Instead of attending the usual large gatherings Ramadan brings, 20-year-old Raza Dard will start the holy month online.
The Vaughan, Ont., university student is taking part in a broadcast event called Virtual Ramadan, where he will connect with Muslims across Canada, from Newfoundland to B.C.
“Ramadan festivities and traditions go back thousands of years in Islam, and decades in families,” Dard said.
“I won’t be able to enjoy iftar dinner with my friends, but with Virtual Ramadan, we will all be able to gather virtually and share our sentiments… That’s really important right now because Muslims can’t gather at the mosque — something that can be considered a second home.”
Ramadan is a time of prayer, self-reflection and fasting from sunrise to sunset, but due to COVID-19, important practices are taking new forms. The month-long celebration centres around large nightly “iftar” meals at dusk, but with physical-distancing measures and bans on large gatherings, congregating isn’t possible.
At least not in person.
“Our imams and organizers are doing a lot of livestreams to keep connected with the community — especially during Ramadan,” said Maqbool Sheikh, an organizer at Virtual Ramadan.
“Connection is really, really important… We can’t do it physically right now, but we can do it virtually.”
Virtual Ramadan, an online campaign organized by Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama`at Canada, invites Muslims and non-Muslims alike to celebrate the holiday. Ramadan started on Friday, and the campaign is kicking off with a virtual iftar dinner on Saturday.
As soon as places of worship were ordered to close to curb the spread of COVID-19, many mosques across the country began leading prayers online. Organizations, including the Muslim Association of Canada, are hosting virtual Ramadan celebrations and offering online programs.
Imam Hamid Slimi at Sayeda Khadija Centre in Mississauga, Ont., was already digitally streaming Friday prayers before the pandemic hit.
“In our tradition, a mosque is called a mosque so long as prayer is held in it,” Slimi previously told The Canadian Press. “So I’m ensuring, myself and my assistant, that every prayer is prayed.”
Communities coming together
Without their usual iftars, Wyne is relying on Skype dinners with her sisters — a change from their usual larger gatherings.
“Usually at this time we’re scrambling and trying to find a date where everyone’s going to come to our house, and we’re getting excited to prepare meals,” she said.
“This year, instead of focusing on what date everyone’s available to get together, we’re really just thinking about our family at home and how we can connect virtually.”
The current climate is posing challenges beyond iftar dinners. Wyne said an important aspect of Ramadan is community health, which means physically coming together to strengthen connections with God, and volunteering in places like soup kitchens.
“There’s just this sense of peace when you’re with people that are working towards the same goal,” she said.
The isolation is challenging for everyone, but especially for older members of the Islamic community. For many who are not accustomed to technology, the lack of in-person Ramadan activities is hard.
“For a lot of them, going to the mosque for the night prayers was basically their outing for that month,” Wyne said.
“Those are the memories that they have.”
Luckily, many people are making an extra effort to reach out. Wyne has been dropping off food at her parents’ house and seeing them through their window. She, too, has been getting many gift baskets dropped on her doorstep.
“Everyone’s really conscious of each other’s mental health and really being proactive about making sure that we feel connected during this time,” she said.
Supporting not only spiritual health but also mental health is why Sheikh believes virtual Ramadan events are so important. The celebrations this year may look different, but the meaning behind them is the same.
“We want to share this wonderful month with all Canadians,” he said.
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