Ramadan celebrations diminished by pandemic for second year in a row

By: Max Martin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press
For the second time since the COVID-19 pandemic began, London’s Muslim community is shifting the prayer and reflection of Ramadan to digital offerings amid the provincewide lockdown.
“It’s not going to be the same, but on the level of the inner self, as we call it, the opportunity to work on the spiritual component of fasting is there,” said Munir El-Kassem, director of religious affairs at the Islamic Centre of Southwest Ontario. “The thing that will be definitely missing for the second year in a row is … the communal component of celebration.”
The holy month of Ramadan, based on the Islamic lunar calendar, begins Tuesday and lasts until May 12.
During Ramadan, Muslims go without food or drink from dawn to dusk. In a normal year, friends and families gather to break fast and pray each night.
“We had high hopes a few weeks ago, before the lockdown. Like any spiritual community, we all need that spiritual fix,” said Ali Chahbar, a member of the London Muslim Mosque’s outreach committee. “When we found out about the lockdown, people became depressed because it’s the second time around. People are feeling a little downtrodden and bleak.”
Friday prayer will continue at the London Muslim Mosque. In the current lockdown, religious services are permitted with a strict 15 per cent capacity limit, and distancing is required.
Most other services, including nightly Ramadan prayer, are going digital for the second year in a row.
Virtual activities to connect community members also are ramping up.
El-Kassem is running virtual talks twice weekly about fasting and Ramadan, while the imam at the London Muslim Mosque has prepared digital readings of the Qur’an.
The Muslim Association of Canada is offering online programming for kids during Ramadan.
El-Kassem said during a typical Ramadan, spaces such as the mosque on Oxford Street or the Islamic Centre near Pond Mills would be teeming with people nightly.
“It’s a month-long festival that will be missed, but we’re hoping that things will get better for future years and we’ll be able to resume those community activities,” he said.
Chahbar said although the community is disappointed most of the in-person traditions have been scrapped, the pandemic restrictions have spurred creativity.
He’s heard of some members converting rooms in their houses into prayer halls to use with family.
“There’s a lot of compensation going on, but nothing is like the real thing, seeing people and meeting with them,” Chahbar said. “People of faith understand this is God’s will. We have to make lemonade out of those lemons.”