Ramadan, the ninth and holiest month for Muslims on the Islamic calendar, is set to start the evening of Thursday, April 23. Traditionally, it's an intimate yet social affair, marked by days of fasting, then evenings of food and faith.
"It takes a lot of willpower to be able to fast without food or water throughout the entire day. What you’re looking forward to at the end of the day is to break your fast and be with your sisters and brothers in Islam and pray together," says Nadeen Ibrahim, a native of Wiggins who serves on the Colorado Muslim Leadership Council.
Afterward, families and friends often get together for a cup of coffee or to catch a movie at the theater. Young Muslims might go to a breakfast restaurant to fill their stomachs just before dawn so that they can make it through the next day of fasting.
But this year, with the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping across Colorado, local Muslims will largely be spending Ramadan in one place: their own homes.
"It breaks my heart. I’ve cried a few times about it. That’s just how much Ramadan means to the community," says Ibrahim.
According to Muslim belief, God revealed the Quran, the holiest book in Islam, to the prophet Muhammad during Ramadan; its start depends on the sighting of the new month. Fasting takes place from dawn to sunset every day of the month and is broken by an evening meal. When the month of Ramadan ends, Muslims celebrate the holiday with three days of feasting and gatherings. But that's in a traditional year.
For the past few weeks, the Colorado Muslim Leadership Council, which comprises community organizers such as Ibrahim and imams who lead mosque congregations along the Front Range, has been meeting virtually to create best practices for the Muslim community to celebrate and worship during Ramadan.
The biggest priority has been keeping people safe, according to Iman Jodeh, a member of the leadership council and an Aurora resident running for Colorado House District 41.
"When you have a community of 100,000 and a majority of them are made up of immigrants and refugees, you want to provide them with information that puts their mind at ease. You don’t want to give them anything else to worry about when they’re coming from places of strife and civil war," explains Jodeh.
The leadership council has recommended that mosques throughout the state remain closed. All of the main ones have complied with that request, according to Jodeh, so that means the usual nightly prayers won't be offered during Ramadan.
A local infectious-disease expert serves on the leadership council and has been publicizing information about COVID-19 and how it spreads, which helped persuade the group that the mosques needed to be closed and that people should not pray together in groups.
"Infectious disease isn’t typically a subject that a lot of folks focus on. It’s been a blessing to help people understand why stay-in-place matters, why limiting our interactions and telling people not to go pray in the mosque is relevant," says Nabeeh Hasan, a bioinformatics analyst at National Jewish Health in Denver.
On April 12, Hasan and a local imam hosted a webinar for the Facebook group Colorado Muslims to talk about celebrating Ramadan during a pandemic, and how to stay safe while doing so. In addition to keeping the Colorado Muslim community safe, one of Hasan's goals has been combatting conspiracy theories.
"Being a member of the community, I can help dispel people from spreading those conspiracy theories that maybe just Asians got it," says Hasan.
Muslim leaders in Colorado have been trying to foster virtual connection in the community. The periodic webinars about various religious topics will continue during Ramadan, according to Hasan. There will be religious sermons, too.
"What we’ve been doing for the last three weeks is that we do our lecture, what we call khutba, we do it on Facebook Live. We are doing things through the technology that we have available to us," says Abdur Rahim Ali, the imam of the Northeast Denver Islamic Center in Park Hill. "And then we pray. We’ll be praying at home, and people can follow us during the lecture and after the lecture."
During Ramadan, mosques throughout Colorado will host Zoom meetings right around the time that people break their fast. The call to prayer will sound over the Zoom meeting. Then those who were fasting will say their greetings to each other, take a sip of water, eat a date and pray.
Those virtual sessions will be especially helpful for newer Muslim converts who might not have many, if any, Muslim family members.
"My first Ramadan, it was very social, it was very uplifting, it was a great experience last time," says Ameer Logan, a Highlands Ranch resident who converted to Islam in November 2018. Logan plans to participate in many of the online meetings this Ramadan, his second. "It’ll be different, but I'm pretty sure it will be a pretty good experience as well."
While Ramadan is focused on worship and celebration, giving back to those less fortunate is also an important component.
"We get hunger pangs when we’re fasting. So you remember those who are less fortunate," explains Ali.
Ali hopes that as the stay-at-home order is relaxed in Colorado, he and other members of his mosque will be able to distribute canned goods, fresh vegetables and bread to people in need every Friday afternoon.
Ibrahim and others on the leadership council are also trying to help small businesses such as restaurants, many of which would normally do big business catering for events during Ramadan.
"On this day, let’s all buy our meals from so-and-so business. This business would make an opportunity to get 10 percent off," explains Ibrahim. "We'll all have a meal from the same place."
And Hasan is also pushing the idea of subsidizing restaurants that feed needy individuals.
"If we can do that on a systemic level throughout Ramadan and then that could extend," he notes, "that’s something that’s sustaining and enduring that could last well beyond Ramadan."