By ANDREW GARDA
This month, Montclair’s Muslim community and others worldwide observe Ramadan — a time of reflection, community, fasting and prayer. But like followers of every religion in the ongoing pandemic, they’re making adjustments to their normal routines.
One such change is to the community gatherings that often mark the end of daily fasts.
Each day of Ramadan — which runs from the evening of April 12 through May 11 this year — Muslims refrain from eating and drinking from dawn until sunset. Sexual activity is prohibited during the hours of fast as well, and Muslims are asked to pay particular mind to refraining from sinful speech, impulses and behavior, focusing even more intently on the teachings of Islam.
In normal times, the end of the daily fast is often marked with gatherings of friends, families and communities, to eat and connect. But due to COVID-19 restrictions, that isn’t possible in the same way it has been before, Kevin Dawud Amin, the imam of the Masjid Al-Wadud mosque on Bloomfield Avenue, said.
Since March of 2020, the majority of Masjid Al-Wadud’s congregation had to practice at home. New Jersey currently allows indoor religious services at up to 50% of a facility’s normal capacity, but also still requires social distancing that, for many houses of worship, makes that limit smaller in practice.
“After the end of the fast normally we come [together] as a community and we have communal dinner to break the fast,” he said. “And then afterwards, maybe about an hour’s time, we have another prayer and that prayer is a large congregation of prayer that we normally don’t have [in the pandemic]. That’s been severely restricted because of the spacing requirements from the state.”
So instead of breaking their fast with their community, members of the congregation must do so with their families or, if they are quarantining with other families, their pods.
During Ramadan, Muslims also refocus on community. But fundraising and charity have to be approached differently in a world of COVID-19.
“There are a lot of people that were fundraising and the fundraising has to be virtual now,” Amin said. “If we have a dinner or fundraiser, we can’t meet inside the actual facility itself and have a fundraiser.”
Amin said though things are not ideal for Ramadan, the pandemic has provided an opportunity for people to spend time looking inward. During Ramadan, Muslims should read and think more deeply on the Quran, and the increased time at home has given many people time to do that, he said.
It is also a time when Muslims should be especially aware of the circumstances of others and the importance of charity. Fasting itself is, in part, an act to teach empathy for those who regularly do without, and the pandemic has raised awareness of the plight of those less fortunate, Amin said.
The imam said he realizes this past year has been especially difficult for all people, and that the mental toll on adults and children alike has been great. With that in mind, he’s hoping to remind Muslims that Ramadan is a good time to clear their minds and focus — to reset and take a breath.
Amin also wants his congregation to remember that while part of Ramadan is reconnecting with one’s spouse and family, many people have been around their immediate families all year — so making a deeper connection means more than just showing up.
“Normally where you might have people working outside the home and then coming home at night, now you have people who are spending all of the time, that ‘working day’ with each other, and that’s an adjustment,” Amin said. “In theory, ‘Oh, I get more time to spend with my wife. I get more time to spend with my husband.’ But in practice, it’s something else because it’s a new dynamic.”
Amin hopes people outside the faith also take the time to learn more of the observance.
“I mean for a person from the outside looking in, it is just not an exercise in denying yourself food and drink and the companionship of your spouse,” he said. “It’s actually a way that, since you’re not focusing on these things, you have the opportunity to develop yourself. To be a better person. You’re trying to be a better servant of your Lord, who is God almighty, whom we call Allah. That’s really the main thing.”
Amir encourages people who want to learn more to call their local mosques. Those who want information on Masjid Al-Wadud can reach it at 973-493-4982.
An earlier version of this post had an incorrect first name for Kevin Dawud Amin.