Ramadan will bring a ‘new kind of worship’ for Utah Muslims this year

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Members of the Khadeeja Islamic Center in West Valley City pray as they mark the end of Ramadan in 2019. Such gatherings will not be able to take place this year because of social distancing guidelines during the coronavirus pandemic.

To the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims, the holy month of Ramadan, which begins Thursday, is about more than forgoing food and water from dawn to dusk for 30 days.

It is a deeply spiritual practice that includes five daily prayers, reading the entire Quran and giving alms to the poor — all of which forge bonds among believers. Muslims often gather at the mosque or in large groups each night to pray together and to share food.

This year, though, such break-the-fast traditions are no longer possible amid the global pandemic. And, according to Islamic law, prayers cannot be done virtually, says Imam Shuaib Din of the Utah Islamic Center in Sandy.

His and all Utah mosques, Din says, are closed for the duration.

So Muslims — like those of every faith — are finding ways to adapt. Fasting is, after all, an individual act.

“My family and I will most definitely miss the nightly congregational prayers at the mosque. Both my sons usually participate and lead some of them,” says Hanifa Dhedhy of South Jordan, “but we are also looking forward to a new kind of worship.”

Dhedhy is excited to figure out “our daily prayer schedule and what chapters of the Quran to pray as a family,” she says. “We have set up our own nightly prayer schedule and what son will be leading prayer on what day.”

She hopes that Allah will help her family and that “the magic of Ramadan [will] fill our hearts.”

Ramadan was “never really about the huge gatherings and feasts, although they are very encouraging and cheerful,” says Salt Lake City Muslim Yusra Sami. “So I’m going back to the essence of Ramadan and what that means to me. It means a fresh start with a month full of Allah’s gifts for us to reset and keep going.”

Sami created a worship space in her home “that resembles the mosque with my prayer rug, Quran and lights,” she says. “I will miss going back to Egypt and being with my family for at least a week of Ramadan like I always do. But maybe this is Allah's way of getting us all to simplify and work on the direct relationship between him and us.”

( Photo courtesy of Yusra Sami) Yusra Sami has created a prayer space in her Salt Lake City home to use during Ramadan in 2020.

This year’s Ramadan will provide “a chance for us to connect with Allah through his book,” says Salt Lake City resident Samira Ahmed, “and not spend too much time in preparing for huge iftar parties, because those feasts take up too much of our precious time and energy, which should be productively spent in worship.”

Ahmed will miss “congregational prayer,” she says, and “meeting people of different ethnicities.”

Another Salt Lake City resident, Letitia Al-Ani, doesn’t care for “the big feasts and all,” she says, but does treasure “the congregation of Muslims together.”

Such gatherings bring out those who don’t make it often to the mosque, Al-Ani says, “so I feel it really helps renew [faith] for everyone.”

For Shauna Doumbia, this is a time “to focus on my spiritual self,” the Salt Lake City resident says. “This year is very much a wonderful opportunity to be creative on giving service, focusing on our core values and beliefs.”

Coloradan Jan Ahmed will miss watching her children get excited for Ramadan with other kids, the feeling of congregational prayer and “the smell of spices that I don’t cook with but smell wonderful.”

Ahmed, who has relatives in Utah, will not miss, however, “forced gender segregation [at mosques], which I don’t believe is Islamic,” she says. “I won’t miss people trying to fix my headscarf.”

There are lots of Muslims, including disabled people, who were already socially distanced, she says. “They didn’t need there to be a virus for this to happen.”

She wonders if Muslims are recognizing such concerns this year “but will forget it next year.”