ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA - Muslims in the United States say they feel blessed that the mosques are open for Islam’s holiest month, Ramadan, which ends on May 12.
Last year at this time, their doors were closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Now, with the rate of infections mostly decreasing across the country and millions of Americans receiving the vaccine, mosques are reopening.
For Muslims, who make up about 1% of the U.S. population, Ramadan is a time for spiritual reflection, fasting during daylight hours and helping those in need.
“Ramadan is still a little different,” said Amir Mohammed, originally from Ethiopia, who goes to a mosque in Alexandria, Virginia. Even with wearing masks, checking temperatures and limiting the number of people in the mosques to about half capacity, “it is still a blessing,” he said.
Imam Naeem Baig, outreach director at the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, Virginia agreed.
“People are so happy the mosque is open,” he said. “It gives them an opportunity to see each other and pray together — the feeling of community you can’t get by being at home.”
“I’m thrilled to be back in the mosque with the brothers and sisters,” said Imam Khalid Griggs, with the Community Mosque of Winston Salem, in North Carolina. “If Allah (God) wanted to take my soul right now, I would feel complete.”
During the past year, some mosques used technology to continue that sense of community. “We are still livestreaming Friday’s nightly prayers on our mosque’s Facebook page,” Baig said.
Besides livestreaming prayers, the Worcester Islamic Center in Massachusetts also holds popular virtual education programs for young people on topics such as what Islam says about the family.
When the mosque reopened, Imam Asif Hirani was surprised to see so many young people coming during Ramadan. They are “becoming more spiritual and attending prayers,” he said, “and asking me questions about prayer and charity.”
Some of the older generations are worried about getting infected with the coronavirus at the mosque, Hirani said, so they may not come.
Some people are concerned about getting injected with the vaccine, especially during Ramadan, the imams said. They say they encourage their communities to get the shot.
“We believe that medication is encouraged by the Prophet (Muhammad),” Baig said. Hirani elaborated: “There is a principle in Islam that human life needs to be preserved no matter what.” For Muslims who are concerned the vaccine could break their fast, it won’t, Griggs added, “because the vaccine is not going into the digestive system.”
Some things still have not returned to normal. Community meals like iftar, the meal after sunset to break the day’s fast, are largely not happening.
“I miss the fellowship of inviting friends and family for iftar,” said Imam Rafiq Mahdi, the co-founder of the Muslim Community of Knoxville, Tennessee, and the outreach director for the Islamic Circle of North America, a social services organization. “I miss the camaraderie and hearing the laughter of the children.”
But mosques and Muslim service groups have been able to engage in works of charity with social distancing, including packing boxes with food staples for the needy. Islamic Relief USA, a humanitarian organization in Alexandria, returned to its annual Ramadan food-packing event this year. In Los Angeles, Dallas, and Springfield, Virginia, volunteers packed boxes with items such as pasta, flour and oil.
Susan Ahmed, a regional program coordinator for Islamic Relief USA, said the enthusiastic volunteers included people who were not Muslim. “The volunteers' faith background makes no difference to us,” she said. The boxes were delivered to mosques, churches and food pantries for distribution.
In Baltimore, Maryland, Fatima Ali said she is happy she can pray at the mosque again, but both the pandemic and the people who have died remain in the back of her mind.
Mahdi said the coronavirus has shown that sometimes things that people have no control over are going to happen. He called on Muslims to express their “gratitude to our creator for the many blessings” as they look to Ramadan as “a point of hope” that the pandemic will end soon.