By Akilah James
Ramadan – the holiest month for Muslims around the world - is upon us. Every year, Muslims partake in a period of fasting and spiritual growth as a part of the five pillars of Islam. However, with strict rules put in place to limit the spread of the highly contagious COVID-19 disease, many of Ramadan’s rituals and festivities will be differently this year, again.
During the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims all over the world wake up early to eat a pre-dawn meal called Suhoor. They then fast for the remainder of the day, and break their fast after sunset with a meal called Iftaar. Iftaar is usually done communally, and it is extremely common for Muslims to gather in large groups to break their fasts together at a mosque.
Because of the pandemic, many people around the world have had to avoid large gatherings all together. The World Health Organization (WHO) released a guide that provides people with information on how to safely celebrate Ramadan.
According to the WHO: “If cancelling social and religious gatherings, where possible, virtual alternatives using platforms such as television, radio, digital, and social media can be used instead. If Ramadan gatherings are allowed to proceed, measures to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 transmission should be implemented.”
Since gathering in large crowds is not allowed in many places, iftaar gatherings have been cancelled and are being done in alternative ways. WHO suggests: “Avoid the crowded gathering associated with iftaar banquets, consider using individual pre-packaged boxes/servings of food. These can be organized by centralized entities and institutions, which should adhere to physical distancing throughout the whole cycle (collecting, packaging, storing and distribution).”
Balkissa Moru – a Muslim who regularly fasts during Ramadan believes the pandemic has side effects on people's spirits during what is supposed to be a time of joy.
“People cannot be together, we can't hug each other, we can’t shake hands, and we can’t eat or share food together. It is definitely dampening the spirits of Ramadan. Though this is a holy time, I just wish we could all be together.”
“I can’t imagine the effect that it has on some Muslims who are really struggling. When Ramadan comes around they know they will be surrounded by loved ones, but this time being all alone can really affect their mental health.”
While being in a pandemic affects many people's mental health, WHO encourages Muslims to keep their faith by reassuring that “the faithful can still reflect, improve, pray, share, and care – all from a healthy distance. Ensuring that family, friends, and elders are still engaged in light of physical distancing needs to be considered. Offering special prayers for the sick, alongside messages of hope and comfort, are methods to observe the tenants of Ramadan while maintaining public health.”
Fatou Sene Sall, a Muslim who is concerned about this year’s Ramadan, worries the less fortunate as well as Muslim elders may be having trouble with connectivity issues due to everything being online.
“Last year during Ramadan, we had to attend religious lectures through Zoom. Reciting the Qur’an and doing prayers was all so different,” said Fatou Sene Sall.
“It’s disappointing to see we are in the exact same position a year later. Going to the Mosque is something very important to me and to many Muslims alike. It is extremely difficult for people who are not fortunate enough to have things to connect them to the Internet, or even for the elders who do not know how to use a computer. It is very different from what they are used to. ”
While times are different during this year’s Ramadan, the City of Toronto is offering ways to help Muslims get through this difficult time. The Muslim Food Bank and Community Services Toronto are in collaboration with Muslim organizations to distribute food hampers through their Table of Mercy program.
For the duration of Ramadan and beyond the COVID-19 lockdown, they will be providing a weekly drive-through food hamper distribution at 65 Rexdale Blvd – offering healthy choices of staple food items.