Muslim families in Hamilton forced apart during Ramadan because of COVID-19

When Balal Lone wakes up this weekend, he won’t be with his family for Ramadan. It will be the first time his family won’t be all together to celebrate, because of COVID-19.

“That is going to be, certainly for all of us, different because we’ve never experienced Ramadan without that,” the 30-year-old Hamiltonian said.

“It’s sad, all of us have been fasting since elementary school and have been doing this for many years.”

Ramadan is a month-long celebration in which Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset every day.

The fast acts as a cleansing and the community bonds through it by meeting in the evenings to break their fast and pray together at a mosque.

The celebration is set to start Friday and last until May 23.

A test of faith

But now, families will be separated. They won’t be able to make meals and eat together. They won’t be able to pray together.

It’s a test of faith, for those who are and aren’t religious, with some looking for answers from the divine and others using it to reaffirm their beliefs.

“The virus has brought people close to their faith. Even people who are spiritual but not religious have turned toward God, in some aspect, even if they have someone in their family who dies of COVID-19 they turn to Him to pray,” Anum, sister to Balal, said.

Imam Sayed Tora is still trying to process the barren, empty prayer halls he sees as he walks through Hamilton Mountain Mosque.

It’s led him to use social media to host readings and teachings from the Quran.

“Every other day I’m sending a short talk to the community and also delivering Friday sermons online as well,” he said.

“We’re also doing a special session for the youth all broadcasted on YouTube and Zoom.”

Tora also plans to make this year interactive using virtual activities with live speeches in different languages and quizzes through programs like Kahoot!, with prizes for the winners.

“The tougher part with this is you can’t technically follow the Imam through a livestream when you pray,” Omair, Balal’s brother said.

Staying positive during a ‘nightmare’

Tora also advises families to designate a certain part of their home just for prayers.

Abdullah Abdi, the former president of the Hamilton Downtown Mosque, said it’s also his first time away from family for Ramadan. The unity and seeing old friends is part of what makes the celebration special.

“It’s like a nightmare … we have to really try to stay positive,” he said.

“Families will have to shop once a week instead of every day [for the nightly meals].”

But there are still some silver linings.

“It’s a blessing in a way because more time to focus on the actual aspects of Ramadan,” Adden, another sister in the Lone family, said.

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