‘A sense of joy, a sense of anticipation’ for Muslims in Prince Edward Island ready to celebrate Ramadan together

As Muslims on the island prepare to celebrate Ramadan, this year brings two more reasons to celebrate.

The community will be able to meet in person for the first time in two years, which has not been possible due to COVID-19. The arrival of the holy month of Ramadan also coincides with the completion of a massive expansion of the Charlottetown Mosque, which nearly doubles its capacity.

“There is a sense of joy, a sense of anticipation,” said Zain Esseghaier, spokesperson for the Muslim Society of PEI.

“People are excited about it, that we’re going back to the mosque. Within limits, of course, because the pandemic is still ongoing. But there’s a slight relief, if you can call it that, that the things are slowly getting back to normal.”

For two years now, “normal” has been finding ways to worship and connect remotely. In 2020, COVID-19 made regular potluck dinners and nightly prayers at the Masjid Dar As-Salam in Charlottetown impossible.

“COVID has affected everyone,” said Najam Chishti, president of the Muslim Society of PEI

In 2020, Chishti worked with a small group to prepare meals during Ramadan, wrap them individually and set them up on a table outside for pick up.

“It was awkward, but it was the best way to do it because we had to keep the distance of six feet and we couldn’t allow anyone to come home and take them. So it was difficult, but we we succeeded.”

“We are delighted that the pandemic is hopefully over, and you can just mingle and break the fast together,” says Najam Chishti. (Jane Robertson/CBC)

This year, with the mosque having allowed 75% of its capacity of nearly 325 people, Chishti hopes that 150 to 200 people will be there daily for prayers. And they will start small with communal meals, initially only allowing 25-30 people at a time – already an improvement from the previous two years.

“We are excited that the pandemic is hopefully over and you can just mingle and break the fast together,” Chishti said.

“Perfect moment”

Adding to the excitement is the recent completion of a $400,000 expansion to the mosque, adding space to both floors. Once restrictions on gathering limits are lifted, approximately 325 people will be able to gather in the prayer hall.

There will also be space in the basement for events – ready just in time for Ramadan.

“I would say there is hope that the tide is turning. There is hope that things will change, there is hope that the government will listen,” says Zain Esseghaier, spokesperson for the Muslim Society of PEI (Tony Davis/CBC)

“Perfect timing,” said Esseghaier, who said Ramadan was not just about fasting, prayer and reflection, but about community.

“It’s very important because it’s really meant to be a social gathering as well as a spiritual gathering. The sense of community would be really, really important to most, if not all, members of the community. “

He said lifting the restrictions will also allow Muslims in Prince Edward Island to focus on another important aspect of Ramadan: charity.

The expansion has also added space to the mosque’s basement, which will mean more room for community events and Islamic education for children. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC News)

Community members will collect non-perishable food items and assemble 15-20 food baskets per week to distribute to local families in need. And in addition to prayers, the mosque will offer nightly readings from the Quran, with the aim of reading it cover to cover during the month of Ramadan.

There are also plans to increase programming and Islamic education for children, with more space now in the basement.

“It’s an exciting time for the community,” Esseghaier said. “Perhaps we can even speak of renewal in this sense, since we have gone through two years of a dormant state.

“I hope we have even better times for the community in the years to come and months to come.”

Esseghier said everyone is welcome to join and celebrate Ramadan at Masjid Dar As-Salam in Charlottetown.