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A collective story with contributions from Nour-Eddine Maghnaoui, Asiyah Robinson, Muna Michelle, Maysa, the Tariq family, Yakine Behri, Zoubida Mouait, Fatiha Selky, and Khadija Harti

Ramadan is a month in which 1.8 billion Muslims around the world fast, pray, and help others. Islam is strongly connected to nature, and to all creation, and times for fasting and prayers are determined by the movement of the Earth and the moon. For Victoria’s estimated 3,000 Muslims, the lunar month of Ramadan began on April 23, 2020 and will continue until a new moon is seen around May 23rd.

“And by the sun and its brightness; and by the moon, as it follows it (the sun); and by the day as it shows up (the sun’s) brightness; and by the night as it conceals it (the sun); and by the heaven and Him Who built it; and by the earth and Him Who spread it.” (Quran 91:1-6)

Fasting & Faith

During this month Muslims abstain from food and drink (including water) from predawn to sunset, as well as make a commitment to spiritual devotion, compassion, altruism, and charity with the hope to continue these acts of kindness after the completion of Ramadan. In celebration of Ramadan, Muslims compete with each other in doing good. In some Muslim majority societies, people rush to the city’s public squares before sunset to set tables of food, so that they can be honoured to feed the fasting, the traveller, and whoever is in need.

Fasting is a recommended religious practice in the three monolithic Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), and polytheistic religions.  Watch and listen to a beautiful recitation of the Quran in which the rules and purpose of fasting are explained.

In Islam, fasting is one of the religion’s five pillars that also include the profession of faith, daily prayers, annual alms giving, and the pilgrimage to Mecca known as the Hajj.

Ramadan in Canada

Indigenous and Spiritual Traditions

Ramadan is often interpreted in Canada as a religious holiday, but holidays in the western sense are frequently associated with consumption. We celebrate through buying and having, through tangible possessions that we find meaning in.  In Indigenous and spiritual traditions, events of significance such as Ramadan go beyond the material world. Ramadan is a time for reflecting, growing spiritually and giving socially, striving to become a better person and community through careful thoughts, meaningful prayers, and thoughtful actions and habits.

In this post, Muslims in Victoria share what Ramadan means to them, and how things have changed due to COVID-19. Collectively, the diversity of experiences point to a rich fabric of spirituality and community connections that have been carefully cultivated to give meaning to Ramadan during a pandemic.

In Lekwungen territories, Sheik Ismal Nur is the leader, or Imaam of the community’s only mosque, Masjid al Iman. Every year during Ramadan, the mosque would be packed with people awaiting the sunset call to prayer which you can hear here, called by Muataz Adam, eager to share a communal meal known as Iftar, or the breaking of the fast. Traditionally, Muslims start their meal with dates, followed by a simple meal that the Masjid used to provide each evening, augmented by a range of bread, meats, and drinks that people bring to share. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is reported to have said:

“The food of two persons suffices for three persons, and the food of three persons suffices for four persons.” (Al-Bukhari)

Giving & Sharing

Islam is founded on a strong sense of community, known as the ummah, a collective body of believers united by faith. The Prophet has said: “None of you [truly] believes until he loves for his brother that which he loves for himself.” Hence, Ramadan is a month to renew community, even while self isolation and physical distancing is required. The Masjid has organized a breaking-the-fast program that delivers 135 free meals to the homes of community members each day, including seniors, students, those under quarantine, and essential workers. The program is led by a group of 25 volunteers who organise, cook, and deliver meals every day for the month of Ramadan and funded by donations from the community.

For the volunteers, this is an opportunity to give back. After a long day of work and fasting they are honoured to deliver the Iftar meals and try to recreate the spirit of Ramadan they grew up with.

Noureddine, explains why he is volunteering:

Fasting for 17 hours per day for 29 to 30 days may seem unbearable, a tough experience for non-Muslims. However, Ramadan is a precious spiritual and social opportunity. I have fond memories of Ramadan. Every evening, all family members gather at the table of Iftar, to share various delicious, traditional food, invite family members, and feed those who are need. It is indeed the month of altruism, compassion, and solidarity. From this stemmed my desire to volunteer in Victoria. 

Yakine Bahri, Hussein Dhahab, and Kassim Hassan, three of the many volunteers who have delivered evening Iftar meals to more than 135 people across the city during Ramadan.

“The reward of goodness is nothing but goodness.” (Quran 55:61)

Compassion and community are strong elements of Islam. Unable to go to the mosque, which has been closed since mid-March, Zoubaida, Khatija, Fatiha, and a group of other Muslim women decided to express their faith in another way. Through social media mobilization and their own networks, they have provided home-cooked, traditional food for more than 200 health care workers at the Royal Jubilee hospital as a way to appreciate the frontliners’ efforts and show gratitude.

Zoubida Mouait, Khadija Hart, Asmaa Shifaa, and Fatiha Selky are among a group of women who cooked, sourced, raised funds for, and delivered meals to healthcare workers.

Giving, sharing, and helping with dignity is a strong theme of Ramadan and indeed of Islam.

“Those who in charity spend of their goods by night and by day, in secret and in public, have their reward with their Lord: on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.” (Quran 2:274)

Asiyah is an international student from the Bahamas. Filled with boundless energy which does not fade, even while fasting, she has been spurred into trying to make a difference among vulnerable communities in Victoria this Ramadan. She is grateful she is able to eat at sunset, a privilege that many who have lost their jobs do not have. She carts a buggy of fresh produce she has bought through a small fundraising drive, delivering it to the unhoused downtown.  She is now planning an Eid celebration to mark the end of the month and is hoping to serve food to communities in need.

Asiyah Robinson

Muna, is an American revert (someone who was not raised Muslim, but was guided to Islam) since 2000. She has fasted during different seasons, from the extreme heat and humidity of the summer, which makes one tired and thirsty, to the dead cold of winter where the pre-dawn meal is eaten huddled together. She has experienced Ramadan in Minneapolis, Samannoud, Egypt, and now in Victoria. In previous years, Muna would do what most people did during this month, fast, read the Quran, listen to lectures, and go to prayers at the mosque. All this changed due to COVID-19. Like everyone else, the pandemic has kept her away from loved ones. “It was heart-wrenching to have to stay away from the Masjid,” she says. However, she continues:

I remember that Ramadan is about Renewal. Ramadan is not in a place, it is where you are. Practicing our faith is not determined by a building, but in our hope and faith. Our worship and our practice can be done anywhere. So this year it has to be done differently. We pray in our home, we fast in our home, and we give to others in our home.

But I still wanted to do more, so I started a kids stories series with Muna over video tor kids to feel engaged even though they cannot go to the Masjid. So armed with my cellphone and a few books I started to read and record. I read books to help children be connected to their Creator. Stories of the Prophets of Islam and how they had to cope and deal with the world around us. I hope these stories help all of us cope with the changing world around us.  As a Muslim,  I believe this world is temporary, all its joys and hardships will end. COVID-19 will end too, but for me the Creator is permanent and this brings me a sense of peace.

Muna Michelle, an American convert to Islam, has been reading kids stories online to build community during COVID-19.

Quran, food, & Eid traditions

Ramadan is also the month when Muslims enjoy a closer relationship to the Quran, the scripture revealed to Muhammed in this month.  Many try to read the 600-page book completely during the month, and reflect on its meanings (tafseer). In Victoria, Imam Ismail Nur, has been holding daily classes via Zoom where he has been narrating and explaining chapter 12 of the Quran, which discusses the story of Joseph (Yusuf).  It is a story of patience and faith, containing lessons that many draw on during these difficult times. Other online classes are also held to improve the recitation of the Quran.

The Mushaf, or printed copy of the Quran. The right picture shows the word ‘quran’ written in Arabic calligraphy.

Among the youth, Afaf, 17, amplifies this sense of community: Ramadan is the month where people can really connect with one another and form a community. The importance of offering a lending hand is prevalent in the traditions of sharing food with friends and neighbours. The time of Ramadan allows for reflection on how grateful we should be for the small things we have. 

Afaf is a 17-year-old youth in Victoria.

And of course, there is also food! Muslims in the city come from every continent and bring with them rich and delicious traditional meals that are enjoyed during this month. Some enjoy hearty lentil-based soups and broths, others have traditional milk-based drinks such as falooda, a rose and cardamom favoured milkshake,  or banana date and honey smoothies, using ingredients that are favoured in Islam for their healing properties.

The Tariq family share a spread of their Iftar table featuring a typical menu from South East Asia: fruits, juice, milk, dates, water, pakora, samosa, kebab, dahi bara, tandoori chicken, and chicken roast.

Azim Tariq’s table ready to celebrate Eid

“There emerges from their (beas) bellies a drink, varying in colours, in which there is healing for people. Indeed in that is a sign for a people who give thought.” (Quran 16:68)

Maysa, a newcomer from Syrian who has been living in Victoria for two years, shares her take on khobz Ramadan (or Ramadan bread) a delicious handmade bread stuffed with dates that provide fortitude for the pre-dawn meal. She shares her favourite recipe here.

Khobz Ramadan, a sweet and rich handmade dough stuffed with dates, is eaten in the predawn meal in Syria. This is the bread Maysa has made.

At the end of Ramadan Muslims celebrate a day of Eid, a holiday that allows them to give thanks for completing the month of fasting. People dress up in their finest, women paint henna on their hands, and families and friends get together to celebrate the day. 

These pictures of the Tariq family show the intricate henna designs done by women on the eve of the Eid celebration. Chand night, or the night of the moon as it is known in Pakistan, is an evening of celebration, as communities prepare to welcome the day of Eid.

In 2020, Eid will look different, there will be no prayer together and families will likely celebrate quietly in their own homes, content with reflecting on the month that has passed, and hopeful for God’s mercy for the months that lie ahead. 

We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient, Who, when disaster strikes them, say, ‘Indeed we belong to Allah, and indeed to Him we will return.’ Those are the ones upon whom are blessings from their Lord and mercy.” (Quran 2: 155-157)

The Tariq family shares a picture taken in 2019 as they celebrated Eid dressed in traditional Pakistani clothes. Eid is day of family and friends, of remembering the vulnerable and sharing food.

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