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'An entire cultural spirit that comes with getting together': Ramadan adapts to COVID-19

First State mosques are observing the start of Ramadan Friday. 

Delaware Muslims are in for a very different holy month — as the coronavirus prevents them from gathering.

At the Islamic Society of Delaware mosque in Newark, Ramadan means daily gatherings of 200 to 300 people for the Iftar meal that breaks the fast after sundown, and upwards of 600 people for evening prayers and the recitation of the Quran. 

None of those gatherings can happen in person this year because of social distancing orders in response to the coronavirus outbreak. 

"Let's not focus on the ritual, but let's focus on what the ritual is supposed to accomplish." - Faizal Chaudhury

Islamic Society of Delaware (ISD) secretary Faizal Chaudhury says the imam there will livestream daily recitations of the holy scripture and post videos of the educational lecture that would happen during the evening prayer. 

Chaudhury says the Newark mosque is committed to having the “best Ramadan ever.”

“Let’s not focus on the ritual, but let’s focus on what the ritual is supposed to accomplish,” he said. “So just because we are not able to pray in a congregation, should not mean that, oh my God, we are missing out. It’s why we were praying is the most important thing.”

The Islamic Society of Central Delaware (ISOCDE) in Dover, which serves Muslims from Middletown and south, is collaborating with the Newark mosque for some online content — as well as creating its own. 

"There's an entire cultural spirit that comes with getting together." - Imam Arqum Rashid

“We have made some efforts to mitigate that lack of spirituality [caused by the cancelled gatherings],” said ISOCDE Imam Arqum Rashid. “One of the things we’re doing is every single day about ten minutes before sunset … we will go on the livestream and it’s going to be five, six minutes of a short reminder, we’re going to make a short prayer, and then we’re going to end with the call to prayer on the livestream. Then everybody can virtually break the fast together.”

Rashid describes an important element of Ramadan traditions that will be missing this year. 

“The evening prayer is the type of prayer you can pray at home, or you can pray together in congregation,” he said. “But there’s an entire cultural spirit that comes with getting together with everybody, praying together, eating together. You can easily break your fast at home alone—  you’re not required to break it with anybody else. But it’s a sense of community that you get when you break it with people.”

“It also provides, more importantly, a place for people who might not have family that they can open their fast with,” he added, “people who are either alone, students, single people, or anybody that might not have somebody to share that Ramadan spirit with.”

"You can't appreciate something until it's been taken away from you." - Aimee Brocki

Aimee Brocki is a member of ISD who works on outreach to new Muslims. She says the community will miss sharing the special prayer together each evening.

“The Taraweeh prayer basically is the reading of the entire Quran through the whole month at night. This is something that is very dear to a lot of people, and not having it is a first for many people,” she sighed. “So it’s going to be interesting.” 

Brocki says her community is resilient — and hopes the changes brought about by social distancing this Ramadan will help them appreciate the usual traditions even more. 

“There’s always things in contrast,” she said. “You can’t appreciate something until it's been taken away from you. You can’t really understand the meaning and importance of things until you don’t have access to them anymore. So I think that for the people who struggle in their faith and their worship, I think that it might motivate them in a way.”


Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.