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Muslim youth gather virtually to offer mental, spiritual support during Ramadan

A Muslim prays over a Quran. FILE/JUNI KRISWANTO/AFP/Getty Images

Muslims from all over the world have started to observe the holy month of Ramadan on Friday.

It’s a time when Muslims spend their time in prayer, self-reflection and fasting from sunrise to sunset.

But this year people won’t be able to attend large gatherings or meet in mosques due to COVID-19. As a result, one Nova Scotian has created a virtual support group to discuss topics on what it means to be a Muslim living here in the 21st century.

READ MORE: Ramadan will look different this year, but Muslims are finding ways to celebrate

“Ramadan in the past has been filled with going to family members’ houses and hanging out with friends, to be able to sit together and talk about how we’re feeling and how our days are going,” said Aisha Abawajy, founder of the Progressive Muslim Support group.

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“[The holy month] is so much about community, so during this global pandemic we have to re-imagine what Ramadan looks like and how we can still be together while typically having to stay apart.”

Abawajy said the group would meet up via VideoChat every Friday after evening prayers to discuss topics like gender and sexuality, equity and racism and Islamic economic systems.

READ MORE: How Canadians are praying during the coronavirus pandemic

She said the idea came to her a day before Ramadan when she shared it right away on her Facebook page. Four people participated in the first virtual hang out and 15 more have reached out since then asking to join. Most are young Muslims still in university or who have graduated recently, she said.

“I find a lot of youth don’t come together because there are no spaces that cater to them,” said Abawajy, who wants to create a safe space for people to discuss difficult or taboo topics like LGBTQ rights and race.

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She said in the first hang out the participants talked about how they’re doing Ramadan in isolation, and how everyone is feeling about it.

READ MORE: Is it safe to cook for people I don’t live with during the coronavirus lockdown?

“For next week, the theme is peace, and we talked a bit about how various verses in the Quran mean so many different things for different people at different times,” Abawajy said.

“So next week we’re coming together to help tackle the topic of peace or inner peace, peace between friends, community and the world in a time where we desperately need to do that.”

She said the mass shooting that happened in rural Nova Scotia last Saturday, which was followed by a false alarm, caused so many people to fear for their lives and the lives of their loved ones.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Celebrating Ramadan while physically distancing

“It’s hard to be alone during this time and on top of that you’re fasting, so this is a great way to stay calm and connected.”

Abawajy hopes that in the next virtual meeting participants would get to speak about the impact the attack had on them.

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“Anything you do to assert your power over others is a political act, so this is about a man feeling he had the power to go around and end the lives of people,” she said. “So this is 100 per cent the definition of terrorism.”

On Friday, chief medical officer of health Dr. Robert Strang recognized that Ramadan began and will continue until the evening of May 23.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: 5 more deaths reported at Northwood as Nova Scotia identifies 15 new cases

“This is an important religious celebration for many in our community,” Strange said. “It’s traditionally a time to gather. Many Muslims get together with family and friends for prayers and meals at the end of the day. And there’s usually a big community feast to mark the end of Ramadan.

“Like so many other things right now, Ramadan will need to be different this year. No in-person gatherings or meals. However, it remains an opportunity for a strong connection and building community, even if that needs to be done virtually this year.”

Strang said he’s encouraging all those who are celebrating Ramadan this year to see hope in the future that everyone will recover from the pandemic together.