by Amina Ibrahim
For Muslims around the world, Ramadan is a month of deep reflection, devotion, and worship. It is also a time where friends and family gather to eat, pray, and be together in community. The pandemic changed Ramadan for Muslims around the world in 2020. Many of us did not expect that one year later, Ramadan 2021 would be welcomed in circumstances that look very similar to the previous year.
Yet despite all the challenges of the past year, there is hope. As more Americans get vaccinated, families are able to open their homes up to loved ones again. Friends have started to host socially distant outdoor iftar, the nightly meal when families break their fast, gatherings. Being fully vaccinated has allowed for indoor gatherings to safely occur. A refreshing escape from last year’s isolated iftars.
Last year, my family and I struggled to adapt to the isolation of Ramadan during the pandemic. Our home, previously filled with extended family and friends every evening to break fast, quieted down to just my immediate family. With mosques closed down we found new ways to engage spiritually: playing Islamic trivia after iftar and praying our nightly prayer at home instead.
This year, Muslims in Washington are fasting for 16 hours, breaking their fast a little past 8 p.m. In Seattle, mask mandates, social distancing, and the governor’s phased approach to reopening after the lockdown have eased restrictions on families allowing for more to safely gather for iftar. However, for some families there will still be empty seats at their tables.
During Ramadan, Muslims are encouraged to reflect on their blessings, many will feel the pain of missing loved ones who have died from COVID-19. These lost loved ones have left large voids that are felt deeper during this month: the mother who made family favorites for iftar, the father who led prayer each night, the brother who taught children nightly lessons about the importance of this month, all whose lives were claimed by a deadly virus we are continuing to battle.
Imam Yahya Suufi, who is the leader at Masjid Tawhib and Muslim Americans Youth Foundation in Burien said he’s met so many people whose loved ones have died from COVID-19, or who have contracted the virus. Yet he also feels like the experience of this past year though has brought people closer to their faith. “This Ramadan has been a Ramadan where people have a stronger faith than previous years. People have realized, hey, we are only human beings, and people are connecting with their creator and caring for their community,” said Suufi.
Although my Ramadan experience has not returned to normal, I feel a lightness in the air this year. Over the past few months my family and I have been able to get vaccinated, allowing us to to gather with other vaccinated family members from time to time, to break bread together at the end of day. I look forward to the days I can attend large mosque prayers. I once again have hope in celebrating Ramadan and Eid Al-Fitr, the celebration that marks the end of Ramadan, in community.
Suufi says he also feels a sense of optimism going forward. “The second [Ramadan] has been more hopeful than the last one. We can see down the road. We aren’t there yet, but we can imagine [a time when] people can interact with one another. Where people have no fear for their life, have no fear for their loved ones.
For many Muslims, this Ramadan is their first time stepping into a mosque in the last 13 months. Ayah Idris, a Redmond-area Muslim, was excited to attend Taraweeh prayer, the additional nightly prayer that occurs during Ramadan. When Idris walked into her local mosque, the Muslim Association of Pudget Sound (MAPS), for the first time in a year, she noted the differences in the atmosphere. All worshippers must now pre-register for prayer. Once she arrived, there was a different entrance where she needed to get her temperature checked. The biggest difference was praying 6 feet apart from others, when usually the congregation prays shoulder to shoulder. But despite these differences, Taraweeh prayer also brought her a needed sense of familiarity.
“Just being inside of the masjid that I have not entered for over a year, and not seeing many people, but seeing some familiar faces was really — it was just very comforting. It was rejuvenating to see that sense of community, and community worship, something that we didn’t get to experience last year,” said Idris.
Suufi shared similar sentiments. Masjid Tawhib at the beginning of Ramadan started opening their door for Taraweeh prayers as well, after being closed for the majority of 2020. The mosque is following CDC and State protocols which means prayers look different, but Suufi believes the sense of community has been important for people, especially young people. The majority of their congregation this year, he said, has been people under 30.
“This Ramadan has also been nice because people can be in congregation. It’s not like before, but they can start to feel a real sense of community,” said Suufi. “People are there for one another, supporting one another, praying for one another, so basically this pandemic has brought people together like never before”
Idris feels like she’s also inching her way back to a new normal. “[Walking into the masjid] I felt all of those warm Ramadan excitement feelings, and it felt like wow, we’re getting it back. Last year was really awesome, getting to enjoy that seclusion and oneness, I got to have a lot more reflection than I had in previous years,” she said. “But having that experience last year to really understand how much of a blessing and privilege it is to be able to worship at the masjid during Ramadan, like walking into the masjid was just a flood of those feelings.”
Similar to Idris, these past two Ramadans have given me the opportunity to slow down, take a deep breath, and live in the moment. In previous years, my weekend nights would be filled with going over to family and friends houses, or hosting big iftars at my house. I now take the time to reflect, connect deeper with my faith, and embrace the spirituality of this month.
Amina Ibrahim is a journalist with a passion for reporting about underrepresented communities and her South Seattle neighborhood. Amina has a love for audio journalism; her work has been featured on KUOW and in Crosscut.
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