Ramadan in a pandemic: How COVID-19 is affecting Islam’s holy month in B.C.

Yusuf Serag (left) and Taabish Masood are both forced to celebrate Ramadan away from their loved ones during the pandemic. Photos submitted
People pray before breaking their fast in the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, during a government-imposed nationwide lockdown to help contain the spread of the coronavirus, in Lahore, Pakistan. Muslims across the world are observing Ramadan when the faithful refrain from eating, drinking and smoking from dawn to dusk. Photo: K.M. Chaudhry/Associated Press
A worker from Saylani Welfare Trust gives free food to women for breaking their fast on the first day of Ramadan, in Islamabad, Pakistan. Photo: Anjum Naveed/Associated Press

It’s the most important month of his year, a time when he should be celebrating his faith with loved ones, yet Yusuf Serag is alone.

The Vancouver native contracted COVID-19 during a work trip in March. He returned home and self-isolated for two weeks while his wife Hafsa, who Serag just married in November, went to stay with her parents.

But when the quarantine ended, the pair decided to stay apart to ensure Hafsa, an asthmatic, stays healthy. So, like many of the 1.8 billion Muslims throughout the world, Serag is spending Ramadan on his own.

“I’m not upset, I’m not angry, I’m not disappointed,” he says. “If anything it’s a sense of loss. You lose something, but you understand why you lost it. It’s for everyone’s health and safety.”

Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, community and reflection, began this year on April 23 and runs through May 23. But mosques, like churches and synagogues, are closed throughout B.C. due to provincial restrictions on gatherings.

Religion wasn’t included in Canada’s 2016 census, but just over one million Canadians identified as Muslim in the 2011 census. Of those, 79,310 lived in B.C.

Related: Wage subsidy program to help fund faith as congregations face COVID-19 crunch

Serag, the assistant general secretary of the B.C. Muslim Association, is still beginning every day with Suhoor, the pre-dawn meal, and ending it with Iftar, the sunset breaking of the fast.

But other elements integral to Ramadan, the evenings with friends and family as well as visits to mosques for Ibadah, the act of worship, are now impossible during the pandemic.

A stay-at-home Ramadan also has a financial impact on mosques. Serag said mosques typically receive approximately 50 per cent of annual donations during the month.

“It’s difficult for a lot of mosques right now,” he says. “I don’t know how they’ll be able to handle, because a lot of them have mortgage payments, a lot of them have staff payments. How are they going to, as charities, survive this? I don’t know, but I really believe that they will. I have faith they will go forward in a positive way.”

Taabish Masood, meanwhile, is having to spend his first Ramadan in Canada.

Masood, 23, a native of Karachi, Pakistan, spent the last four years studying international relations at the University of British Columbia. During that time, Masood always made sure to fly home for Ramadan with his family.

This year, Masood’s parents were supposed to fly to Vancouver for his graduation. But they are locked down in Pakistan, which has suspended domestic and international flights. Masood also can’t return, since most international departures from Canada have been postponed until June.

“If anything, I don’t think it will be possible for myself or other international students from Pakistan who want to go back until the official borders are opened and the virus has started to decline,” says Masood. “It’s very difficult to be able to say when I’ll be able to go back home.”

He said he’s fasting with a roommate, but is missing out on being with his parents and three siblings.

“More often than not people are with their families, or go to their families for Ramadan. The festivities of it are something coupled with a prayer aspect. So not being able to do that here is definitely a bummer I would say.”

Ramadan in Masood’s home country, an Islamic republic with a population of over 207 million people according to a 2017 census, looks a lot different than it does in B.C.

The Pakistani government has allowed mosques to remain open provided they follow several physical distancing rules, despite protests from the Pakistan Medical Association. The World Health Organization says there have been 476 deaths and 20,884 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country.

Karachi, with a population of nearly 15 million, is located in the province of Sindh, which has defied the government and restricted prayer gatherings during Ramadan.

Masood, who fears a greater outbreak in Pakistan, is critical of the government for deferring to “certain sectors of society that rally for the opening of mosques.”

“They’re trying to take a middle ground where they have a partial lock down that doesn’t really benefit the masses in the same way, and secondly they have allowed for congregational prayers to happen even though there is a massive [danger],” he said.

Serag still prefers to see a silver lining in the pandemic.

The core concept of Ramadan, he says, is sacrifice. Muslims may not be able to celebrate the month as they usually would, but Serag says just as a daily fast always concludes so too will the pandemic.

“All these difficulties,” he says, “they will come to an end.”



tyler.harper@nelsonstar.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusRamadan

Just Posted

The buoys are back in town

Watershed Wanderings column by Lake Windermere Ambassadors

Invermere council okay with ‘reverse grad march’ idea

Nothing finalized and complications aplenty, but Invermere council agrees to grad march idea

101-year-old man targets 101 block fundraising walk for food bank

A centenarian in Invermere has embarked on a new adventure to raise money for the food bank.

Wings Over the Rockies encourages nature viewing during pandemic

Three local photographers and Wings supporters offer nature viewing tips.

Hospital chief of staff provides guidance on COVID-19 and the Columbia Valley as we open up

Chief of staff says: “COVID-19 … is still here and is not going away any time soon.”

Only four new COVID-19 cases, 228 active across B.C.

Health officials watching as activities ramp up

Feds looking at ways to reunite families amid COVID-19 border restrictions with U.S.

Some families with members of dual-citizenship have become separated due to the pandemic

Condition in kids with possible COVID-19 link being studied in Canada

This month, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an alert to doctors about MIS-C

‘I knew what he wanted’: Man recalls black bear chasing him up tree in Slocan Valley

Francis Levasseur is no stranger to the outdoors, but a recent run-in with a bear caused quite a scare

COVID cancelled their wedding plans, so they married on a BC mountaintop

Ceremony was live streamed to friends and family around the world

Introducing the West Coast Traveller: A voyage of the mind

Top armchair travel content for Alaska, Yukon, BC, Alberta, Washington, Oregon and California!

Trudeau acknowledges racial unrest in U.S.; ‘We also have work to do in Canada’

‘Anti-black racism, racism, is real; it’s in the United States, but it’s also in Canada,’ Trudeau says

Large cruise ships barred from Canadian waters until end of October: Garneau

Last year 140 cruise ships brought more than two million visitors to Canadian ports

Minneapolis cop who knelt on man’s neck charged with murder

Arrest comes after three days of protests, which escalated in violence as demonstrators torched a police precinct

Most Read