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20 May 2020 02:35

Christchurch New Zealand Muslim

Here’s How Newark Muslims are Keeping Community Alive this Ramadan

Whenever the word 'Ramadan' comes to mind, images of loved ones breaking their fast together follow. Ramadan is a month where Muslims abstain from eating and drinking between dawn and sunset, then break their fast with their family and friends. But this year, many Muslims are spending the fasting month in isolation. Even after I moved away from the bustling city of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, I would make it a point to arrange my schedule so that I could spend the last few days of the fasting month, and the festival of Eid Al-Fitr which marks its end, back there with my family. My meal times varied, and since I could not do the things I usually did, like visit my friends or go to the gym, there was no structure in my routine.

I was also disconnected from my friends and family because all I did was work and stay home, and I barely engaged with the Muslim community in Australia. When it comes to family and friends, I must admit that I took for granted the fact that I thought I was able to visit them this year, which was why I did not contact them as much. Ramadan is usually associated with Muslims not eating and drinking from dawn to dusk. And now that the social aspect of it is gone, we are once again reminded that the meaning of Ramadan goes beyond abstaining from eating and drinking. It is a time for us to self-reflect and build good habits, to be better people once that month is over.

I am still able to experience the beauty of the month of Ramadan even if it is different this year, while there are Muslims who celebrated it last year who cannot say the same. "There is no need to go to a salon or dress up every night from home," says Rana Masri, a nurse and mother in the West Bank. "We don't need extravagance for Ramadan," says Mohammed, a retired clerk in Amman as he shops for pita. In recent years, many Arab families were expected to whip up or order an Instagram-able feast to break the fast each night of Ramadan. In some Arab countries, estimates of food waste during Ramadan reached 25% to 30%.

With Muslims dealing with both social distancing and the growing economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, many like Mohammed have a new perspective on the holy month. "We don't need extravagance for Ramadan," the retired clerk says as he enters a bakery for a 75-cent-bag of pita. "We just thank God for our health, a home, and food to eat." In their place, spirituality is refilling the void: The core tenets of prayer, reflection, patience, and charity are again the focus of a back-to-basics Ramadan. On Instagram and Facebook, in lifestyle magazines and on Youtube channels, pressure had intensified on Muslim families to serve elaborate fast-breaking sunset iftar meals with a perfect decor that would put Martha Stewart to shame. In some Muslim communities, in order to "keep up with the neighbors" and impress waves of guests during the holy month, families would give rooms an entire makeover: new cushions, drapes, light fixtures, a fresh coat of paint, holiday-themed plateware, a new television.

"My salary has been cut in half; we don't have savings to change the decor – and besides, no one is coming over," says Murad Seif, a Jordanian plumber who last year purchased a new sofa and chairs prior to the holy month. "Instead of wasting what little savings we have this month on something we don't need, we will donate it as zakat to someone who can't meet their basic needs," he says. "There is no need to go to a salon or dress up every night from home," says Rana Masri, a nurse and mother from Nablus, in the West Bank. In recent years there was no shortage of distractions for Abu Aamar's family or for many others in the evenings following the iftar. Nights, prime viewing time for Ramadan TV specials, were also filled with visits to shopping malls, amusement parks, cafes buzzing with live music, cinemas, street markets, friends and relatives, with some families splitting up to go their separate ways after clearing their plates.

Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters Before the pandemic, and during: Residents of Ezbet Hamada in the Mataria district gather to eat the sunset iftar meal during Ramadan in Cairo, May 20, 2019; the same area on May 1, 2020, as mass iftars were canceled due to the outbreak of the coronavirus. "This Ramadan has given me a chance to slow down and talk to my children about the Quran and what questions they had," he says. "In Ramadan, you are making forbidden to yourself what is usually allowed, with the point of drawing yourself closer to the consciousness of God," H.A. Hellyer, the Arab world scholar and writer, says from Cairo. Meanwhile, restrictions that have meant the temporary loss of the mosque for communities have put prayer squarely back in the home. Muslims believe Ramadan is when the Quran was first revealed to the prophet Muhammad; Quranic verses and sayings attributed to Muhammad urge Muslims to use the holy month as a chance to focus on scripture and its meaning. In recent years, many Arab families were expected to whip up or order in an Instagram-able feast each night: stuffed roasted lamb, sushi, chow mein, custard tarts. Large iftars featuring multiple main dishes, sides, appetizers, and salads – a far cry from the dates and yogurt that the prophet Muhammad and his companions would rely on to break their fast – would lead to an estimated 25% to 30% food waste in Arab countries. "You would have huge, massive buffet-style iftars; nobody can eat all that, so people threw away a lot of this food – which obviously is not in keeping with the spirit of Ramadan in the slightest," Dr. Hellyer says. Everything this year is from the home," says Ali al-Sultan, a marketing officer from Riyadh. Unlike the previous years, many Muslims are finding it hard to break their fast during this holy month of Ramathan. My Muslim brothers and sisters used fast with hopes of getting food to break their fast at different mosques but they can no longer gather at mosques. Of course this year can't be like previous ones as far as iftar is concerned. On my side, I thank Allah because there is no difference in my Iftar if I am to compare it with the previous years. There are Muslim brothers and sisters who would fast and entirely depend on Iftar at the mosque but with this lockdown, which restricts gathering they can no longer gather to break their fast. This Iftar has been the most difficult ever since I started fasting because the country is in lockdown, it has limited our movement so we can't work hence making breaking the fast a hard task. Some of us would rely on Iftar at mosques but they are closed making it hard for us to break our fasts. Life is hard as most of the times, I lack food to eat while breaking my fast. I have not noticed any difference in this year's Iftar compared to previous years simply because some good friend gave me enough money (sadaque) to cater for me and my family's iftar. This is far different from other years because people are at home and not working. Most people's salaries were cut making life hard and unable to have good meal for iftar and Daku. The money they earn is less, the biggest percentage goes to rent and they are left with little meant for food at the end of the day making life and fasting really hard for them. There is a big difference in this year's iftar compared to other years. NEWARK, NJ — In Islam, Ramadan is a month of celebration, gathering, hospitality, family and friends breaking fast over bountiful meals, often at Mosque with the entire community. Given the global pandemic, the collective aspects of Ramadan have been canceled this year. Though iftar may be a little lonelier under quarantine, Muslims in Newark are making the best of a difficult situation by serving their community however they can this Ramadan. Omar Bareentto, secretary of the Islamic Society of Essex County in the Central Ward, is a transplant from Minneapolis, Minnesota, who normally relies on his masjid, family and friends to break fast. "It's just tough not being around your loved ones, or going to your mosque and being with people who share the same commitment you've made throughout the day," he said. I have a really massive family back home — sometimes when we break fast it's 40, 50 people." "Not having family around and friends, when I'm breaking fast, it's not the event that it used to be," he said. Bareentto would also typically head to the masjid some nights for prayer and iftar with the larger community, a time-honored tradition that also provides free meals to the public. For many Muslims in Newark, choosing to break fast at the mosque isn't just for the sense of community, but to feed their families. Since many of Newark's economically disadvantaged residents don't own a car, McIver's team and the Islamic Society of Essex County have been bringing iftar to the community. "A lot of people rely on mosques to break their fasts, and the mosques provide charitable meals to individuals. That's especially true in Newark, a lot of people who attend the mosque are economically disadvantaged, unfortunately, so we've thought of an innovative way to give them meals," Bareentto said. "We're excited to be able to help our Muslim community observe their religious holiday," McIver said.