Muslims observing Ramadan in the C-U community adapt traditions for COVID-19

URBANA, Ill. — During Ramadan 2020, it was difficult to adjust the usual Ramadan traditions to the new norms set forth due to the pandemic, such as social distancing.

“Normally we’re supposed to pray shoulder to shoulder,” says Waleed Jassim, president of the Central Illinois Mosque and Islamic Center. “My shoulder would touch the other person’s shoulder, and this was really hard for us because it feels so awkward and weird.”

But as Muslims enter the second week of Ramadan 2021, the second Ramadan observed during a pandemic, observers are taking what they learned from the first pandemic-driven Ramadan and applying it to this year’s Ramadan.

Ramadan is a month-long tradition, that follows the Islamic Calendar, where observers take time to reflect, pray and provide charity. One of the more notable Ramadan traditions is the fast, where observers are not allowed to eat or drink anything from sunrise to sunset.

“Fasting is supposed to make people feel what poor people feel when they are hungry,” says Jassim. “Many people have never been hungry, so [fasting] would give you a feeling about what other people who cannot afford to eat feel.”

Fasting also makes people appreciate food more and looks into our human nature.

“If I see a child has a piece of cracker, that cracker looks so delicious because you’re not eating,” says Jassim. “It also shows how weak we are as humans.”

Prior to the pandemic, mosques such as CIMIC would give out meals to families after the fast broke at sunset, however with Ramadan 2020 occuring very early in the pandemic, all functions at the mosque had to stop.

Instead, CIMIC brought the meals closer to families.

A man prays inside CIMIC.

“Last year, we had people go to a local restaurant and ask for the food and the restaurant would give it to them for free,” says Jassim. “Basically, we donated to these restaurants to give food to the people who come and ask.”

This year, CIMIC is taking what they learned from last year and are providing a hybrid approach where families can either go to get food at the mosque or a participating restaurant.

Even so, the obstacles the pandemic has put upon Ramadan has not affected some.

“One of the things I was able to do this year as opposed to last year was that I didn’t feel so sad (this time),” says Takeya Alamin of the Muslim-American Society Urbana-Champaign. “Yes, I like to get together with my friends, my family and my community, but last year gave me an idea of what it would be like this year, and I really enjoyed it.”

Alamin, is a board member of MAS Urbana-Champaign, which provides education and activism to young Muslims in the community. Normally, the classrooms in MAS Urbana-Champaign are filled, however, the building has been empty since March. A calendar featuring March 2020 can be seen within the lobby.

For Alamin, the time spent has allowed for more bonding between her and her family.

“Usually when we go to the mosque, my kids will go and pray in this one area, and I’ll pray and my husband prays with the men, and so in Ramadan we’ve been able to pray as a family and it’s just been really nice,” says Alamin.

Alamin says in the past, she has had to work Ramadan around her daily life but being at home these past two Ramadans have given her more time to fully embrace the holiday.

“Because we were so secluded from the community, we did a lot of personal reflection on our own selves and our connection with god, so that’s been happening even more with COVID,” she says. “There’s aspects of life you cannot change but I think from now on for future Ramadans I’m going to try to reduce as much activity as possible.”

Ramadan will end at sundown on May 12.

Jose Zepeda

Jose Zepeda is a senior at the University of Illinois majoring in journalism and minoring in political science. He is now on his third year with Good Morning Illini, previously serving as director, reporter and crew member. He is also currently a digital intern for WILL, the NPR- and PBS- affiliate in Urbana and vice-president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists University of Illinois chapter. He also has his own podcast with fellow GMI-er Angelle Cortes called Just Chillin’. He brings previous experience as a features intern at The News-Gazette and as a daytime news editor at The Daily Illini. You can follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @JoseZepedaTV.