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Muslims Celebrate Ramadan Virtually As Pandemic Restricts Large Gatherings

May 20, 2020
Originally published on May 20, 2020 7:51 am
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Ramadan ends later this week. It's 30 days of fasting from sunrise to sunset. Muslims have had to abandon some traditions because of the pandemic - lots of people gathering for dinner, crowded evening prayers. NPR's Mohamad Elbardicy has the story of a mosque that took the spiritual virtual.

MOHAMAD ELBARDICY, BYLINE: Ramadan is the holiest month of the year for Muslims, a time to connect closer to God and give back to the community. For Iman Harabola (ph), that spirituality came from the nightly prayers at the mosque called tarawih.

IMAN HARABOLA: Going to the mosque for, you know, tarawih prayer, that's Ramadan. So all the thinking is - just goes around this. It was kind of a challenge knowing that this Ramadan's going to completely different.

ELBARDICY: Harabola runs a youth foundation in Alexandria, Va., and she says the holy month had some unexpected blessings.

HARABOLA: First of all, I'm a low-vision disabled person. So to go out, I have to take an Uber or someone take me. And I'm not a young person. This is the first Ramadan that I attended so many lecturers and back to back, to the point, like, I run to cook, and I listen, and I enjoy the cooking while I'm doing that.

ELBARDICY: Her mosque is the All Dulles Area Muslim Society, or ADAMS Center. She says their online programs have helped her stay connected to the mosque during the pandemic. Rizwan Jaka's as the chair of the board at the ADAMS Center, and he says social distancing is not the right term to use.

RIZWAN JAKA: It's better to say physical distance, but we're socially connected online. And we're using every platform. You know, we took our Saturday school for our teenagers, our Sunday school for our children, our scouting programs are going online - everything. Starting - you know, in March, we started doing that.

ELBARDICY: The ADAMS Center runs daily programming on its website's live channel. It includes community announcements, lessons and messages from interfaith leaders. Before the pandemic, the ADAMS Center hosted weekly Friday prayers at synagogues it partners with. Rabbi Michael Holzman from the Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation sent this video with a Hebrew song that translates to peace will come to us.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MICHAEL HOLZMAN: You have been coming into our home for over a decade now. Even as we are separated physically, we know that we are together. Ramadan mubarak, my brothers and sisters, from Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing in Hebrew).

ELBARDICY: Every year, the ADAMS Center hosts an interfaith breakfast, or iftar, to honor community relationships and build connections with its neighbors, local partners and politicians. This year, that took the form of a Zoom call filled with imams, rabbis, pastors and priests. Each went around sharing prayers and stories of community cooperation during the crisis that's already changed so many holidays. Rabbi Bruce Lustig from the Washington Hebrew Congregation shared a prayer with the group and talked about the need to reimagine religious life.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BRUCE LUSTIG: I think that all the adjustments that both Muslims, Jews and Christians have made in order to keep religious life alive and to keep connections are really important.

ELBARDICY: And with Ramadan coming to an end, Muslims are just days away from celebrating their Eid holiday in the same conditions. Iman Harabola says that she will miss going to the mosque for Eid prayer and the three days of celebrations with her family.

HARABOLA: You know what? We Zoom it, so we still can make, you know, a family gathering (laughter). We try very much to, whatever we have, enjoy it.

ELBARDICY: Harabola shows that while people maintain physical distance, they can remain faithfully connected.

Mohamad Elbardicy, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.