Tampa Bay Times

Ramadan brings questions about vaccines, fasting, mosque visits

- BY MICHELLE BOORSTEIN

While the start of quarantini­ng last Ramadan shut down everything normal about the holy month for Muslims, for Karim Amin it also brought an unexpected heightened spirituali­ty and creative intensity.

“It hurt not to be around everybody (last spring), but we did a lot of dope things,” said the Baltimore entreprene­ur and activist. The magic of the first communal Zoom prayers. The unique connection in reading Ramadan books to younger relatives. The car parade at Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the monthlong holiday.

Before Ramadan begins Tuesday, Amin is navigating a maze of decisions, including whether and where to listen to the nightly taraweeh prayer, how close to stand to others if he goes in person and how many people to break fast with. Embedded in each of these choices is the same dilemma: how to make the holy month meaningful and communal when Muslims are going in different directions about how to mark it.

“I’m a bit fearful. My spirit was stronger last year. All I had was the book, the word and my own thoughts.

I was able to really get back to the essence of it,” Amin, 43, said. Between the rapid closures of last April, the social unrest in the streets and the national election drama, “all the things you read about in the Koran were happening. Last year was more spiritual and I hope we can get back to it.”

Amin is one of millions of American Muslims for whom the second pandemic Ramadan is a spiritual, medical and political morass.

At Dar Al-Hijrah, a Falls Church, Va., mosque that usually draws 1,000 people each night during a normal Ramadan, the pandemic created challenges for its scholars. One was in figuring out how to balance Islam’s call for people to pray shoulder to shoulder, foot to foot — to emphasize communalit­y — with the need for distance. With Ramadan starting and in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest coronaviru­s guidelines used in schools, Dar Al-Hijrah is moving its taped lines three feet closer, now to a three-foot distance, and expects 700 people for the nightly hourlong taraweeh prayers.

“I think generally speaking, people want to come back, but I do think there are long-lasting psychologi­cal issues, questions about associatin­g (in proximity) to people right now,” said Saif Abdul-Rahman, government affairs director of the mosque. “We still have to overcome what people got accustomed to and comfortabl­e with.”

A new question this year is the coronaviru­s vaccine. Attitudes about vaccines vary widely among the United States’ extremely diverse Muslim population. But segments have pressed community leaders about whether ingesting a vaccine during Ramadan violates the call to fast during daylight hours, one of the five pillars of Islam, a practice meant to heighten awareness for the month. Some worry that potential vaccine side effects could lead to the need to eat or drink during the day.

There have been enough questions that national Muslim groups put out a joint statement last week noting that many U.S. Muslim medical and spiritual authoritie­s have approved getting the vaccine during Ramadan — or as soon as people can.

Taking the vaccines “does not invalidate the fast during Ramadan as per the opinion of the majority of Islamic scholars,” says the statement of the Islamic Medical Associatio­n of North America.

Islam teaches that Muslims are exempt from the fast if and while they are sick or traveling, said Talib Shareef, imam of Masjid Muhammad in Washington. They can make up a missed fast day later, and it’s completely legitimate, he said.

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Karim Amin

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