Muslim community prepares for less social Ramadan as mosques shutter due to COVID-19
Friday prayers cancelled, Ramadan and Eid functions could face same fate if state of emergency continues
On a normal Friday afternoon, mosques would be packed with hundreds of praying people, standing shoulder to shoulder and following the lead of an imam.
But for the last three Fridays, the mosques has been empty and silent. The community centres have shut their doors following health experts' recommendation to stay home to slow the spread of COVID-19.
And it's not just Friday prayers that are cancelled. The New Brunswick Muslim community is preparing to spend the month of Ramadan, and possibly Eid, the holiday that follows, indoors.
This week New Brunswick extended its state of emergency for another two weeks, and continues to make physical distancing guidelines the law, banning gatherings of any size, including for religious reasons.
As the number of cases rises each day, reaching 91 cases by Thursday, people are not likely to see that change anytime soon.
The holy month of Ramadan is expected to begin near the end of April.
That means Moncton resident Riaz Akhtar may have to perform the daily nighttime prayers, or taraweeh, alone at home.
"In the last few years, with the significant increase of the population in Moncton, this has been quite a big affair. There are lots of people turning up for these prayers at the mosque," Akhtar said.
Akhtar said on a regular Friday, between 200 and 250 people would participate in the group prayer.
"The place is absolutely packed," he said.
In Saint John and Fredericton, those numbers have been similar. But, things are different now.
"We are left very much to our own devices. And therefore you feel a little isolated," Akhtar said.
Eid in jeopardy
The large gathering to celebrate Eid at the end of Ramadan might also be cancelled, said Abdul Rahimi, president of the Saint John Islamic Association
Those Eid prayers see more than a thousand people in the Saint John mosque, Rahimi said.
"We are hoping for good [news]," he said. "If everything goes well, we will have the Eid prayer, but we have to obey the law."
He said his mosque usually invited an imam to visit from Ontario and give the Eid sermon. He said travel restrictions and mandating a 14-day isolation after crossing provincial borders would make that difficult this year.
Remote Friday prayer?
Mohamed El-Bayoumi of the Fredericton Islamic Association said the Friday prayer holds a special place for people. He said some people follow Friday prayer online or over the radio, but it's not the same experience.
And, it's not even possible now, He said Friday prayers across the globe have been cancelled.
"When I was too young to go anywhere I know that that we used to turn the radio on Friday and listen to it. But it has not been done anywhere. So… there is nothing remotely that can be followed or that can be watched."
However, El-Bayoumi said it makes sense that people are staying put and following the rules.
"We are all praying for this calamity to disappear one way or the other," he said.
"I really wish that everyone listens to those who know better than [them]."
More than a place of worship
Much like a church, a mosque is a community centre as well as a place of worship, Rahimi said. Sunday school, and social events were also cancelled when the mosque closed.
He said he's feeling the loss of that social element himself.
"If you're asking me, I know it's not easy, it's boring, but you got to do what you got to do," he said. "The virus is a very critical virus, it's the killer. At this point everybody knows that their life is more important than anything else."