When Gonca Soyer and her family moved to Cache Valley a few years ago, they decided to invite their friends and neighbors to join them in celebrating for each night of Ramadan — a holy month where Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset and then gather with family, friends and community members to eat and pray and spend time together in the evening.
Recently, the Soyers moved into a new home. They were so excited to share this new space with their friends for the holiday. But as the coronavirus spread, they realized that couldn’t happen.
“It took a while for the kids to process that, especially for Azra," Soyer said. "We've been talking a lot about social distancing, and how we need to stay safe, wear our masks, wear our gloves and things like that. And one day she said, ‘Wait, if, if no one can come to visit us, we can’t have anyone during Ramadan...‘we're not gonna have any fun.’”
Soyer said she assured her daughter they would still try to make Ramadan fun by spending time together and connecting with friends virtually. But there is no question that it will be different this year. Not only are people unable to physically join them in their home, they won’t be able to gather for congregational worship or celebration.
“We are missing that spirit of you know, praying all together with our friends in congregation," she said. "But again, that's something we are going to try to do at home to give the kids that feeling as well.”
Over the past few weeks, Soyer said they have enjoyed connecting with friends for dinner via video conferencing. It isn’t the same at all, but she said she has enjoyed that it has allowed them to connect with friends from out of state.
Zeynep Karipardut is a friend of the Soyers who lives in South Jordan. She and her family are also disappointed that they won’t be able to gather during Ramadan.
“Especially here in the United States, we have diversity — so many people from different faiths and backgrounds, they are eager to learn about each other," Karipardut said. "Ramadan is a great way to invite people to our home. We break our bread together, and we share, ‘What do you feel about Ramadan?’ and how we practice. Also, we learned from our friends from different religions.”
Instead of the large, interfaith gatherings they have grown to love, they are placing an increased focus on improving their personal relationship with God, since Ramadan celebrations will have to be done on a more individual level, according to Karipardut.
“For example, since we have more spare time, we can read more, so we do more religious studies at home, we can practice, we can pray more at our home," she said. "Also, when we are with our friends, we just share our experience how is it going, and we just support each other. It works out fine but of course we really miss our regular, normal Ramadan time.”
And while this distance is hard, she said it is important to them to contribute to the public good.
“Our Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, commanded us following public rules in order to maintain safety of the public," Karipardut said. "So this is important for us following the rules so we try our best to remain in our homes and we are not going to mosque and we don't do gatherings and anything so that we can get rid of this craziness as soon as possible, right. It is kind of weird, but we still get to meet with our friends through you know, Zoom app or virtual meetings, but we can’t have people in our home.”
Mubarak Ukashat is a student at Utah State University who lives in Cache Valley with his wife and children. If it weren’t for the pandemic, he would be home in Nigeria to celebrate Ramadan, but he was forced to cancel his flight. He said while the gathering is a large part of Ramadan, there are other elements that won’t be affected by the coronavirus.
“The social distancing isolation doesn't affect the fasting, per se, because fasting is something personal between the person and his Lord, where you abstain from food and other worldly desires you usually do everyday for physical and spiritual benefits," Ukashat said. "So it's something we can still achieve. It's the event that culturally comes with this fasting that we now miss...that ability to give and share your food, and that merriment of coming together, to eat together, when we break our fast. So that is the part of the fasting that we miss.”
While the fun of gathering at Ramadan, the coming together to break their fasts and pray as a congregation won’t occur this year, Ukashat said he’s grateful for the time with his family.
“I think to an extent we are still holding on and it's a lesson for everyone," he said. "Nobody knew something like this could come. It's a lesson for us to learn to actually plan ahead for the first thing this might take longer than the next Ramadan. So the lessons we'll learn from this Ramadan will help us to plan for the upcoming Ramadan.”
For those who want to share food and resources with friends, neighbors and people in need during Ramadan while still practicing social distancing, Ukashat had a few ideas, including leaving food on a person’s doorstep or sending them money they can use to meet a need.
UPR’s Matilyn Mortensen contributed to this story.