Muslims mark 2nd pandemic Ramadan with some changes
Leaders answer questions around vaccination, gathering during month of fasting
Ramadan is normally a time to focus on sacrifice, charity and coming together as a community, but for the second year in a row, Muslims around the world and in Ottawa are marking the holy month in new ways.
The pandemic creates challenges for Muslims to come together for two of Ramadan's most important parts: prayer and breaking the daily fast.
"Ramadan has a different flavour altogether. I mean, the reason Ramadan is special is because it's celebrated in the community. It's a month of worship, and it's really the atmosphere of coming together as one," said Jalil Marhnouj, president of the Assunnah Muslims Association.
On the eve of Ramadan, he said people normally hug each other.
"This is not happening, so it's very difficult," he said.
This year does have some differences over last. For one, places of worship in Ottawa are allowed to open at 15 per cent capacity, allowing some members of the community to continue the tradition of celebrating in person.
Normally around 3,000 people would be accommodated at the Mosque of Mercy, but because of physical distancing, it can only fit 250 people, but they often have fewer to ensure enough space for people and reduce the risk of contamination, said Marhnouj.
Once the spots are full, the mosque has to close its doors and turn others away.
"That has been very difficult for all of us," he said.
Keeping the community connected, but safe, has meant some creativity, including having an online registration system for each night of Ramadan, streaming prayers online, and having online cooking and fitness classes for senior members.
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Questions surrounding vaccines
Another difference is the availability of vaccines.
As more and more people get vaccinated across the city and region, Islamic leaders have been fielding a number of questions around whether it's OK to be vaccinated while in the midst of the daily fast.
"Fasting goes on between dawn and sunset every day of Ramadan, and there's no food or drink, so that question naturally comes up of whether Muslims are permitted to take and get a shot while they're fasting," said Sikander Hashmi, an imam and member of Council of Imams of Ottawa–Gatineau.
"The answer is that, yes, COVID vaccines or any other vaccine for that part doesn't offer any nutrition and therefore does not affect the validity of the fast."
He said that even if vaccines are not halal — all those currently approved in Canada are, since they don't contain gelatin or pork products — there is flexibility, especially when it comes to health and safety and there are no alternatives.
"There is always flexibility when it comes to Islamic rulings," he said.
With files from Judy Trinh and Ottawa Morning