Re-building the Ramadan Community in 2022
Low COVID numbers allow gatherings for evening prayer, feasting for first time since 2019
At the Evansville Islamic Center, the Saturday night breaking of Ramadan fast might be one of the most rambunctious religious celebrations one might attend.
Children are able to run around the hallways and be kids, free of being ‘shushed.’ Conversation and greetings are heartfelt and warm.
If you’re visiting, you might be kindly strong-armed into sitting and eating in the large cafeteria gathering, or be given a to-go box bursting with food.
In-person community is an important aspect of the Ramadan experience — but it’s been missing for the last two years.
“In 2021, we were able to hold congregational prayer with social distancing and everything,” said Dr. Bashar Mourad, president of the Islamic Center of Evansville, a nondenominational mosque in Newburgh.
“But this is the first year in three years that we're back to having our regular gatherings with food.”
Ramadan is the month in which Muslims don’t eat or drink anything including water or even gum, from an hour to sunrise, to sunset. This year it’s April first to May first based on the lunar calendar.
Around dusk families and congregations pray together and then break their fast.
Mourad said the before COVID, they would usually meet as a community three days a week like this for a big meal after their prayers.
“And this year, we started very slowly, we're doing it only on Saturday,” Mourad said. “So hopefully we'll start building up and getting back the community together.”
This is what’s different in 2022. Mosques across the country are reopening to these gatherings again in one form or another.
Harroon Imtiaz is with the Islamic Society of North America or ISNA.
He says missing these gatherings during Ramadan was a big deal for Muslims.
“There's something in our faith, I mean, the community actually strengthens the believer,” he said. “And so being together means that we have opportunities to inspire each other, elevate each other, make each other feel better. And so not getting that definitely affected a lot of people it affected affected me.”
He said there are about 2,800 mosques across the country. The institute for Social Policy and Understanding — a Muslim-focused research group — reported that Muslims were impacted disproportionately by the pandemic in a variety of ways including mental health.
Bushra Saqib has multiple roles at the Islamic Center of Evansville, including member of the Board of Directors.
She said as much as everyone wanted to get back together, planning for 2022 was still a little bit scary.
“Because you know, everybody's lost touch from cooking, from being together,” she said. “So we had to just kind of relearn everything all over again.”
She said they had to take “baby steps” to prepare for these evening meals. “We weren't sure right in the middle if another you know, (COVID) variant comes or whatever, what are we going to do? So we were all prepared for everything, you know.”
She said they dropped the mask requirements just a month ago.
Before eating, everyone prays for about 10 minutes. They break the fast with a sip of water or a single date. Breaking the fast is called iftar.
Saqib says Ramadan is a combination of worship, and fellowship.
“Ramadan means it's like a bootcamp to really get your goodness out, you know, your strength out, it checks your patience, it checks your good manners," she said. "It brings out your generosity. So Ramadan is basically a boot camp just to do good."
Anika Muhammad, 12, said Ramadan is a grounding experience, and that teens using social media can possibly dampen the importance of in-person gatherings.
“But I feel like it's still important to have that face to face contact and to where we can, you know, like, be more sociable with each other instead of just texting each other or Face Timing,” she said.
While fasting is a challenge for many, Humaad Khan would caution against the view that Ramadan is just a grueling test of willpower.
“For Muslims, it's observing God consciousness throughout the day, and piety,” he said. “And we really work on our spiritual connection with God in Arabic, Allah. … it might sound like it's a grind or a struggle for some people, but it's my favorite time of the year. And it's a blessing.”
At this April 22nd iftar, spirits are high as one more community can get together after a long delay, and Mourad is enjoying his coffee and his iftar meal. “I had caffeine withdrawal earlier,” he said. “Being around people, having your stomach full of good foods makes a huge difference.”
Mourad said they believe that in the month of Ramadan, they recharge their spiritual batteries. “So even if the fasting is finished, we're hoping that we will continue to do the kinds of worship that get us closer to God,” he said. “Do the charity that we need to do to help people who are in need, and this way you'll feel God's presence in yourself.”
Saturday, April 30 marks the last iftar gathering for 2022. Ramadan 2023 will run from Wednesday, March 22 to the evening of Friday, April 21.