Osman Abdullateef isn’t that disappointed that his senior year at Henrico High School school ended several months early. Two months into the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s the nightly gatherings at the Islamic Center of Richmond during Ramadan that he misses instead.
He still finds joy breaking the fast with his family as well as leading them in prayer each night in a spare bedroom of their Glen Allen home.
But it’s not the same as going to the mosque every night, eating dinner with friends and family, standing shoulder to shoulder with his community when they come together to give thanks to Allah.
His family still observes Ramadan traditions at home: They eat dates to break the fast. There’s fresh fruit and an Indian- or Arabic-style meal on the table, followed by prayer and then tea or coffee.
Without being able to gather at the mosque, though, there’s no sneaking away with friends to hit a fast food drive-thru on nights when spiced lentils and basmati rice doesn’t feel satisfying after fasting all day. There’s no playing soccer or basketball, or sharing memes and YouTube videos on their smartphones while their parents chat for hours on long weekend nights.
“You really miss out on that brotherhood. It’s something you look forward to — it’s like a party every day,” Abdullateef said. “It’s been kind of upsetting.”
His father, Salman Lateef, feels the same way.
“It’s something that’s honestly missing this Ramadan. But it is important that we don’t get together,” he said. “We should be part of the fight, not the crisis.”
With the pandemic forcing houses of worship around the world to shut down over the last two months, religious holiday services and traditions are being disrupted.
Lateef, the father, says the pandemic is an unprecedented disruption for virtually all living Muslims, meaning that everyone is figuring out how to observe Ramadan in isolation.
Like Easter and Passover just recently, it’s no different for Muslims who are fasting during the Islamic holy month, which began on April 23 and will end Saturday.
Muslims believe the words of the Quran were revealed by God to the Prophet Muhammad during this month about 1,400 years ago.
Most adherents fast from sunrise to sunset each day to purify the soul and become closer with God, and are encouraged to pray and break fast with their community every night.
Ammar Amonette, the imam, or religious leader, of the Islamic Center of Virginia, said it’s usually the busiest time of year at the mosque. During Ramadan, most mosques provide dinner each night.
This year is no different for the Chesterfield County mosque.
While the mosque is closed and not hosting any events on its campus, it is still distributing meals to families. It is also giving gift cards to some community members in need.
Amonette said the center is giving meals to about 150 to 200 people each day in a drive-thru service. He said the food is provided by members of the congregation who volunteer in advance.
“We’re trying to be a resource for people during this time,” he said. “A lot of people want to help.”
Spiritual and community leaders at local mosques are also coordinating Zoom calls for lectures and discussion groups.
The meal distribution and online discussion groups are keeping community members connected, but it’s hard not to feel like something’s been taken away.
Zulfi Khan, a local Muslim community activist, said he understands why Muslims are disappointed that they can’t gather together.
However, he thinks the community should also keep in mind how the health crisis is exacerbating economic and social disparities for African Americans, Hispanics and other minority groups.
And with families feeling “locked down,” Khan said, the community should remember that Muslims in other parts of the world, such as the Kashmir region of India, continue to face intense prosecution.
“We must not forget about the people who are going through [the] month of Ramadan under different circumstances,” he said.
Javed Ahad said he, his wife and four children are all sad that they can’t visit the mosque or relatives who live in the area. “I have a lot of family living in Henrico, but we are just staying together and obeying social distancing guidelines,” he said.
With the end of Ramadan approaching, culminating in the feast holiday of Eid al-Fitr, he said they may consider visiting a family member’s house or inviting others over to celebrate.
“With restrictions of no more than 10 people, maybe we can go to someone’s house or have people over. But I’m not sure what’s going to happen,” he said.
Normally, the area’s mosques coordinate to rent out a large venue, such as the Arthur Ashe Center, to host thousands of people to pray together in the morning.
Amonette said leaders are trying to figure out if they can do it outdoors somewhere, but there are no plans set in stone yet.
Dr. Muhammad Rais, a pediatrician, said he also misses the daily activities at the Islamic Center of Virginia but cherishes the extra time he’s spending at home with his wife and three adult daughters.
With two daughters in college now and another preparing to take the MCAT exam, they all came back home in time for Ramadan, he said.
He said they now eat dinner every night and get to spend time chatting about what they want to study, about other family and friends, and what’s going on in the world.
It feels like a blessing in an otherwise stressful time.
“There’s more time to talk to each other,” he said. “It’s bringing us a bit closer together.”