Apart from one another, but together in spirit, Muslims in Connecticut and around the world are balancing religious law and science to celebrate the holy holiday of Ramadan.
Like the Christian Easter holiday that preceded it on the calendar, the coronavirus pandemic is disrupting Ramadan. However, Tark Aouadi, the executive director of the Council of American Islamic Relations in Connecticut said Muslims are adjusting and finding a new sense of community and togetherness through the power of technology.
“This year Ramadan is being celebrated differently than any other year in history,” said Aouadi. “We are no longer able to go to mosque, to break fast, like we have done for thousands of years. This pandemic has changed how we practice our religion; now it is all done online. We are still a communal faith and we are still bringing people together through a bond of religion and humanity during this time of chaos although we are separated physically.”
Health concerns associated with COVID-19 are requiring Muslims to modify traditions that would normally have them gathering in close quarters for prayer and community meals. Making use of digital platforms such as Skype, Zoom and Facebook Live, Aouadi said the 150,000 Muslims throughout Connecticut are praying at home with their families.
“This is a unique opportunity for us all to build our homes into places of worship, which they were intended to be in our religion anyway,” said Aouadi, who has been making good use of his five-person, in-home prayer room.
Under ordinary circumstances, Muslims pray together five times a day. Ramadan prayer typically begins around 9 p.m. after the nightly Isha prayer is over. Ramadan is a holy month of daytime fasting, which began this year on the evening of April 23, and will end on the evening of May 23 in the U.S. During Ramadan fasting, Muslims do not even allow themselves to drink water to signify control over their desires and strong self-discipline. They also practice devout prayer, reflective meditation, reading the Quran, and performing charitable deeds to promote the universal ideals and values of the Islamic faith such as peace, kindness, love and respect for others.
“The idea is that this [the fasting] helps us all to gain empathy for those less fortunate and this time is a big equalizer,” said Aouadi. “All Muslims, rich or poor, all fast together and feel empathy for their fellow man. It is also a time of charity and giving back.”
In addition to the usual fasting exceptions for pregnant women, the sick, the elderly, young children and travelers, some religious leaders have said medical workers treating coronavirus patients are also exempt from fasting this year.
“If someone cannot fast for any valid excuse, they can either make up the days or feed a poor person,” explained Aouadi. “If you intentionally miss fasting without a valid excuse, you need to feed 60 people.”
Each night the fast is broken at sundown, typically by sharing a communal meal at a mosque.
“This year we cannot do that, so instead we are praying and eating together remotely,” said Aouadi.
At the end of Ramadan is a celebration known as Eid al-Fitr, which takes place during the first three days of Shawwal (the month after Ramadan). During this time, parties are held, with the giving of presents and gathering together. This year the celebration will be modified accordingly, explained Aouadi.
“The good to come out of this is that the pandemic is causing all of us to slow down and make our lives a lot simpler, and to enjoy the simplicity of the moment. Hopefully, that will bleed over into the future, when this is all over, and we will continue to take it easier while still fulfilling our obligations,” said Aouadi.
There are 54 mosques throughout Connecticut. For information on remote access to Ramadan services, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 860-341-2247.