‘We are aching to hug each other’

Community prayers return as Ramadan begins

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After two years of restrictions and closures, Winnipeg’s largest mosques plan to be open for community prayers during Ramadan.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 01/01/2022 (228 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

After two years of restrictions and closures, Winnipeg’s largest mosques plan to be open for community prayers during Ramadan.

“I think this first year is a test to find where people are comfortable in getting together,” said Tasneem Vali, vice-president of the Manitoba Islamic Association, which runs Winnipeg Grand Mosque and Pioneer Mosque.

During the 30 days of Ramadan, which begins at sundown tonight and runs until May 2, adult Muslims fast from food or drink during daylight hours, pray five times a day, read and recite the Qur’an and donate to charity. Families and friends often meet at sundown to break the fast together.

For the first time in two years, Tasneem Vali and her family will be able to come together with the Muslim community for community prayers during Ramadan. (Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press)

People who attend evening congregational prayers are asked to wear masks even though mask mandates in public spaces were dropped in mid-March, says Vali.

She says neither of the association’s mosques will hold large community meals to break the fast, called iftars, although families can rent the Grand Mosque gym for their own celebrations.

“The congregational prayer is an obligation, so we’re doing it,” Vali said.

“The iftar where we have 500 people for a meal is not an obligation, so we’re not doing it.”

Instead, people can pick up take-out meals at 7 p.m. at drive-thru sites sponsored by the association, says Vali.

Last year, a surging caseload of COVID-19 closed mosques and other religious institutions mid-way through Ramadan, pushing Muslims to virtual platforms to pray together. In 2020, mosques were closed during all of Ramadan.

With no restrictions this year, Winnipegger Merdia Imame plans to attend evening prayers at the mosque this weekend and host a meal for the 30 members of her extended family.

“We are aching to hug each other,” the mortgage broker said in anticipation of meeting family and friends this weekend.

“I hug everyone. I’m known for hugging.”

No mosque plans to enforce social distancing recommendations, but leaders also say they don’t expect to be at full capacity because some people are more cautious about attending public events or have health concerns that may keep them away from large crowds.

“The numbers are down and the people who are here are keen to put (the pandemic) in the past,” said Idris Knapp, executive director of Winnipeg Central Mosque.

“Some people are still wanting to keep masks. Some want to have big iftars.”

The Islamic association will continue with its virtual mosque, providing both in-person and online events so people can participate at their own comfort level, said Vali.

“We’re doing a mixture of both so people are not cut off if they are not confident attending in person,” said Vali.

“We will broadcast everything virtually like we used to.”

This year will likely see the return of the large Eid al-Fitr celebration at RBC Convention Centre as well. Eid is the celebration that marks the end of the month of fasting for Muslims.

Vali said the downtown facility is booked for May 2 and planners may hold two sets of congregational prayers instead of one to keep the crowd to a more manageable size.

About 10,000 Muslims attended Eid celebrations at the convention centre in 2019, the last year it was held.

“People are looking forward to that sense of community and meeting each other,” said Vali.

However the next month unfolds, Knapp says the past two pandemic years underscored the essence of Ramadan for him, even if the community couldn’t gather in their usual way.

“I think there was a chance for us to reflect inside because Ramadan was toned down,” he said.

“It was an inner fast, in your head space and in your heart. It gave you a lot of time to reflect about things.”

brenda@suderman.com

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