience. “It’s almost a very pure reflection of what the month is supposed to be about because it’s a month of collectivism and community,” she says.
“What better way to protect your community than making sure everyone is safe and healthy?”
Hadia Bakkar is an NPR intern at the National Desk.