Faculty offer insights on safely observing Ramadan

How the Muslim community has adapted with a second year of virtual celebrations.

Ramadan began on April 12, marking the second time the Muslim community will be celebrating under COVID-19 restrictions. A month usually reserved for gathering with family members has been restricted to virtual events and small gatherings – leaving many to reevaluate how they can engage safely and meaningfully.

The celebration typically consists of intense prayer, self-reflection, dawn-to-dusk fasting and nightly feasts – usually with other members of the Muslim community. Los Angeles County moved to the orange tier on April 5, easing restrictions in some areas. However, current CDC guidelines still discourage medium and large-sized gatherings, meaning many are restricted to engaging alone or with immediate family.

“Last year, community gatherings were completely eliminated, but this year because of how the vaccines have been rolling out, people are starting to get excited about wanting to be in community meetings, having nightly prayers and parties together,” said Soraya Ahyaudin, director of the American Muslim Civic Leadership Institute at the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture (CRCC). “But it’s also a time to remember that we should not be complacent because the virus is mutating… We have to do our responsibility to the preservation of life, which is paramount in Islam.”

Even with these limitations, USC students are still working to find ways to maintain a sense of community safely.

“The Muslim Student Union is working right now to make food available for breaking the fast in the evenings. They have special food available for Muslim students at USC who are here in the area, whether they’re on campus or not,” said Jim Burklo, senior associate dean of religious life at USC.

Burklo recommended that USC students who are looking for ways to safely celebrate explore the union’s virtual options.

“Mosques and the Islamic organizations are making [the virtual] content more accessible than ever,”said Burklo. “I think you’ll have a high level of participation from a lot of people that might not otherwise participate in [Ramadan’s] ongoing community connections.”

The Islamic Center of Southern California (ICSC), which is located a few minutes north of USC’s campus, is also doing a virtual Ramadan event with nightly programs.

Other USC organizations are also working to help people stay focused on the holiday’s goals, even amidst the current chaos.

The American Muslim Civic Leadership Institute (AMCLI), which operates under the CRCC, has launched a new series for this year’s Ramadan called “Healing Heartwork.” It introduces Islamic tools for grounding, healing and self-reflection and aims to help those negatively impacted by the past year practice self-care and community care.

“Sometimes you need somebody to help you provide the tools to give space for you to find grounding,” said Ahyaudin. “This kit is meant to remind you that you’re doing important work, it can help you re-identify your purpose.”

Another concern among those participating in fasting has been if getting the COVID-19 vaccine will constitute breaking their fasts. The National Muslim Task Force and the National Black Muslim COVID Coalition issued a joint statement declaring that taking the vaccine will not invalidate the fast.

“It’s also important to highlight that there is no sin associated with breaking your fast,” said Ahyaudin. “It’s up to your individual judgement - if you get vaccinated and feel sick, it’s up to you whether or not to eat. Vaccinations are also in the interest of preservation of life, which is fundamental to the Muslim faith.”

Both Burklo and Ahyaudin also stressed the importance of gathering safely, despite the temptation to return to in-person events.

“Just remember, Muslims around the world have faced natural disasters, wars, huge displacement, and they’ve lasted much longer than a year,” said Ahyaudin. “We want to get back to a sense of normalcy, but Ramadan is about patience and persistence – we can wait a little longer for the greater good.”