BRONZEVILLE — The holy month of Ramadan has officially begun, but this year’s holiday will be unlike any other as it coincides with the COVID-19 pandemic and Gov. JB Pritzker’s stay at home order.
Under normal circumstances, the month-long holiday of dawn-to-dusk-fasting is a time of community gathering. Muslims come together most evenings to pray and break fast with iftar dinners. There’s also an emphasis on increased prayer and volunteering or charity.
This year, however, Islamic organizations across Chicago are offering virtual alternatives in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Chicago chapter of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community will offer video-conferenced readings of the Quran, the holy book of Islam, said the group’s public affairs director Iftekhar Ahmad.
“To not be able to get together certainly makes for a different type of Ramadan, but we can still remain connected to our faith,” Ahmad said. “Your home can become a mosque. … At the core of [Ramadan] is the intense prayer, [which] is typically individual anyway. … It’s between you and God.”
One of America’s oldest Muslim organizations, Ahmadiyya was founded in 1920 in Chicago.
Though now headquartered in Maryland, the group has about 2,000 members between Al-Sadiq Mosque in Bronzeville and Baetul Jaamay Mosque in west suburban Glen Ellyn.
Other Islamic organizations across the Chicago area are offering virtual services, too.
The Muslim Community Center, which has homes in the Old Irving Park neighborhood at 4380 N. Elston Ave. and in north suburban Skokie and Morton Grove, will offer morning discussions, nightly readings of the Quran and a virtual lecture series.
Salman Azam, a board member of the Downtown Islamic Center, told the Sun-Times this week he was inspired by Jews’ and Christians’ virtual celebrations a few weeks prior.
“We watched our interfaith partners having Seders and Easter dinners virtually and it helped us get ideas for the breaking of the fast,” he told the paper.
A big piece of Ramadan is a focus on increased volunteering and acts of charity, which can be done virtually, too.
For example, the Chicago Muslims Green Team group has shared ideas on Facebook for how Muslims can take steps to heal the environment during Ramadan.
The Muslim Community Center is raising funds for Launch Good, an effort to provide the community with necessary services during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“At this time with COVID-19, it’s even more paramount that we’re also cognizant that there’s a lot of people out there who are struggling, a lot more than before,” Ahmad said. “We need to take the time and the effort to continue to help those that are less fortunate.”
When people hear about Ramadan they often think of fast, but Ahmad said the holiday is so much more. The “physical cleansing” of fasting supplements the end goal, which is a spiritual cleansing.
“It really is the focus on prayer,” he said. “It’s 30 days where you try to put worldly pursuits and desires to the side. … You focus on getting closer to god and being a better person.”
Ramadan is timed with the ninth month of the lunar calendar. Because the lunar calendar is about 10-11 days shorter than the solar calendar, the holiday occurs earlier each year than the year prior.
Know of any virtual Ramadan celebrations happening in your neighborhood? Let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
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