PEI

'A sense of joy, a sense of anticipation' for P.E.I. Muslims ready to celebrate Ramadan together

The community will be able to gather in person for the first time in two years, something that hasn't been possible due to COVID-19. The arrival of the holy month of Ramadan also coincides with the completion of a massive expansion to Charlottetown's mosque, which nearly doubles its capacity. 

COVID-19 meant remote celebrations for two years in a row

'We are excited that the pandemic is hopefully over, and you can just mingle around and break the fast together,' Najam Chishti says. (Jane Robertson/CBC)

As Island Muslims gear up to observe Ramadan, this year brings with it two extra reasons to celebrate. 

The community will be able to gather in person for the first time in two years, something that hasn't been possible due to COVID-19. The arrival of the holy month of Ramadan also coincides with the completion of a massive expansion to Charlottetown's mosque, which nearly doubles its capacity. 

"There's a sense of joy, a sense of anticipation," said Zain Esseghaier, a spokesperson for the Muslim Society of P.E.I.

"People are excited about this, that we're going to be going back to the mosque. Within certain limits, of course, because the pandemic is still ongoing. But there's a slight sense of relief, if you can call it that, that things are slowly going back to normal."

For two years now, "normal" has been finding ways to worship and connect remotely. In 2020, COVID-19 made the usual potluck dinners and nightly prayers at the Masjid Dar As-Salam mosque in Charlottetown impossible.

"COVID affected everybody," said Najam Chishti, president of the Muslim Society of P.E.I. 

Back in 2020, Chishti worked with a small group to prepare meals during Ramadan, pack them up individually and set them up on a table outdoors for pick up. 

"It was awkward, but that was the best way to do it because we had to keep the six-feet distance and we couldn't allow anybody to come home and take them. So that was difficult, but we managed."

The new addition at the Masjid Dar As-Salam mosque in Charlottetown means that almost 325 people can now gather for prayer. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC )

This year, with the mosque allowed 75 per cent of its capacity of nearly 325 individuals, Chishti is hopeful 150 to 200 people will be there daily for prayers. And they'll be starting small with the communal meals, initially allowing just 25 to 30 people at a time — already an improvement over the previous two years.

"We are excited that the pandemic is hopefully over and you can just mingle around and break the fast together," said Chishti. 

'Perfect timing'

Adding to the excitement is the recent completion of a $400,000 expansion at the mosque, adding space on both floors. Once restrictions on gathering limits are lifted, about 325 people will be able to gather in the prayer room.

There will also be space in the basement for events — ready just in time for Ramadan.

'I would say there is hope that the tide is turning. There is hope that things will change, there is hope that the government will listen,' says Zain Esseghaier, spokesperson for the Muslim Society of P.E.I. (Tony Davis/CBC)

"Perfect timing," said Esseghaier, who said Ramadan isn't just about fasting, prayer and reflection — it's about community. 

"It is very important because it's really supposed to be about social gathering at the same time as a spiritual gathering. The sense of community would be really very important for most members, if not all members, of the community."

He said lifting restrictions will also allow P.E.I. Muslims to focus on another important aspect of Ramadan: charity.

The expansion also added space to the basement of the mosque, which will mean more room for community events and Islamic education for children. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC News)

Community members will be collecting non-perishable food items, and assembling 15-20 food baskets weekly to distribute to local families in need. And in addition to prayers, the mosque will be offering nightly readings from the Quran, with the goal of reading it from cover to cover over the month of Ramadan.

There are also plans to increase programming and Islamic education for children, with more space now in the basement. 

"It's an exciting time for the community," said Esseghaier. "Maybe we can even talk about renewal in that sense, since we have gone through two years of a dormant state. 

"Hopefully we'll have even better times for the community in the years to come, and the months to come." 

Esseghier said anybody is welcome to join and celebrate Ramadan at the Masjid Dar As-Salam mosque in Charlottetown.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jessica Doria-Brown

Videojournalist

Jessica Doria-Brown is a videojournalist with CBC in P.E.I. Originally from Toronto, Jessica has worked for CBC in Newfoundland & Labrador, New Brunswick, and Ontario.

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