Two weeks after beginning Friday prayer service in its new South Burlington mosque, the Islamic Society of Vermont had to close its facility due to COVID-19.
It was a necessary measure to keep the society’s members and the larger community safe, said Nedzad Halilovic, the society’s president.
Since mid-March, the Islamic Society has live-streamed prayers on its website and Facebook page.
The social-distancing period created by COVID-19 has also impacted Ramadan.
Ramadan is a holy month of fasting, observed during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. The period begins and ends with the crescent moon, this year beginning on April 23 and ending on May 23.
“Ramadan is a month of generosity,” Halilovic said, adding that while fasting is part of the period, it’s not the purpose.
Indeed, the intent of Ramadan focuses less on atonement, and more on leading a better earthly life: focusing on prayer and gathering after sunset to break the fast together.
This year, gathering simply cannot happen as normal.
“We have to come closer to God and think about our lives, change ourself to be a better person to the community, family and work,” Halilovic said.
For the Islamic Society of Vermont, that means congregants are watching live-streamed prayer from the mosque, praying at home and breaking the fast with their immediate families, he said.
It’s unfortunate the society cannot gather in the mosque this Ramadan, Halilovic said.
“It gives us more inspiration when we come to the mosque and we see our members, our brothers, our sisters get together,” he said. “Physically we are not here in this building, the mosque, but our hearts, our brains it’s still the same.”
Ramadan is also the time where the Islamic Society’s mosque collects more than 90% of its annual operating budget, the society’s website says. The society is asking members for help raising the minimum $147,000 it needs to cover its annual expenses.
Halilovic is grateful for members’ support and that of the surrounding community. The mosque has received supportive phone calls from the community, and a donation from a non-Muslim neighbor, Halilovic said.
At the Islamic Community Center of Vermont, in Winooski, it’s a similar story. The community offers a space for prayer, study, lectures and gathering. But since COVID-19 began to spread it has been closed.
“This month we were supposed to spend most of our time, especially in the nighttime, in the mosque, but that’s not happening right now,” said Omar Somow president of the community center. “[Usually], we break food in the evening, people can eat together, kids can go there, but everybody is stuck at home.”
Prayer normally requires the center’s congregation to be close to each other, but now, it’s taking place over conference call, Somow said.
The biggest challenge, Somow said, is raising the funds needed to cover utilities and rent at the center. Normally, Ramadan is a key month for fundraising. Likewise, the mosque usually raises funds for its global community, particularly those in refugee camps.
“We are like community,” Somow said. “We’re still talking to each other but it’s not like coming together.”
One of the five pillars of Islam states that Muslims with adequate financial means and health must make a pilgrimage called The Hajj, at least once in their lifetime.
The Hajj occurs about 70 days after Ramadan and gathers some 2.5 million Muslims to holy land in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.
This year, the Hajj falls between July 28 and Aug. 2. But with such a large group of people congregating, it appears this year’s pilgrimage may be cancelled.
Halilovic had planned to make the pilgrimage this year.
“Our Hajj, we cannot do that, we cannot change anything, we can just obey the rules and try to stay healthy and keep everybody healthy around us, too,” Halilovic said.
He prays and hopes he can make the pilgrimage next year.
The mosque sits empty
The Islamic Society of Vermont hadn’t made reopening plans as of May 5, Halilovic said. The Society is monitoring and adhering to the governor’s guidelines for social distancing.
“I believe and I pray that everything is going to come back as well as before for all of us,” Halilovic said. “My community and the community around us, I wish that everybody stay healthy and follow state rules.”