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Thursday night marked the beginning of Ramadan, a holy month for Muslims. Each year across the country, hundreds and even thousands gather at mosques each night to offer prayers. But with Gov. JB Pritzker’s stay-at-home order to fight the spread of COVID-19, that is no longer a reality.
Ramadan is a month in which Muslims fast for 30 days. But it’s not just about eating and drinking. The sense of community has always uplifted the spirit of Ramadan. With all activities being suspended, many Muslims are saddened by the fact they won’t be able to pray in congregation, said Jaseem Anwer, president of Islamic Foundation North in Libertyville.
“Ramadan is a big celebration and one of the biggest congregations every year. And we were really excited. In fact, all the committees and executive committee were really prepared for that. But then this happened. The people, they are a little depressed,” Anwer said.
Ramadan has always been celebrated in the mosque, so it is “emotional” to not celebrate it as usual, said Amin Ul Karim, general secretary at the Islamic Center of McHenry County. But it is something Muslims accept from Allah, Karim said.
Despite not having the same joys of Ramadan, Masroor Sidiqui, one of the co-founders of the Islamic Center of Kane County, said many Muslims are staying positive.
“This Ramadan will provide an opportunity unlike any other Ramadan in terms of personal connection with God, the blessing of time, the blessing of flexibility to work, and just end up raising the bar,” Sidiqui said.
Because Muslims have more time to connect to the Quran and Allah, Anwer said, the spirit of Ramadan doesn’t change.
“I would say that this is a unique opportunity for Muslim families that they stay with their loved ones during Ramadan. So they would have more time to connect to the Quran to connect to Allah then they have to see that this is really something they should be focusing more on,” he said.
Up to 1,000 people at Islamic Foundation North in Libertyville would gather for Taraweeh prayer each night during a typical Ramadan. Taraweeh prayer is an optional prayer and a special devoted act in which Muslims pray for up to an hour or two during the night. Offering Taraweeh at home has an upside, scholars say, because praying it at home is actually closer to the tradition of the Prophet Muhammad.
“Participating in Taraweeh behind the imam is one thing, but people, even if they know two surahs [chapters] for doing Taraweeh at home, I think that’s going to be a positive,” Sidiqui said.
Some mosques are allowing worshipers to come and pray on their own and are guided to pray 6 feet apart.
Although mosques are designed for praying, they have become more than just prayer spaces. With weekend schools, youth clubs, sports clubs and dinners, they are community centers.
Programs at Islamic Foundation North, including Quran Academy, daily reminders, Sunday school and other classes have shifted online.
While online options are viable for some mosques, other, smaller communities struggle with providing such resources. The closure has financially impacted the Islamic Center of McHenry County and is still working to provide online resources.
“We’re getting good responses from, you know, different states, different communities, from different literary leadership teams. They’re reaching out to see what they can offer to help each other. That’s a very good sign, “They’re offering us free conference calls or video conferencing,” Karim said.
For Karim, the COVID-19 situation should bring Muslims closer to Allah by taking care of loved ones during this unprecedented and difficult time.
“You can see around the world, everyone is affected,” he said. “There’s no color, sex, religion, it is affecting everybody.”
People have lost connection with parents, elders, community members and neighbors despite being connected on social media, he added.
“With our cellphones, with our own iPads, doing our own business, we are becoming so selfish,” he said. “We don’t care about each other. But with the situation, I think we need to really stay together, look after each other. The whole world is one community and we should be looking after each other. So if this is not something we have learned, we never learned.”