Naz Ali inadvertently made someone cry this week. The owner of Fredericton restaurant Caribbean Flavas had offered a front-line worker a sandwich.
“We haven’t eaten anything all morning,” they told him, sobbing. “We’ve been working non-stop.”
Tears flowed again when he dropped off lunch for an international student. As an immigrant, he could relate to the young newcomer.
“Just like I was, you are alone [in Canada]. But you’re part of our family now,” Ali told him.
So how can observant Canadians practice their customs as faithfully as possible? When it comes down to it, many will need to make personal choices based on what options are available to them and what means they can access.
Muslim Canadians shared with HuffPost Canada what’s changed for them for Ramadan in 2020:
Still OK to fast, iftar and suhoor go virtual
The consensus among all Muslim Canadians interviewed and Canadian Muslim organizations was that fasting rules are unchanged: Anyone able and willing to abstain from food and drink, should. In a guidance report, the World Health Organization notes that fasting for Ramadan won’t increase the risk of contracting COVID-19 and encourages healthy observant Muslims to do so.
Keywords being able and willing: Fasting every day isn’t possible for those who may be risking their health because of illness or pre-existing conditions, says dietician Sana Motlekar. This includes those who have tested positive for COVID-19, as well as diabetics, the immunocompromised, pregnant Canadians, or the elderly.
Fasters who eat suhoor, the meal before dawn, and iftar, the evening meal, may deeply miss this communal aspect of Ramadan. Eating with family members or anyone they are sheltering in place with can be comforting. For those home alone, many organizations like the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama`at Canada are hosting virtual iftar dinners to recreate the warmth of gathering together.
Some services are streaming, others ask to pray only with others in home
Scholars and imams may be divided on whether special prayer services like taraweeh should be go live online, depending on how they interpret religious law. Neither the Muslim Association of Canada’s chapters nor the Islamic Society of North America Canada (ISNA Canada) will be streaming them. The Canadian Council of Imans states that it views any prayer with an Imam via online streaming as invalid. However, virtual sermons are OK.
The reason: Chihab Kaab, chair of the board and acting executive director of ISNA Canada, says prayers like taraweeh were originally supposed to be an individual practice. However, over time it became tradition for communities to pray it in mosques to keep morale up.
“All our [virtual] programs are done during the day, until the time to break fast. At sunset, we’ll leave enough time for our communities to do their own prayers,” he told HuffPost Canada.
Other organizations, such as the Islamic Institute of Toronto, suggest that live prayer services are OK as a “temporary measure.” A Canadian may wish to check with their local mosque or go-to Islamic online resource regarding best practices on offering taraweeh at home.
Giving zakat can be done online or with acts of kindness
While fasting may be a major feature of Ramadan, so too is giving back. Ali’s free meals for front-line workers and hungry students, as well as those in need, are driven by zakat ― one of the pillars of Islam, it calls on Muslims to make charitable contributions to those less fortunate.
Alms-giving ramps up during Ramadan, which is why Ali has plans to deliver to as many locals as he can. He hopes organizations who are able to pitch in with their efforts do so.
“You’ve still got to fast, you’ve still got to give zakat. You’ve just got to figure out other ways of doing it,” he said.
Reyhana Patel, head of external relations at Islamic Relief Canada, agrees. She notes that registered charities like IRC are accepting online donations, which can fulfill religious duties. Their organization does relief and poverty reduction work in 40 countries, as well as in Canada. At home, they’re helping mosques with their fundraising, distributing hygiene kits to vulnerable Canadians, and supporting food banks.
“In the past, people tend to give for international [causes] rather than locally,” she told HuffPost Canada. “This year, people might consider giving back to those struggling here at home because of COVID-19.”
Farina Siddiqui and her Mississauga, Ont. family has gotten creative with kindness, by making a “table of sharing.” On their front lawn, they place free food and kitchen ingredients for anyone who needs, no questions asked.
“At this time of need, where most of us are struggling with wage loss, poverty and insecurity, Ramadan brings hope for people,” she said.
Siddiqui says their table’s been emptied a few times so far, with generous additions from other neighbours.
Community is still active
Mosques and Islamic centres are often community hubs for all ages, with many providing children’s programming and day activities for seniors. In the absence of physical community, organizations are helping bridge Muslim Canadians to each other, while deepening understandings of religious teachings. Here are a few examples:
Islamic Society of North America Canada has a full calendar of programming. They’re running special initiatives like deep-dives into parables, nightly live recitations, tutoring for kids, fitness classes for seniors, and Quran memorization sessions.
Deaf Muslims of Canada is hosting group meetings. Attendees can expect fun socials and Islamic classes in ASL.
Online Facebook communities for LGBTQ2S+ Muslims exist, such as one by the Unity Mosque in Toronto.
What non-Muslim Canadians should keep mind
Torontonian Fahmida Kamali created a resource for non-Muslims about Ramadan, which includes frequently asked questions (which includes the common “Not even water?” query). It asks individuals to ask Muslims in their lives about how they observe before assuming, as well as facilitate accommodations if needed: scheduling changes for an employee to match their energy levels, for example, or changing the Zoom group meal so it coincides with iftar may be appreciated.
Siddiqui notes that more than just one group of Canadians benefits from the good deeds done during the holy month.
“Ramadan is a blessing for all and not just Muslims. Charity during Ramadan serves the poor, hungry, homeless, orphans, abused,” Siddiqui said. “It sends a message of hope and this year will not be different, God willing.”
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