HALFWAY through Ramadan, Winnipeg’s Muslim community will change course to mark the remainder of its holy month by conference calls, group chats and praying at home.
"God hears us pray wherever we are," said Idris Knapp, executive director of Winnipeg Central Mosque, which will hold community prayers today for the last time during Ramadan.
"Jonah prayed in the dark of night, at the bottom of the sea and in the belly of a fish. (God) can hear from my home in Winnipeg."
Effective Wednesday, religious gatherings are limited to 10 people, down from 50 people previously. When Ramadan began April 13, up to 100 people could gather for religious services.
All facilities run by the Manitoba Islamic Association, including Grand Mosque on Waverley, Pioneer Mosque in St. Vital and Pembina Valley Mosque in Winkler, will be closed to the public Wednesday, and the community can tune into livestreamed prayers instead, the association announced Monday.
Ending May 12, Ramadan is a time when Muslims fast during daylight hours, pray, read the Qur’an, and donate money to charity. Before the pandemic, they would also gather with family, friends, and community members for iftar, the evening meal during Ramadan, but current restrictions only allow meals with household members.
Knapp intends to spend the rest of Ramadan assisting mosque members with practical details of navigating digital conference options so they can meet online with other members of the community.
"We will call them and walk them through setting up a Zoom account," he said. He also will encourage members of his congregation to write letters or call each other to ensure people who live alone or far from family can feel the support of others.
Sarah Parkar, of Islamic Social Services Association, has planned a series of hour-long digital iftars beginning Friday for Winnipeg Muslims who live alone and can’t share the evening meal with friends or extended family because of public health restrictions.
During a digital iftar, five or six households will log onto a conference call to share experiences while eating halal meals delivered by volunteers, said Parkar of the program, run jointly by the Centre for Comparative Muslim Studies at Simon Fraser University in B.C. and the Tessellate Institute in Oakville, Ont.
"This is the second year with the restrictions and we cannot meet people so it’s hard times for them," said Parkar, who invited seniors and newcomers to join the online events.
Participants are encouraged to tell stories and traditions from their families at the digital iftars, and also post recordings of their events online as a way to remember the unique circumstances of Ramadan during the pandemic, said project co-ordinator Amal Abdullah.
"Years in the future, people can check in to see what conversations were happening during a COVID Ramadan," she said from her home office in Vancouver.
The digital initiatives can provide a sense of connection during Ramadan, which has a strong communal aspect, said Nawal Mohamed, who lives alone in an apartment. Pre-pandemic, one of her parents would usually fly to Winnipeg from their home in Kenya to spend Ramadan with Mohamed and her brother, but now she depends on technology to connect with them.
Despite not marking the holy month with her family, Ramadan is an intensely spiritual month that prepares Muslims to deal with obstacles and changing circumstances, said Mohamed.
"That’s what Ramadan is — acknowledging the difficulties but also grounding ourselves in gratitude," she said.
Brenda Suderman has been a columnist in the Saturday paper since 2000, first writing about family entertainment, and about faith and religion since 2006.