County Derry’s Muslim community are preparing for a very different Ramadan this year, as the Covid-19 restrictions take their toll on the celebration of the holy festival.
Ramadan takes place during the ninth month in the Muslim calendar and began this year on April 24. It culminates in the festival of Eid which will take place on May 24.
While normally a time of communal celebration, the ritual has taken on a different feel this year, with Dr Jaweed Wali, Imam of the mosque in Coleraine, describes as ‘muted’.
“Ramadan is a month of happiness and celebration,” he said.
“It’s something we look forward to for the entire year and we are not able to do that, so we are disappointed about it. It is a special event.
“People who may not be so regular throughout the year, they come to the mosque and we have late-night congregational prayers That is one thing we can’t do now.”
Fasting forms a key role in Ramadan, with Muslims meeting at the mosque in the evening to break their fast and take part in the congregational prayer.
With coronavirus restrictions creating the current state of lockdown, that communal prayer has been restricted to a family-only scenario.
“We tend to get together, break our fast and share food with each other,” said Jaweed.
“We fast from dawn to dusk - and dawn is well before sunrise! We don’t eat or drink anything and there are many things we are not supposed to do.
“Now, we can’t do the communal breaking of fast in the mosque and we can’t do the important aspect of the congregational prayer.”
Like everyone else, Jaweed has found himself reaching for the positives in the situation and says the pandemic has opened up new experiences for Muslim children.
He said: “As Muslims we find that, in calamity, then God gives us something good. We are finding is that we can spend this Ramadan completely with our families.
“Temptation was always to go to the mosque to break the communal fast and our children would not have been able to attend because it’s late.
“You can’t take children to the mosque at 11 o’clock at night. It’s a unique time, because the children are off school and the whole family is at home.
“Now, we can spend time with our families, breaking the fast at home. The congregational prayer can also be prayed at home so we are doing that.
“We are getting up around 3 o’clock, eating breakfast and spending the day together, before sitting down, breaking our fast and taking part in the congregational prayer.”
During Ramadan, Muslims traditionally increase charitable work, but the restrictions this year have made it more difficult for them to reach out to the less fortunate.
“At the minute, we can’t share our joy, food and other things with non-Muslims because it is risky,” said Jaweed.
“During Ramadan we offer free food to lots of people in our community who aren’t very well off, refugees for example. We used to feed them in the mosque every day.
“It is a nerve centre for us, a club where spend time together and it elevates our mood. They will miss out now on coming to eat, pray and enjoy the company of the others.”
Other churches have been able to adapt and use technology to bring masses and services to their congregations online, but strict rules mean this is not an option for local Muslims.
The congregational prayer must be physically attended, with the Imam at the front and rows of people praying behind him.
Covid-19 has also posed a challenge to Muslims who normally use this time of year to take holidays from work, something Jaweed says worked for both them and their colleagues.
He said: “This is a time when Muslims could take some annual leave or get cover from non-Muslims in return for covering at Christmas.
“For instance, I have always covered Christmas in hospitals to let others go home and celebrate and other professions are similar.
“Many medical staff are now on the front line. They still do their fasting, but they can’t take time off, which is a bit of a problem, but everyone is doing their duty, so we should be too.”
The celebration of Eid marks the end of Ramadan and is normally marked in larger mosques with outdoor activities and celebrations, but Jaweed says this one will be more low key.
“The whole celebration factor will be very muted and just for the families themselves,” he said.
“The Eid prayer on the day of Eid is a major event for Muslims. This prayer is offered in large congregations, and in places, in open air in large grounds.
“After prayers, families get together with friends to have a feast, and also share food and money with the poor. This sadly, will not be possible during lockdown.
“Here in Coleraine, if someone has a big house with a garden, we get all the children round, get a bouncy castle or a barbeque and let them enjoy it together.”
“Children look forward to Eid during Ramadan, because they get gifts and meet up with each other to play. They will miss that this year.
It will be a very different Ramadan and Eid for local Muslims this time round, but Jaweed is determined to find positives in the bleakness of the coronavirus outbreak.
“We never thought we would be spending Ramadan like this, locked down and not being able to celebrate Eid or pray the Friday prayers.
“In everything in life, where there is disappointment, we need to think positively, and we are getting some positive things out of this.”
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