Thursday evening, the monthlong celebration of Ramadan begins.
What’s supposed to be a month of fasting and reflection while surrounded by family is instead marked by social distancing for many people because of COVID-19.
Some mosques are still finding ways to observe the holiday through online gatherings and lessons.
One of those mosques is the Downtown Islamic Center, or DIC.
“Social distancing doesn’t need to be social isolation,” said Salman Azam, an executive board member at the mosque.
For Ramadan, they’ll be holding virtual gatherings, with someone from DIC reciting a chapter from the Quran each night. In addition, they’ll have a class on Arabic text translations.
Azam said it’s been a difficult transition because the holiday is so community-based. Typically on Fridays, the mosque would be filled with members praying.
During Ramadan, participants are fasting from sunup to sundown. In the evening, the fast is broken with iftar, the meal eaten after sunset. Traditionally dates are then eaten, then depending on the culture, participants could eat staples like dolmah, grape leaves stuffed with rice, or pakora, deep friend vegetable fritters.
“This year poses a difficulty because we won’t be breaking fast at a mosque or in large groups,” Azam said. “Sometimes the social nature makes it a bit easier — breaking fast is a tough thing to do.”
To accommodate people who might be eating alone, DIC created a virtual chat room. There, people can compare their food and share recipes. Azam says people have become better chefs during quarantine, so this is their opportunity to show off their new skills.
Azam said he hopes these accommodations will benefit their members who are largely younger and single people who live downtown. COVID-19 could grant them more work flexibility, allowing them to pray more often and read more of the Quran, he added.
“Every year people use Ramadan to get back on track,” Azam said. “This year might give people the opportunity to get ever more out of Ramadan.”