The COVID-19 pandemic made Ramadan 2020 challenging for Muslims everywhere. However, the abrupt nature of the lockdown in Halifax made the fast particularly difficult for Muslims in the city. By the second week of March, strict quarantine measures were in place and by April 23, the night Ramadan officially began last year, we were well into lockdown mode. What this meant for Muslims was that we could not offer our nightly Tarawih prayers in congregation at our local mosques. Also, we couldn’t get together in each other’s homes to break our fast as we normally would. At a time when the entire world was learning to adjust to the new reality of the pandemic, many Muslims in the city found themselves alone and demoralized.
RAMADAN PRAYER SCHEDULE IN HALIFAX
4:30am Fajr, daily fast starts
8:30pm Maghrib, can break fast
Followed by Tarawih, Ramadan’s special long nightly prayers
Note that these times fluctuate over the course of the month, making the fast longer as the month progresses.
Although the dates vary slightly from country to country and between time zones, this year Ramadan goes from Tuesday, April 13 in Halifax until May 12 (depending on the sighting of the new moon). The current provincial rules allow up to 10 people in a house, which compared to last year means more relaxed measures around social gatherings. However, the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic has left some Muslims anxious about what Ramadan 2021 has in store. After a rough and unprecedented 2020 Ramadan still on the minds of many, Muslims are praying that Ramadan 2021 will be filled with support and encouragement. Here are 8 ways that you too can help Muslims this Ramadan.
1Check in with Muslim friends and colleagues
A large number of Muslims in Halifax are newcomers who are away from their families and trying to navigate work or school on their own in a new city. Some Muslims in the city find themselves not only alone in Ramadan for the first time, but also confused and worried given the realities of the pandemic. Do a quick check-in with Muslims friends or colleagues to see if you can support them in any way. Prepare a meal and invite your Muslim friend/colleague over to break their fast at your house, or offer to go out on a walk together as a way to foster an emotional connection. You can also show support by asking questions like “How is your Ramadan going?” or by making an offer such as, “Let me handle your work this afternoon so you can take a nap.”
2Lead with empathy
Be kind. If you're at a business, you can use Ramadan as an opportunity to educate staff about this core religious practice for Muslims. Do not shy away from discussions about the fast due to feelings of ignorance or awkwardness. Additionally, avoid telling Muslims colleagues how sorry you feel for them for having to abstain from food and drink. Rather, find ways to support your Muslim colleagues as they exercise self-restraint over their bodies and minds.
3Make prayer space accessible
This is something that can easily be overlooked, especially as more people are working from home during the pandemic. However, a large number of people still have to go into work every day. In Islam the five daily prayers are one of the pillars of faith and are an obligation upon Muslims to fulfil. Unfortunately, due to the inaccessibility of prayer space in the workplace or to a hostile work environment, many Muslims are forced to delay their prayers until they return home. The early afternoon (Dhuhr) and late afternoon (Asr) prayers usually come in while people are still at work. Ramadan is a time when Muslims are particularly eager to fulfil their religious obligations. So if you have not already checked in with Muslim employees and made prayer space accessible, now is the time.
4Provide a chair
Given that Muslims in Halifax will have to abstain from all food and drink (including water) for an average of 16 hours every day for 29 to 30 days, employers should see to it that Muslim staff are offered a chair. This is particularly important for Muslims working in retail, at grocery stores or at banks, for these positions often involve standing during long periods.
5Schedule meetings with Ramadan in mind
This Ramadan in Halifax, the evening prayer (Maghrib) will come in around 8pm. This is the time when Muslims have the iftar meal, also known as "breaking fast." The pandemic has resulted in many workspaces and programs of study becoming virtual, which means that meetings can run well into the night and overlap with the time at which we will need to our break our fast. The last 10 days of Ramadan are particularly taxing as most Muslims will stay up all night in prayer and introspection. As a rule of thumb, schedule meetings in the late morning or early afternoon. For meetings that must happen later in the day, keep them brief and offer alternatives such as joining by phone.
6Offer special Ramadan discounts on foods
This is a huge business opportunity that local grocery stores can tap into. Areas such as Clayton Park, Fairview and Bedford have a significant number of Muslim residents. Therefore, stores in these areas can offer special Ramadan discounts on foods such as dates—a Ramadan staple—as well as on Halal meats, fish and rice.
7Put up greetings on storefront banners and display boards
This is a simple-yet-powerful gesture of awareness and acknowledgement in a society that is too-often oblivious of the reality that every year, for one month, Muslims are obligated to fulfil a religious duty that, however spiritually rewarding, can be very physically and mentally taxing. A grocery storefront or cafe display board, could read: “Ramadan Kareem to all our Muslim friends!”
8Flow in the spirit of giving
The third pillar of Islam is Zakat, or charity, and it is incumbent upon Muslims to share their wealth with the less fortunate. Zakat is a form of self-purification from envy and greed. In the month of Ramadan, Muslims give considerably in the form of sponsoring orphans or providing food packages and emergency relief to families in Yemen or Somalia, for example. The humanitarian crises facing Muslims around the world are great. Therefore, instead of hoping to be invited to an iftar by one of your Muslim friends, join them in helping to feed Muslim families who have no means to break their fast.
I hope you have benefitted from reading this article. Thank you and Ramadan Kareem to all!
Habiba Cooper Diallo (@HaalaBeeba) was a finalist in the 2020 Bristol Short Story Prize, as well as the 2019 Writers’ Union of Canada Short Prose Competition and the 2018 London Book Fair Pitch Competition. She was “highly commended” for the 2018 Manchester Fiction Prize. She is a women’s health advocate who has been building awareness about a maternal health injury, obstetric fistula, since the age of 12. She self- published her first book, Yeshialem Learns About Fistula, in 2015. She loves winding down at night with a hot cup of tea and a good detective or historical fiction novel.