“We’re dropping off food parcels for people in need”: How Torontonians are observing Ramadan this year

“We’re dropping off food parcels for people in need”: How Torontonians are observing Ramadan this year

Ramadan, which goes this year until May 23, is usually a time of togetherness: each day, Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, then flock to mosques to eat, pray and spend time with their community. The end of the month is marked by Eid al-Fitr, or the Festival of Breaking the Fast, a joyous celebration of feasts and dressing up. This year, of course, many of those practices are taking a different shape. We spoke to Torontonians celebrating Ramadan about how they’re observing the holy month in the age of social distancing.


Sarah Khetty, marketing director for Maple Lodge Farms and spokesperson for Zabiha Halal
If you’re home by yourself during Ramadan, people are what you miss the most. Usually, many people go to iftars, which is the meal where you break fast in the evening with friends and family; this year, we’re encouraging people to get creative and host iftars via Zoom. Many iftars are potlucks, so you might want to send a parcel of food to friends’ or relatives’ houses, then enjoy those items together over video chat. My family is doing iftar via app, and it’s unusual because usually my father spends a lot of time at the mosque, and now he’s home much more often. Ramadan is feeling very strange, but it’s nice to have that extra layer of family time.”


Basmah Ramadan, international relations student at U of T
“Usually, I would spend the summer back home in Syria, but this year I’m staying in Toronto because of Covid. I live with my sublings, and for Ramadan, we’ve been preparing our own food at home rather than going to iftars where we break our fasts together. It’s been super weird, not gonna lie. This is usually a time where everybody gets together and you see people you don’t usually see. For Eid, I think we’ll get dressed up either way and pretend we’re going somewhere to celebrate making it through the month.”


Yasin Dwyer, executive director of the Muslim Chaplaincy of Toronto
“This Ramadan, much of our worship has returned home; many of our educational activities have gone online. Within our chaplaincy, we normally speak about the potential dysfunction of spending most of your time on social media, but now we’ve done a 180. We’re encouraging people to go on social media and plug into their spiritual organizations. I think religious communities have an important role to play to give hope to people, especially those who are vulnerable. Our imams are leading prayers over livestream in order to help the community feel connected. There’s a saying that we should never let our grievances overshadow our opportunities. We’ve discovered that online, people have access to our services that they would have never had before.”


Marium Nur Vahed, U of T student and chairperson of Green Ummah
“Even though Ramadan is about fasting, it also can be about being together when you’re breaking your fast. So my grandparents have come to my house and stood at the bottom of the steps, and we’ve exchanged food by placing it at the end of the porch. This Ramadan, my sister and I are also doing a daily one-hour faith time over FaceTime with our grandmother. She’s teaching us Urdu, and giving us lessons about religious poetry and the significance of different traditions. I haven’t had the time to do this before. I’ve also never spent an Eid at home; I would still love to dress up and mark it as a special occasion.”


Imran Ally, Imam at TARIC Islamic Centre
“Physical closeness has always been such a hallmark of Ramadan, and this year it will definitely be bittersweet. I’ve never done Ramadan like this before. We usually gather at the mosque daily with friends and relatives, and we all eat, catch up and pray. Now that doesn’t happen, obviously. Families are using FaceTime or Zoom to connect with other families at the time to break the fast. And we are thinking about the less fortunate. Ramadan is about fasting, but it’s about helping people who need food but don’t have it. So we’re still trying to connect to those families by dropping off food at their places, and those who are able to make it to the mosque can get one of our food baskets.”


Memona Hossain, board director at the Muslim Association of Canada
“Usually, after fasting the whole day, we meet up with my family—we all cook a little something and eat together. Now, we video chat while we’re eating and preparing our meals, and we receive the call to prayer virtually. This year, the city of Toronto has permitted a few mosques in downtown Toronto to play the call to prayer over a speaker, so one day we packed some food, drove down from Brampton and parked in front of the mosque just to hear it. I don’t think my two-year-old son has ever heard that—in Canada, it’s not the norm to hear the call to prayer in the middle of the city. That was special for all of us.”


Shiraz Mohamed, Imam at Madinah Masjid
“An important aspect of Ramadan is socializing, and that’s been lost. Sunset, when we open the fast, is usually the busiest time: people come to the mosque in large numbers. This year at our mosque, we decided we should do something to recognize that spirit of sunset. So we thought, Let’s call the azan, the call to prayer, on a loudspeaker, so that everybody can hear it. We took that idea to our city councillor, and she got us permission. Now, many mosques have followed suit. It’s a great achievement for us because we never had the permission to call the azan in public, and it enlivens the spirit of Ramadan a little. Not much, but a little.”


Asif Khan Mujahid, Ahmadiyya Muslim missionary 
“During Ramadan, we increase our prayers and focus on our relationship with God, but that’s only one part. The second is taking care of the people around us, regardless of race or creed. That’s something the Ahmadiyya Muslim community has been focusing on a lot. Our Neighbourhood Helper campaign has been running on all fronts, providing aid to people during Covid-19, getting groceries, filling prescriptions. For example, someone might need two or three bags of milk. We’ll get a call, we’ll head out, and we’ll get that done for them.”