As Muslims in Georgia celebrate Ramadan, mosques and Islamic centers are making sure members celebrate safely.
Last year, lockdowns prevented worshippers from celebrating the holy month. Now that there’s a vaccine, many are comfortable celebrating in person.
“Ramadan is the best time of the year for Muslims,” says Azka Mahmood, communications and outreach director of the Georgia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR. “For community, for gathering, for prayer.”
During the holy month, mosques are filled nightly with people.
Before the pandemic, the Roswell Community Masjid in north Fulton County could hold about 400 people standing shoulder-to-shoulder to pray.
Now it can accommodate 150 people, some praying outside in the parking lot.
Lubna Merchant is the masjid’s operations manager. She says the normal two-hour prayer services have been cut to 40 minutes.
“People like to hang out,” she says. “So we’re encouraging them to go home right after the prayer service so they don’t socialize too much and forget that they have to keep six feet distance.”
The center also has a QR code system for people to check in.
“So we scan the QR code, and we know that so-and-so was at the masjid,” she says. The center re-opened in July and has had to alert members when someone with COVID-19 worshipped at the masjid. She says the system is a quick way to let worshippers know if they’ve been in contact with someone infected.
Community leaders are reminding Muslims to take safety precautions and get vaccinated.
Bashir Mundi is the Imam at the West Cobb Islamic Center in Marietta. Through a partnership with Walmart, people will be able to get their first shot of the vaccine at the center this Saturday.
“They come to the mosque anyway,” says Mundi. “They feel comfortable, they feel safe, it’s a safe space and it’s convenient.” Vaccination is also open to those who don’t worship at the center.
In Georgia, everyone 16 years or older is eligible for the vaccine.
Earlier this month, the National Muslim Task Force on COVID-19 and the National Black Muslim COVID Coalition released a statement encouraging mosque leaders to promote the vaccine and abide by safety guidelines during Ramadan.
“Mosque leadership bear an important moral responsibility to ensure safety of their congregants,” the letter reads.
Mundi describes the holy month of Ramadan as a spiritual boot camp to raise awareness and consciousness of God. “You make new friends, you create bonds,” says Mundi. He said he’d maintained friendships with people he’s met during the holy month. “Because we connected in a spiritual, sacred space.”
Mahmood, of CAIR, is glad Ramadan is happening this year. “To have that back and within reach is exciting, encouraging,” she says. “It really feels like a new dawn.”