Ramadan in a Time of Pandemic --- A Word of Friendship

          Today in the Mecca —and tomorrow morning here in Troy—begins the month of Ramadan. According to the Quran “The month of Ramadan is that wherein the Quran was sent down as guidance to mankind, as clear proofs of guidance, and as the Criterion. Let him among you who is present fast during that [month]” (Surah 2:185). Thus, Ramadan is a month-long observance for Muslims to celebrate the giving of the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad through fasting and prayer during the daylight hours. During this time Muslims make a greater effort to go to the mosque to pray the evening prayer (you can pray at home, but during Ramadan, there is a sense of blessing that comes from going to the mosque). When the sun goes down, it is time to break the fast and share in a large meal, preferably in community—especially the mosque. That word community is important. One can eat together as a family, but again a special blessing comes when one does so in community. When the moment arrives, in my experience at least, one takes a date and eats it. That is the first stage of breaking the fast. This meal, which breaks the fast, is called the iftar.

This year, things will be different around the world. Even as Holy Week and Passover had to be observed at home and online, the same will be true in most places during Ramadan. Muslims will not be going to the mosque for prayers or the iftar dinner. Such events will not be safe, and so Muslims, like Christians during Holy Week and Jews during Passover, will observe these holy events in their homes and perhaps connecting digitally.

Although I’m not Muslim, I have participated in iftar dinners each year for the past several years. I’ve been invited to local mosques and other Islamic communities to share in their meals. For the past several years, my congregation (Central Woodward Christian Church) has cohosted an interfaith iftar meal with our friends from the Turkish American Society of Michigan. Plans were underway to do the same this year in mid-May. The way we do this is we put up the tables in our fellowship hall, invite our congregation and the larger faith community, and they bring the food and their people. Together we have a great time, and they always ask me to bless the food. Unfortunately, what had become an annual event that I looked forward to experiencing again will not happen. I’m saddened by this reality, because not only will I miss the wonderful food that is served at an event like this, but more importantly because I’ll miss out on the fellowship that comes when gather.

In an age of Islamophobia, we need these kinds of events to dispel stereotypes and build relationships across religious lines. Although I won’t be able to join in the meals this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I will remember my Muslim friends in my prayers and hopefully in conversations during this season (you know who you are!). May God’s blessings be upon them all!


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