COVID-19 pandemic forces Muslims to adapt during Ramadan

Sarmad Shaikh reading a chapter from the Quran during Ramadan.

COVID-19 hasn’t stopped the Muslim community from celebrating the divine month of fasting and spiritual growth, but it has forced them to adapt to new methods.

This year, the holy month of Ramadan started April 23 and continues until May 23, but unlike any other year, it is being celebrated under different circumstances.

With social distancing practices still in place, local mosques around the province have shut down.

Sarmad Shaikh, 22, is a public relations student at Durham College (DC). He says the closures of the mosques has had a big impact on him personally.

“The whole objective of having prayer at the mosque is to bring the community closer,” says Shaikh.

Shaikh, who is also a volunteer at Masjid Usman, a local mosque in Pickering, Ont., says he does all of his daily prayers from home now. He adds his mosque is going to include the Muslim community through virtual prayer sessions via livestream. The prayers are led by Mufti Abdul Manan, the mosque’s Imam, which is a position of leadership in the Islamic community.

“We used to come to the mosque and listen to him, but because we can’t do that anymore, he does it through livestream and we’re encouraged to participate and listen to it,” he says.

With most of his time spent at home in Pickering, Shaikh says he is still getting used to not being as active as he would normally be.

“My schedule completely changed once they shut down all businesses, and we had to stay at home,” he says. “Around this time last year, I would hang out with my friends at the mosque and go out to eat afterwards.”

Despite self-isolation, the fasting period during Ramadan, which is usually from sunrise to sunset, remains the same.

Shaikh says because he isn’t burning as much energy with the daily activities prior to the pandemic, it has helped him adapt to the fasting hours.

“One thing I definitely noticed is that I haven’t been as hungry or thirsty,” he says. “My body has adjusted to this feeling two months ago when quarantine started.”

Another important aspect of Ramadan is spiritual growth. During this month, Muslims try to better themselves and develop an intimate relationship with God. Shaikh says he is using this opportunity to practise those beliefs.

“You never know what can come out of this quarantine,” he says. “This is a time to learn things about yourself and grow.”

Tayyaba Choudhary, 21, is a graphic design student from Durham College still living on campus residence.

Her program requires her to complete a placement, which she is now forced to do remotely working as a web designer for Olive Media.

Even though her placement is being done remotely, Choudhary decided not to return to her home in London, Ont.

“It wouldn’t really be safe for me to be travelling to be with my parents. They’re a bit older,” she says.

Choudhary reveals this is the first holiday she won’t be spending with her family.

“It takes away from the spirit of Ramadan,” she says. “Imagine spending Christmas alone, it’s equivalent to that but for a month instead of a day.”

Choudhary says one of her favourite traditions is Eid, the festival that is celebrated during the last few days of Ramadan. During this time, the Muslim community gets together at the mosque for a special prayer.

“It’s actually going to be really hard this year because one of the happiest days is when Ramadan is done,” she says. “Everybody gets up together at 6 a.m. and we all go to prayer together.”

Choudhary adds interacting with friends and family is one thing she always looks forward to during Eid, but this year, it might not happen.

“Because of the pandemic, I don’t even know if I’ll be able to be with my family and friends,” she says.