COVID-19 changes the way Muslims in central Pa. celebrate Ramadan

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch

Ramadan began last week for Muslims, but the COVID-19 pandemic once again disrupted many of the holy month's key celebrations.

In central Pennsylvania, large prayer services and communal feasts were either restricted or canceled entirely, including for the Islamic Society of Greater Harrisburg, located at 407 N. Front St.

Prayer services at the mosque, which can typically fit more than 300 people, have been reduced to 50, according to Muhammad Fayyaz, the former president of ISGH.

Additionally, large community dinners — known as iftar — hosted after sunset to break the daily fast were canceled this year. Instead, the ISGH is hosting a drive-thru iftar and providing dinners from 6 to 7 p.m. every Saturday through the end of Ramadan, Fayyaz said. Ramadan runs from April 13 through May 12 this year.

For Fayyaz, iftar marked an important time in the monthlong celebration for Muslims to come together and share their religion.

"We really missed getting together," Fayyaz said. "It was a celebration full of people hugging, shaking hands, bringing in food — all kinds of festivities were going on during the month of fasting."

Muslims who wish to participate in the Islamic Society of Greater Harrisburg's Ramadan events must register in advance by visiting https://isghpa.alminaret.com/.

Prayers, which will be conducted in two separate groups, will take place from 9:20 to 10 p.m. on Fridays.

All individuals are required to wear face masks, have their temperature checked and bring their own prayer mats. All mats will be covered in disposable plastic sheets and spread out 6 feet from each other, Fayyaz said. 

York community activists gather, at back, in support as members of Masjid Taw Heed gather for prayer marking the end of Ramadan at Brookside Park in Dover, Wednesday, July 6, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert photo

To register for Saturday's drive-thru iftar, send an email to isghpa@gmail.com.

The month of Ramadan, which is marked by prayer, fasting between dawn and sunset each day and engaging in charity work, is all about taking care of one's spiritual needs and helping others in the community, Fayyaz said. 

Especially since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Fayyaz said, it's more important than ever for Muslims to take care of community members who may be out of a job or hungry.

Along with a food pantry for those who need it, the society offers several types of schooling and education based in the practice of Islam.

"I think with the time, more people are recognizing the month of fasting," Fayyaz said. "It's a good feeling when everyone recognizes the blessed month. I feel very proud of the community and the support I get."

— Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.