LA’s Muslim community celebrates pandemic Ramadan with drive-in Iftars and Zoom gatherings

This week marks the start of Ramadan, the holiest month in Islam. For the second year in a row, most of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims are observing it during a global pandemic, providing even more time to recharge and reflect.

The month-long celebration involves prayer, charity, gathering as a community, and fasting from sunrise to sunset. So how does this all fit together amid a health crisis in Muslim communities in Los Angeles?

KCRW speaks with Imam Jihad Saafir, who runs Islah LA, a community center and academy in South Los Angeles.

KCRW: What does observing Ramadan look like for Islah LA when there is no pandemic?

Jihad Saafir: “Ramadan is a very special and spectacular time for all Muslims in the country. … For us, it symbolizes the ultimate moments of sharing and building community with each other.

And then also, many times, we veered in the wrong direction. As humans, there are a lot of distractions here. Ramadan is therefore a time to refocus, to recalibrate. You have a lot of moments of introspection and a lot of moments of reflection to really get back on track.

It’s kind of like a vehicle where you have the oil change, you have control for 70,000 miles. Ramadan is there to recalibrate the human being.

Last year, Ramadan began at the height of the first wave of the pandemic. How was it then?

“So much uncertainty. It was a time of adjusting. So communities, we know each other so well. We want to be around each other. Now we’re on Zoom. There’s has a learning curve. Many people had to learn and take many courses on how to use Zoom. Communities that feared Facebook and Instagram now all of a sudden have to learn how to use these platforms. And that was a big adjustment and a lot of uncertainty. But we are resilient people. We made it.

During this month, practicing Muslims fast daily from dawn to sunset. Has the pandemic changed that?

“Fasting remains the same. In fact, before, we found ourselves further away. …You may see something sweet, come home with all the sweets, and only buy the bad stuff because of your peak appetite and cravings. So Ramadan, we would stay at home.

Does quarantine make it easier to control cravings for sweets?

“[It’s] much easier when you’re on the go. I mean, you have all kinds of distractions and temptations that come your way. So it can be a blessing when you think about it. All that we miss being at the Masjid, in person at the masjid…it was an opportunity for us to really focus on our relationship with God and focus on our relationship with each other, with the members of our family.

How were you able to communicate with new members of the community?

“We have a pantry. So during the pandemic, due to the uncertainty, people were lining up at the corner of our pantry. So we had to serve a lot more people. We also have accommodations available. So we found people who needed housing. Thus, our services only increased during the month of Ramadan. »

What does Ramadan look like this year?

“A lot of communities are slowly reopening. So, for example, before, we had what is called iftar, where we would gather at the mosque and eat together. Now it becomes… a drive-in iftar. People pick up their food, and they go find a place and go home and eat, then come back to the mosque for the congregational prayer.

Also, there is a limit. Some of the services have increased to two and three services, two and three prayer services to accommodate social distancing.

There are many more services, but communities are slowly reopening, more people are getting vaccinated. So there is a lot more confidence than last year. People… were afraid to be with each other last year.

Do you think some of the practices and changes you made will be applied to future Ramadan celebrations?

“Of course. Muslims are so used to kissing that we kiss everywhere we go. We shake hands everywhere we go… and that’s going to change.

Like, for me, I worked with kids, so I had cold and flu symptoms just because I was around kids all day and didn’t have that germ awareness and awareness. So now, I think… it’s going to be hard to just take people’s masks off. People won’t be so accepting, I guess, of moving forward into the future.

Islah LA is in South LA, an area hard hit by the pandemic. How is he managing the center at the moment?

“We never shut down our food pantry, so we serve 150 to 200 families on a weekly basis. So we stayed consistent. … We have services for the formerly incarcerated. We have remained consistent in that we have a weekly shower which allows local homeless people to shower and practice good hygiene. We are therefore continuing our services. It doesn’t stop. We are a service-oriented organization.

In the Jewish religion, when we fast for the new year, we tell people to have a good fast. What is the equivalent of this during Ramadan? What do you tell people at the start?

“We say ‘Ramadan Mubarak’… Happy Ramadan. … They just trigger a beautiful feeling.

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