This story is part of WDET’s Crossing the Lines: Canton Battles COVID series, reconnecting listeners with the people they met and issues they discovered during WDET’s 2019 Crossing the Lines Canton. Now, two years later, explore how the township of Canton has fared during the coronavirus pandemic and examine how the lives of residents have changed over the past year.
Ramadan began April 12 and runs until May 12. It’s a time when Muslims around the world fast, pray, reflect and increase worship to seek nearness to God. Due to the pandemic last year many mosques only offered virtual services.
Canton resident Lena Basata says last year her usual Ramadan plans were altered when the masjid where she typically goes to pray was closed due to the pandemic.
“We were pretty anxious before Ramadan came in, you know. We’re so used to our routine going to the masjid, seeing all of our friends, seeing family, and I hadn’t seen my parents in a month or two I think before Ramadan.”
Without access to the mosque, Basata had to create new traditions. She decorated her house with lights and began praying with her family at home. She also started baking cookies and traditional Syrian recipes with her daughter.
“My heritage is Syrian and there are things that are traditional in Syria that I had never made before that I wasn’t very familiar with, but I started to explore that culture a little more and learn some new recipes, and then we started you know distributing to the community, go drop things off at people’s doors, ring the doorbell and run and just leave it for them to enjoy,” says Basata.
Muslims Find New Ways To Observe Ramadan
This year the holy month is different yet again with many mosques having opened back up, at least partially.
Around 10 p.m. each night during Ramadan about 500 worshippers gather outside the Muslim Center of Western Suburbs, or MCWS in Canton. They’re carrying prayer rugs and water bottles as they file into the mosque. Volunteers check whether people are wearing masks or supply them with one. Inside the prayer hall are rows of maroon and gold carpeting where worshippers will roll out their rugs and pray socially distanced.
“People have evolved and understand that this is the right thing to do, not only to the way we worship God right now but also that’s the right thing to do for the community at large.” —Imran Jalal, Vice President of MCWS, on how the mosque has adapted
Prayers from the Quran are recited over a speaker. The hallways have been decorated with glittering lights and bright blue lanterns. Because of the pandemic, the mosque is only open at partial capacity. It remains closed for communal iftars when Ramadan worshippers break their fast after sunset. Younger kids and older adults were asked to stay home and stay safe.
MCWS President Haaris Ahmad says while the mosque has reopened, it’s not as full of life as a typical Ramadan.
“The building is just hustling and bustling, all day long, you know, from, from morning to evening to night in normal times, of course … food trucks … we have ice cream trucks, you know … kids and their families there. It’s such a beautiful time. Everybody’s connecting and just enjoying themselves,” says Ahmad.
Worshippers prepare for socially distanced in-person services
Usually during Ramadan, the mosque accommodates 1,000 worshippers. This year about half that number are showing up and those who are are taking extra precautions. Worshippers are praying spaced apart, not shoulder to shoulder, feet to feet like usual. And many people are vaccinated.
Ahmad says in anticipation for opening in-person prayers, MCWS organizers and volunteers partnered with Rite Aid and Kroger to register and get people COVID-19 shots.
“We will have vaccinated, Inshallah [God willing] 1,250 people through just our direct vaccinations,” he says.
Imran Jalal is the Vice President of MCWS. He says the mosque is strict about following CDC guidelines. Staff clean the prayer spaces daily, check for masks and enforce social distancing. Prayers are also divided into two shifts at two buildings to space out people further.
“People have evolved and understand that this is the right thing to do, not only to the way we worship God right now but also that’s the right thing to do for the community at large,” says Jalal.
There are virtual Quran recitations and spiritual reminders via YouTube for people who can’t attend Ramadan services in person.
As for Basata, she’s practicing a hybrid of her pre- and post-pandemic traditions. She’s praying in person at the mosque and also dropping off treats to people’s homes.
Listen: Observing Ramadan in year two of the pandemic.