Challenges of Celebrating Ramadan During COVID-19

In the early hours before morning twilight, Muslims worldwide gather together for “suhoor,” the ritual morning meal of Ramadan before the day’s fasting. During Ramadan, the holy month of fasting, Muslims do not eat or drink anything while the sun is out. Muslims practice fasting to understand what it feels like for those who are starving and to get closer to Allah and their spiritual practices. Ramadan is one of the five pillars or foundations of the religion.

Lenora Al Ratta
picture provided by Lenora Al Ratta

UCC Human Services graduate and Douglas County resident Lenora Al Ratta has been up at suhoor early each Ramadan morning preparing for her day of fasting. Al Ratta’s experience of Ramadan has been unique compared to other fellow Muslims around the world. Al Ratta does not have a congregation she can practice with locally and does not have any nearby Muslim family members. “I know that Ramadan is really meant to be a community involved event. I’m the only Muslim in my own family. I thought I was the only Muslim in town,” says Al Ratta. 

Al Ratta has also faced difficulties from lacking accessibility to proper accommodations for her spiritual practice. Many employers will give time off or allow schedule changes for religious holidays, but she has not been able to get those accomodations for Ramadan.  “This time it’s been a little easier. I live alone now, and I feel like because I’m working from home it’s easier for my boss to adjust my hours to help with my practice. Everyone is staying at home, so I don’t feel like I’m missing out on much. I also like it because I don’t feel like I’m being singled out.” 

Al Ratta, in addition to not having spiritual accomodations, has faced hardships in being accepted as a Muslimah, a Muslim woman. “It’s been difficult because I have felt very alone over the years. A lot of people were OK with tolerating me or Muslims in general as long as they don’t have to accommodate them, but for the most part it’s been OK.”

During the month of Ramadan, which changes every year depending on the lunar calendar, Muslims break their fast during “iftar” their meal after sunset, many eating a medjool date first. Muslims often come together for iftar dinners in people’s homes, mosques, parks, offices, and other gathering places. 

Because of COVID-19, Al Ratta is unable to travel to Islamic centers or mosques, also called masjids, for Ramadan and the following holiday, Eid Al-Fitr, which marks the end of the month-long practice.

 Al Ratta also recognizes that she is not  the only Muslim practicing at home during this time. “My husband lives in a different country. We talk every single day. He’s really staying inside at home too. He is Egyptian, worked in Saudi Arabia at times, and is now in Norway. He feels very alone too; there is not a lot of Muslim people where he’s at either. It’s nice to know my husband understands me.”

Similar to Christians at Easter, Muslims are being encouraged to celebrate Ramadan and Eid Al-Fitr indoors and with social distancing. The holy sites of Mecca and Medina are shut down currently due to COVID-19 precautions. Generally, every year over 200 million Muslims make their annual pilgrimage called Hajj to their holy cities Mecca and Medina. Muslims unable to go during Hajj season traditionally will go throughout the year. These traditions are currently suspended for the time being.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has released guidelines for safety in regards to Ramadan. Many Imams, the Islamic worship leaders, have been encouraging people to stay home for prayers and if they must come to a mosque, or masjid, to adhere to being six feet apart. Some mosques have even removed prayer rugs in order to reduce the spread of the virus. Many Muslims are also using technology to celebrate together, reciting prayers and having iftar together through Zoom meetings.

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