Celebrating Ramadan during a Pandemic
Abdelrahman, an international student from Egypt, discusses the reality of celebrating a major holiday during a global pandemic.
My name is Abdelrahman and I’m an international student at Minnesota State Mankato. I came to the United States four years ago and Ramadan was an extremely difficult time for me then. The hardest part was fasting, not being able to eat from sunrise to sunset, and being by myself during the summer. It was hard to prepare my own food to break the fast without the feeling of my family and community being close to me. Ramadan means that everyone as a family is together and breaking the fast together after sundown.
After my first year here in Mankato, I found the Islamic Center here in Mankato. It was really amazing for everyone to get together and share their fasting together; additionally, the Mankato community as a whole seemed to be very understanding – even my roommate who didn’t practice any religion joined me to break the fast for almost one week. After that summer, life became much better – I could join my new friends – I could just go to the Islamic Center it made my Ramadan much better.
What is Ramadan?
Ramadan is a holy month of fasting in the Islamic faith. Muslims believe this month is an opportunity to take a break from their normal routine and reclaim their hearts. During Ramadan, Muslims are fasting – meaning they don’t eat nor drink starting around an hour before the sunrises until the sun sets. Before fasting, the family normally gathers together to say a prayer to start their day. This practice is considered a time to understand the life of poverty and appreciate the value of food and family.
Ramadan is celebrated around the Lunar calendar. A Lunar month is either 29-30 days, which means that Ramadan is celebrated anywhere from 29-30 days. Although Muslims follow science and meteorology, some scholars recommend the tradition of observing the new moon. This means that Eid day, or whether Ramadan is 29-30 days, cannot be confirmed until the 29th day of Ramadan. An interesting result of this practice is the possibility of countries celebrating Eid on different days depending on the visibility of the new moon in their country. Also, because Ramadan is based on the Lunar calendar, the time we celebrate varies each year because the Lunar calendar has a 11-12 fewer days per year than the Gregorian calendar.
After the last day of fasting, Muslims celebrate Eid and gather to eat and celebrate. Normally, the students at Minnesota State Mankato organize a large celebration for Eid on campus – sometimes in the ballroom and other times in Myers Field Hall – which attracts hundreds of community members.
How do Students and the community normally celebrate Ramadan?
During Ramadan, I normally get invited to many friends’ homes since it is the month of sharing. I sometimes get too many invitations on the same day that I need to decline some. Community members are extremely generous to students and food is normally not a concern for student at MNSU. Normally, if I don’t have time to cook or visit someone, I will go to the Mankato Islamic Center to enjoy the company of all. My favorite day is the first day as everyone is enjoying the experience of fasting and celebrating Ramadan. I love the energy of the volunteers and community members.
Usually, the leaders (board members) make a list of the days of Ramadan. People and organizations register to provide food for iftar, the evening meal. The calendar usually fills up quickly because people are generous and it is the spirit of Ramadan. Sponsors raise money for the food – the cooking is provided by local restaurants (we can cook but cannot taste while cooking) to solve this (and not be tempted) we support local restaurants. If I was at home in Egypt the cooking would be done in our home. Convenience and food safety – also cannot cook together now with COVID-19.
How much of a change did the COVID-19 cause?
With COVID-19 restricting gatherings, it is hard for students to get together. We want to pray for Ramadan the same way, but we cannot gather. The feeling of community is not as present this year. We may have food and have community members that support us, but we still do not feel the community aspect of the holy month. At the beginning of this Ramadan, the community had a very long discussion of how much of a change will happen and what can we do about it.
The community cannot get together at the Islamic Center, but what can the board/leaders do? We can get groceries, but what else could we do? The board reached out to some of the local restaurants and had meals available for students to pick up. Unfortunately, even with their great efforts, the need of our students was not satisfied. Because of the coronavirus, the Islamic Center was unable to serve all the people they normally do. During the early days of shelter in place, we could not gather as a group and maybe could only gather with 1 or 2 friends. Even at the end of the holy month, we are still complying with social distancing and do not gather in large groups.
Despite all of these changes, I celebrated Eid in a smaller group to pray. This is such an important time for me, I feel the need to celebrate no matter the conditions. It is similar to a Easter or a Christmas with social distancing with only 1 or 2 friends – it just isn’t right. And you don’t want to let the feeling of the time surpass you!
I would love to thank the board members of the Islamic Center downtown for their love and support of our students during this time. I would also like to thank the Kearney Center for helping us share our experiences and importance of Ramadan.