‘A moving return’: Muslims prepare together for 1st Ramadan after COVID-19 restrictions lifted

After two difficult years in which Ramadan celebrations were forced online or severely curtailed due to pandemic restrictions, Muslims in Canada are preparing for a return to the kind of holy month they have long cherished – a months which will mean a lot more this year now that they can be together again.

For the first time since the start of the pandemic, mosques are preparing to host prayers at full capacity now that most COVID-19 restrictions across the country have been lifted.

“I think this is going to be very emotional for a lot of people. You don’t feel what you’ve lost until you have it,” said Fouzan Khan, CEO of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA ) – a mosque in Mississauga, west of Toronto.

“We can now pray again like we did, we can break our fast like we did, we can be with each other like we did…and not have to stay home and monitoring an internet connection,” Khan told CBC News. .

“We’ve crossed all kinds of boundaries and rightly so, but people are looking forward to having that normal sense of Ramadan.”

Ramadan, which is expected to begin on Saturday depending on the sighting of the new moon, will see Muslims around the world observe a period of daily fasting from dawn to dusk, with particular attention to prayer, inner reflection and acts of charity. In homes around the world, families and friends will gather to reflect, break their fast and celebrate with a shared meal known as iftar.

At the mosque, a iftar can be followed by hundreds or even thousands after a long day of fasting. Many will also join in voluntary evening prayers, known as tarawihheld only during the month of fasting.

But as parts of the country face a sixth wave of the pandemic, worshipers are encouraged to be careful and keep their masks on.

ISNA worshipers are encouraged to keep masks on amid a sixth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Paul Smith/CBC)

Muslim medical group urges caution

The Canadian Muslim Task Force on COVID-19, which has developed a set of guidelines for a safe Ramada, said that over the past few years mosque officials have been conducting registrations for individual worshippers, it’s focusing this year on individual measures and small tweaks to tradition to keep worshipers safe.

When it comes to breaking the fast, for example, the working group encourages mosques to keep iftars outdoors, or to provide take-out boxes so individuals do not congregate in large numbers indoors without masks. Those who break the fast in others are encouraged to do so in consistent bubbles to reduce the possibility of viral spread.

Dr. Mohammad Hashim Khan, a pulmonologist in Toronto, is co-chair of the Canadian Muslim Task Force on COVID-19, which has developed a set of guidelines for a safe Ramadan. (Radio Canada)

The task force is also encouraging the use of rapid tests and for anyone who may not yet have a full series of vaccines to take their third dose. Neither affects a person’s fast, says Dr. Mohammad Hashim Khan, co-chair of the task force and a pulmonologist in Toronto.

“We just have to make sure that we are vigilant and smart, so that we don’t waste all the hard work that has been done over the last two years and that we are not going to get sick and that we can benefit from it from the month of Ramadan and worship as much as we want,” he said.

“And hopefully we can make the most of the month.”

give back

During a month when giving back is extra important, the pressures of the pandemic mean that food drives, such as those led by groups like Unity in Community, are all the more vital.

Launched in 2015, the organization collects thousands of pounds of food every year to deliver to those in need.

“The pandemic has affected a lot,” said Fasih Syed, an organizer with the group. “Every day we get calls from people for groceries and we supply them.”

Nisa Homes, a charity that supports women and children experiencing domestic violence, poverty or homelessness, or those seeking asylum, will host charity iftar in several cities where individuals can offer donations while gathering to break their fast.

At the Lebanon Garden restaurant in downtown Toronto, the lifting of restrictions in time for Ramadan is a relief in many ways – for the health of the business and the needs of the community.

“We expect a large crowd to come to break their fast and certainly a lot more parties in people’s homes and in mosques,” said Mona Ahmed, the restaurant manager. “So that will keep us busy and keep us on our toes. »

For Mona Ahmed of the Lebanon Garden restaurant, the lifting of restrictions in time for Ramadan was a relief in many ways. (Paul Smith/CBC)

But with the restrictions lifted, there’s something else she’s looking forward to even more.

“I expect to visit mosques a lot more with my kids… and to really reconnect with people I’ve been estranged from for the past couple of years,” Ahmed said.

Returning to ISNA, which had occasionally been the site of a vaccination clinic during the pandemic, Fouzan Khan says returning to the mosque for prayer and congregation this year will be very special.

“I think it’s a very emotional comeback.”