London's Muslim community is prepping for a Ramadan unlike any other

London's Muslim community is preparing for a Ramadan without all-important prayers with others and dinners with friends, colleagues and acquaintances.

Usually the month includes breaking the fast with friends and praying with the community

Ramadan Naghmoush owns Mona's Fine Meats in London, Ont.,'s Lockwood Park. (Kate Dubinski/CBC News)

Mona's Fine Meats is bustling with activity as many in London's Muslim community stock up for the month of Ramadan, the holiest month in the Islamic calendar, which begins on Friday. 

But while the small store in Lockwood Park would usually be jam-packed with shoppers picking up meats and dates and other foods to share with their family and friends, this week the door is locked and there's a line. Workers are only letting a few people in at a time. 

"It's very different, that's for sure, but we manage," said Ramadan Naghmoush, who co-owns the store with his wife. 

He and the rest of the employees wear surgical masks, they wipe down the debit machines, door handles and the conveyer belts frequently. They've been busy because people are not only stocking up for Ramadan, but also for their COVID-19 needs. 

The Naghmoush family knows Ramadan will be different this year. Gone will be the packed prayers at the London Muslim Mosque, the visits to extended family and friends with deliveries of dates and baklava. 

"Usually we have Libyan soup, samosas, some pasta or rice," said Ali Naghmoush, 22, whose parents own Mona's. 

"To break the fast, we go over to people's houses, we get to reconnect. You have coffee or tea or baklava, things you wouldn't usually have on a regular basis." 

Mosques changing plans

Ramadan is marked by "really vibrant experiences," including the Tarawih prayers that happen every evening. Usually, prayer spaces are filled for those prayers, but that will not happen this year, said Ali Chahbar, an outreach coordinator for the London Muslim Mosque. 

"In light of COVID-19, we've had to become creative," Chahbar said. 

The London Muslim Mosque's Imam Amin Ali Ali has been releasing daily videos offering spiritual guidance. The same goes for the London chapter of the Muslim Association of Canada and the London Islamic Centre. 

"Ramadan is synonymous with social engagement and we're being told to social distance," Chahbar said. "The pandemic really compels you to reflect and go inside, not just inside your house but also inside yourself." 

Working from home while fasting

Ali Naghmoush lived in Toronto, but has moved back home since his banking job has him working from home. 

And that's meant the same temptations as many people working from home, with the fridge and delicious food an arm's reach away. 

"I've been thinking about it. It'll be interesting because I won't be able to have that coffee to give me a boost, you get more bored, and the snacking has to be cut back from what I'm doing now, which is basically around the clock," Naghmoush said. 

Usually, the London Muslim Mosque hosts big dinners for the less fortunate, every night. That won't happen this year. Neither will the nightly prayers, though they're being scheduled virtually. 

"A lot of the charm is getting to reconnect with people, so that will be gone, but you can still do it over the internet," Naghmoush said.