BALTIMORE COUNTY, Md. — At the end of March, Governor Larry Hogan issued a Stay at Home Order. This order canceled all religious gatherings. A few weeks later, on April 23rd, Ramadan began.
Ramadan is a time for the Muslim community to reflect and pray together. They fast every day from dawn to sunset, abstaining from food, water and intimacy.
"If you can leave those off you can sort of control the other aspects of your life so there’s a lot of self development self improvement and a big focus on service," said Dr. Edmund Tori, the President of the Islamic Society of Baltimore. He added, "each night hundreds to thousands get together for breaking the fast and then later in the evening there’s typically a couple thousand at least for a nightly prayer and that happens each night in Ramadan."
The Stay at Home Order has been lifted for the state, allowing religious services to open at 50 percent capacity. However, some cities and counties are not following those guidelines. Baltimore County is still not allowing religious services indoors with more than 10 people. The Islamic Society of Baltimore is in Baltimore County and so is the Muslim Community Cultural Center of Baltimore.
For this Ramadan things have been a little different. Instead of gathering together to eat and pray, the Islamic Society of Baltimore created a drive-thru services for their members. Each family drives through to pick up a meal, to make sure they're social distancing, then they go home to pray together. For those who are alone, they'll pray with one or two other people. Dr. Tori explained how important community and being together is to their faith. He said they must worship together, even if it's just a small group.
Since they can't be together all at once, they've been relying on virtual events. "We have programs going on all day whether it’s teachers reading stories to kids or exercise videos in the morning or game nights on certain nights and then of course matters of worship like reading and reciting the Quran," said Dr. Tori.
The Islamic Society of Baltimore always has a channel to stream things on social media. The Muslim Community Cultural Center of Baltimore is a little smaller and doesn't typically live stream their services. However, it's something they've been doing now to stay connected.
"Our Friday service, the congregational prayer, we stream it," said Imam Earl El-Amin, the resident Imam at the Muslim Community Cultural Center of Baltimore. He added, "in Islam we have to read the 30th of the Quran every night or every day so we maintain that. We have a conference line for that every night."
He said while these are unprecedented times, many of the members in the community have told him they've had a strong spiritual connection this year.
"They have really been able to reflect research and read and study and really find a good place for themselves and that’s the nature of this anyway to find out the person that you really are and what your purpose in life is," said El-Amin.
He said this is nothing their faith can't handle. "In the Quran it says that God places no burden on you that you cannot bear so for people of faith that transcends Islam, Judaism, Christianity, that we can bear this out," said El-Amin.
During this time, it's been especially difficult for people who've either lost their jobs or who have underlying conditions and could be susceptible to the virus. So the Muslim Community Cultural Center of Baltimore has been sending meals to their elderly members and the Islamic Society of Baltimore has been putting together blessing boxes, groceries for anyone in need.
Ramadan ends this weekend, Memorial Day Weekend, so they are going to rely on drive-thru services and virtual events.
El-Amin and Dr. Tori said they've been working together, along with other mosques, synagogues and churches to figure out the safest way to re-open when they're given the okay. The both said even when they are allowed they may still rely on virtual services to ensure the safety of their members.