By Sumaiya Malik Ramadan has always been for Muslims, a time of contemplation, fasting, physical and mental cleanliness, sharing food with other Muslims who fast, charity and reflection about the community and after life. This year is not different with one exception.
The Muslim month (April 24 to May 24) will pass keeping in mind the Covid-19 pandemic, quarantine and social distancing. The community does have modified plans along the guidelines provided by the City of Austin and through announcements from mosques and scholars, but this will be the first time when every household will keep these recommendations in mind and keep from sharing this blessed month when they are used to sharing food and opening their hearts. The world is going through Covid-19 pandemic where a single virus for which there is no vaccine available yet, is attacking the human immune system. Symptoms are debilitating and recovery is different in everyone. Most badly affected are the elderly and people with preexisting conditions, but shockingly so, there are cases in every age group even without preexisting conditions. Most people are wearing masks and staying six feet apart in public places wherever possible. But as in every community there are cases where even though people know of the suggested guidelines still disregard them. They are the ones delay a community from recovering quickly. Keeping this in mind, in the second week of March, the mosques issued guidelines for people to pray at home. The scholars are posting Friday sermons on the mosque Facebook pages and on mosque websites, and this plan will continue through Ramadan. North Austin Muslim Community Center Mosque announced on their website: In compliance with the order from the city of Austin 3/17/2020, we will not be holding any congregational prayers at NAMCC until May 1st unless the order is changed before that date. The doors will be locked, and only essential staff will enter the premises not to exceed 10 individuals at any one time. Mosques have cancelled Taraweeh prayer for this Ramadan. Taraweeh is actually a night prayer said after the last prayer Isha to before the morning Fajr prayer. It is a common practice for Muslims to congregate in mosques or community spaces and say their prayer behind the leading scholar or Imam. This year has no plans for Taraweeh and families are saying the night prayers at home. With these announcements in place, one would hope that all concerned parties will pay heed. The Nueces Mosque website posted, “Due to COVID-19 related city and county instructions on shelter-in-place and public gatherings, all Masajid will remain closed for daily and Taraweeh prayers, till further notice. We do not take this decision lightly and pray for the safety and well-being of all our community members.” The mosques are in communication with the local government. Mayor Steve Adler who has in the past years attended citywide iftar with organizers in the Muslim community is looked upon with high regard as someone who respects all communities. His word will play a role in keeping at home those who still want to overrule the mosques and ‘celebrate’ the month with congregations organized privately. Adler’s updates about social distancing, making masks, progress and updates about Covid-19 are coming daily and act as a good reminder. About congregations, he said, “If you’re over 60, 65, 70, you shouldn’t be in any groups, really, if you can avoid it. No, it’s certainly not, no, no group greater than 10 people.” It must be noted that the Muslim community was the first to stop congregation prayers and gathering. For them, the guidelines of the City of Austin will be a much needed reminder about something they are already observing, ‘as the Muslim community already as part of their faith have been guided to be responsible with social distancing/masking/hand washing so as not to spread any disease during this pandemic,’ said Dr. Shani Alam, who is well versed in Islamic teachings. Muslims do Wudu 5 times a day (wash face and hands up to elbow, rinse mouth and nose for every prayer). The cleansing process is in line with general washing hands, she reminded us. It’s a common practice in previous years for Muslims to pay a mosque (online) for a certain number of ‘Iftaris’ or meals for those who are breaking the fast. This year the community is already involved in paying for monthly food necessities for those who have lost their jobs or are in need. This practice could be considered as meals for those who fast. According to Washington Post, friends are planning e-iftars. When it is time to break their fast, they will include other households through Zoom meetings. Eid congregation prayer at the end of Ramadan might also go through some revised guidelines at the end of the holy month. It is hoped that the City of Austin and the local mosques together will be enough to keep the Muslims safe and at home. As I write this, conversations continue to happen along these lines on social media and Facebook pages where groups are reflecting about how the world has united to fight the pandemic, praying for general wellbeing and for first responders, encouraging charity within the city and beyond as a way to help while at home.