Muslim communities adapt to Ramadan during COVID

Houston Chronicle
Jamie Swinnerton, Staff writer
May 7, 2021

For Muslim communities across the world Ramadan is typically observed with daily fasting, packed community prayers, and communal meals after the breaking of the fast. This year, because of the pandemic, observance looks a little different.

Ramadan, a holy month and one of the five pillars of Islam, is a month of fasting, prayer, reflection, charity, and community. It lasts between 29 and 30 days, depending on the sighting of the crescent moon. This year, Ramadan started on April 12 and will last until Wednesday.

The Dawoodi Bohra community of The Woodlands, a branch of the Shiite sect of Islam, would typically have a full prayer room during Ramadan. As community members prayed their prayer mats would be lined up right next to each other, facing Mecca, in the temporary prayer space the Dawoodi Bohra’s have built in anticipation of building a more permanent structure.

Last year, all observances were done from home as houses of worship were closed and local and religious leaders were still navigating the early days of the pandemic. This year, while members of the community are able to come together to pray, the room is not nearly as packed as it usually would be as members socially distance. Only members who have been fully vaccinated come to the place of worship, and even as they pray they wear masks.

Different members take on different jobs for the community. When the vaccine became available, one of the member of the community was tasked with helping other members make vaccine appointments. At the community in The Woodlands, several members work in the medical field as doctors in different specialties, so maintaining health precautions was very important.

“It brought us more together,” said Shk Noorudin Yamani, the Imam of the Dawoodi Bohra community, of being able to congregate this year compared to last year. “Through the internet and the latest technology it helped us a lot. So, we were doing the same prayers every day, altogether at home. Everybody felt the same, they were all connected with each other.”

While Ramadan may be different this year because of the pandemic, he said they were satisfied with the way that they were able to observe, and they thank God for being able to worship together.

The Muslim community of Al-Ansaar Masjid has also changed their Ramadan traditions to reflect the current times. The Islamic Society of Greater Houston, of which the mosque is a member, laid out several health precautions to be taken: shortened prayers, limited capacity in the mosque, mandatory masking and social distancing, and increased cleaning of all high-traffic areas.

Because of the importance of Ramadan in the Muslim faith, Imam Rihabi Mohamed told the Courier in an email that it was important for the mosque to find a way to continue the faith-based practices for the month-long observance.

“For us, the changes that have happened to our usual Ramadan observations have not changed what Ramadan represents,” Rihabi said. “Caring for others through selflessness is a central tenant of our faith and we believe that by ensuring that those around us are safe and healthy we are living out what Ramadan truly represents- Grace, Love, and care.”

Usually the communities would eat meals together after breaking fast, but this year both mosques distributed food to community members to be eaten at home.

“The last ten nights of Ramadan are especially important to Muslims because it is said that the Quran was revealed then,” Rihabi said. “During those last ten nights, the mosque is open for prayer throughout the night and at the end of the month the community usually comes together for a celebration. It is usually scene of festivity but we kept the spirit by distributing to go dinner boxes through drive through pick up.”

The Dawoodi Bohra’s navigated food the same way; to-go bags of meals were put together and distributed. Usually, members would sit down together, eight to a table, and share a meal off of one giant tray, as a community.

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