Imam Muhammad prepares schoolwork packets to help students while schools are closed. — TRIBUNE PHOTO / SAMARIA BAILEY

Imam Muhammad prepares schoolwork packets to help students while schools are closed. — TRIBUNE PHOTO / SAMARIA BAILEY

The Islamic community is concerned the COVID-19 pandemic may interrupt Ramadan. Local Imams and Muslim community leaders said depending on the masjid, Ramadan services could be canceled, altered or remain as planned.

“We are looking at April 24 being the first day of Ramadan on this side of the world. We are hoping this has [ended] by then but we are preparing for the worse,” said Aliya Khabir, principal consultant, AZK Communications, LLC. “What I’ve seen is that Imams and their boards have been meeting daily by phone to discuss next steps because the national updates, state updates, and local updates change by the hour. They are going through Scripture to figure out how to address this pandemic from a religious perspective and adhering to what our health officials are saying is the best thing to do.”

Khabir added that each masjid is responding to the virus differently, depending on their circumstances .

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“You will see that addressed in various manners from mosque to mosque. [Some] mosques may be more equipped, and the ideal is to go ahead and serve the community. Other mosques have decided they are going to suspend programming but will be open for prayer times. Others will be open during prayer [and] have Jummah but disperse quickly afterwards,” she said.

Imam Idris Abdul-Zahir of Masjidullah said as of now, there are no plans to alter the Ramadan schedule.

“We don’t want to project out that far because this thing is changing almost daily,” he said. “We don’t have plans to cancel. We are just going to see. We typically have Iftar every night and we have nightly prayers which are typically about an hour. It’s definitely going to be a challenging time. I typically meet with our leadership team and make the decisions that are best for the community.”

Imam Suetwedien Muhammad of Masjid Muhammad said its Ramadan schedule will remain.

“There’s not going to be changes in the Ramadan schedule, we are going to be doing Ramadan everyday — feeding the people all 30 days, making extra prayers, reading the Quran – we’re not changing our Ramadan schedule, not one bit,” he said. “I’m more worried about being shot or killed than coronavirus.”

Pointing to gun violence as a more pressing local public health issue, in addition to the ongoing need for assistance, Muhammad stressed that the masjid is extremely necessary. It will remain open for the daily prayers and the Friday Jummah.

“We are not closing,” he said. “We are not going to allow them to tell us when to stop praying. We need to pray now more than and ever.”

Abdul-Zahir said Masjidullah remains open for the daily prayers and the Friday Jummah, although people with weak immune systems and symptoms are encouraged o stay home.

He added that they tediously clean the masjid, a standard practice commanded in Islam.

“We have a facilities team that does a regular cleaning of the common areas four times a day. We also have folks using a biofriendly disinfectant on the carpet and vacuuming. That’s happening four times a day,” said Abdul-Zahir. “Part of the religion, in general, is a ritualistic cleaning of yourself – washing hands, face, hair and feet before each prayer. Then on Friday, there’s a cleaning before they come to the prayer. Anyone that comes should have washed that day.”

Khabir added that “purification is a foundation of Islam,” and if Muslims adhere to what is required, they are, by default, in line with what is recommended to avoid COVID-19.

“Muslims must wash their hands at least 20 times a day – after the bathroom, before the five daily prayers, before we eat,” she said. “We practice social distancing already between genders who are not related. These are already foundations of our faith and it’s a reminder to us all that Islam is perfect and if we follow those traditions, then this too shall pass.”

Both masjids are offering meals to the community. Masjid Muhammad is also offering computer and internet access for youth to complete schoolwork.

“This particular experience, if it affects Ramadan, could possibly be the best Ramadan of our lives,” Khabir said. “Holidays and religious observations tend to be commercialized [but] this is an opportunity to refocus on the reason for Ramadan. We will be more focused on fasting – why we are fasting, the benefits of fasting and the sacrifices we are making for Allah. We have to look at this…not as a burden [but] as an opportunity to reconnect with family, the religion and to remind us of how smart Islam is.”

Masjidullah is located at 7401 Limekiln Pike. Free meals, sponsored by MECCA and the Alimah Scouts, are available through March 27 from 12 to 2 p.m.

Masjid Muhammad is located at 414 E. Penn St. Free meals, until school re-opens, are available, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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