by Koloud “Kay” Tarapolsi
Imagine 30 days of Thanksgiving. A month of gathering with loved ones, related to you or not, around a table full of potluck scrumptiousness. The people, and food, around the table might change nightly, but for four weeks, you will not eat alone.
This is what Ramadan is like for many Muslims. Ramadan is the 11th month of the lunar calendar, and all 30 days are spent fasting during daylight hours, from sunrise to sunset.
The Islamic holy book, the Quran, encourages Muslims to add chairs to their tables during iftar, the meal that breaks the fast at the end of the day. Dinners nowadays are arranged through online groups or posted on bulletin boards across college campuses, held at community centers or mosques (Islamic religious buildings), in private backyards, or around apartment complex barbecue pits.
During the holy month, acts of good deeds are also encouraged, as well as spiritual time spent reading the Quran, either alone or at nightly prayer services at a mosque.
When the pandemic hit, in March 2020, one of the first major holidays in the world to be affected was Eid al-Fitr, the three-day celebration at the end of Ramadan. Before the pandemic, mosques would be standing room only on these special days, most often spilling into parking lots. Stadiums and parks were also known to be turned into makeshift mosques for a few hours to hold the number of people who attend the morning prayers.
But in May 2020, Muslims celebrated Eid alone in their homes. Instead of oohing and aahing over the stunning outfits young Black Muslims wore on their way to morning prayers on #BlackOutEid, many of us were relegated to sharing photos of flannel pajamas while in front of computer screens.
It is no surprise that the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) found, in a 2021 survey, that Muslims were more eager to get the vaccine as soon as they could; 35%, compared with the general public at 32%.
For local Seattle mother Lamia Mohamad, the hardest part of dealing with a pandemic these past two Ramadans was not being able to go to the mosque. Not being able to physically meet her Muslim community and share in the fasting experience was challenging. She felt her children might lose their sense of connection to their community. She worried they would feel lonely or estranged from Muslim friends they might only see this time of year. To help her children cope, Lamia and her husband tried to encourage having group prayer as a family as often as possible.
Meanwhile, mosques that did manage to open, while observing social distancing, were criticized by some because Muslims are urged to pray shoulder to shoulder.
For Seattle mother Zayba Khalid, not being able to visit family and friends was the hardest to go through during the pandemic. With younger children, it was difficult to explain to them what the pandemic was, that was causing all this turmoil in their lives.
The lack of other adult connections that usually occurred during Ramadan gatherings added to the stress of fasting and dealing with small children. Stay-at-home parents were missing the network relationships that were happening across virtual office rooms. The social interactions that naturally occurred at parks, school playgrounds, or Ramadan iftars were sometimes the only support systems many had.
Millions of Muslim parents turned to decorating their homes to make Ramadan a fun experience for their children. Lamia Mohamad put lights up around their home and gave gifts to their neighbors. My own website, ACraftyArab.com, which features a Ramadan craft a day for the full month, saw a spike in views during the early days of the pandemic. Instead of thousands of hits for the month, by the end of Ramadan 2021, social media was reaching more than 4 million views.
The page with the highest views was a “30 Ramadan Quarantine Activity Ideas” list to help children pass a full or partial day of fasting.
Muslim parents also looked for ways to spend more time with their kids. Ramadan book sales were already on the rise in 2019, according to Publishers Weekly. The pandemic made the demand higher as parents held private storytimes at home.
With restrictions lifted for Ramadan 2022, Seattle Muslims can finally observe this month as a community. Either at iftar dinners, by volunteering their time, or by gathering for nightly prayers, they can once again do it shoulder to shoulder.
And now, there are even more locations to gather, as there are two new mosques in the Seattle and Bellevue area, established with COVID-19 restrictions in place.
Being able to be with friends and family for our annual monthly gathering of dinners to give thanks is going to be so scrumptious again.
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The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed by the contributors on this website do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of the Emerald or official policies of the Emerald.
Koloud Fawzi Omar Abdul Aziz Tarapolsi is a Libyan American who promotes a positive image of Arab culture. Moving to Seattle in the early 1990s, Koloud volunteered at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) and was soon asked to join as an African art interpreter, then as a docent. After 25 years of giving public tours about art, SAM gave her a gold badge at a very nice lunch. Koloud founded Arab Artists Resources & Training, served as a local arts commissioner, and served as board member for a number of extraordinary nonprofit organizations. She recently led a museum and culinary tour through the Moroccan landscape, stopping at five cities along the way to rest, cook, and teach. In 2008, Koloud started ACraftyArab.com, handcrafting a vibrant Arab world by offering free resources to parents and caregivers. She currently teaches art education in the Pacific Northwest.
📸 Featured image by Matt Benoit/Shutterstock.com.
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