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For Some Kansas City Muslims, Celebrating Ramadan Under Stay-At-Home Orders Has Had Its Benefits

052220_Fatima Al-Shaikhli and her family_Ramadan at home_Jodi Fortino.JPG
Fatima Al-Shaikhli
Fatima Al-Shaikhli and her family practice Iftar, the evening meal that breaks the day’s fast, every night after sunset. Unlike previous years, breaking fast is now done at home every night in the Al-Shaikhli household.

In the absence of public events throughout the month of Ramadan, some Muslims in Kansas City have found it easier to focus on their faith and family.

For the Muslim community in Kansas City, Ramadan is normally a social time. The month of prayer, worship and fasting is also marked by public banquets and social gatherings at area mosques.

The coronavirus pandemic brought many of these rituals to a halt this year, as the community had to adapt to social distancing guidelines.

For one Kansas City family, though, this month’s celebration wasn’t too different from those of previous years.

Fatima Al-Shaikhli, a student at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, moved with her family to the Kansas City area from Baghdad, Iraq, nearly a decade ago during the Iraqi Civil War.

“It was unsafe for my family to celebrate at the mosque so my parents and my family have taken the approach of worshiping and practicing from our home,” Al-Shaikhli said.

Even though it was safe for the family to attend mosques after moving to the United States, they kept up their tradition of celebrating Ramadan at home.

Al-Shaikhli says it’s been interesting to watch other families transition into a similar way of worship during the metrowide lockdown.

Her daily routine during Ramadan is the same as it’s been every other year. She wakes up before 4:30 a.m. to eat Sahūr, the morning meal consumed in preparation for the day’s fasting.

And lockdown has made some things easier. In previous years, she would try to fit in a quick nap before having to get ready for school and work a few hours later. She would spend the day trying to keep up her usual levels of productivity, which she says is slowed by the physical effects of fasting. This year, she says she’s allowed a bit more flexibility.

“It feels more luxurious now working from home and homeschooling. We're able to make our own schedule. I work when I know I won't be as tired and I won't be as hungry,” she says.

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Fatima Al-Shaikhli
Waleed Al-shaikhil, Dhuha Shareef and Khalid Al-shaikhil prepare for Iftar, a meal for the family to break fast.

Moben Mirza, secretary of the Islamic Center of Johnson County says the stay-at-home orders had a positive impact on his family’s Ramadan experience, too.

“My kids are not going to school, so I don't have to worry about waking them up early for a pre-dawn meal and worrying about how they're going to wake up for school two hours later,” says Mirza.

Beyond the physical benefits of staying home, Mirza says the time has also helped his relationship with his family. While normally he would have invitations to break fast with others in the community every night, he’s now able to better focus on his immediate family. This focus, he says, also extends to his faith.

“This is positive because the distraction is not there. There are certain aspects of Ramadan that are focused on the individual, like introspection. You can do that in your own time at home, you can reflect, you can improve, you can have a heightened sense of devotion,” Mirza says.

Al-Shaikhli says she’s also noticed that it's been easier for her to perform spiritually during the shutdown. She has more time to read the Quran and has been able to more frequently perform the Taraweeh, an optional prayer done late in the night that can last up to an hour.

“Before, I would be less willing to like to stay up and perform it because I know I have work and school the next day,” she says.

But there are still aspects of traditional Ramadan celebrations she misses. Like many religions, the foundation of Islam is rooted in its community. Al-Shaikhli says some of that feeling was lost this year.

“Something really big is just saying hello, which in Islam it's the ‘peace be upon you,’ and greeting each other after we finished prayer. It's simple stuff, but it adds up so sometimes I miss that,” says Al-Shaikhli.

Having a larger family of six has kept her company during what could be a lonely time. But one of her brothers says he misses some things that can’t be done at home.

“There are a lot of events that we go to and volunteer, things that I typically do or just start to help out in the community. None of that is happening this year,” says Waleed Al-Shaikhli.

Volunteering and helping the community are also an important component of Ramadan, he says. The Muslim community usually tries to provide for people who are in need during this time by giving out meals at mosque, a practice that has been complicated by health concerns.

Mirza, of the Islamic Center of Johnson County, says his mosque has had to get creative in how they perform that service.

“Now we were looking at food baskets, hygiene packs, and just supporting people with their rent,” said Mirza.

Fatima Al-Shaikhli says taking these actions are necessary for a community where not everyone is experiencing a “luxurious” Ramadan like she is.

“Even like before this pandemic, there's always somebody suffering greatly during Ramadan in some part of the world, especially where I come from like the Middle East, but that feeling is heightened these days.”

The Muslim community is now gearing up to celebrate Eid, a holiday marking the end of Ramadan and one of the most important on the Islamic calendar.

“Everybody treats it like a Christmas morning situation, where we all hang out all day and eat. Other families like I know go to Worlds of Fun or just do fun family activities,” says Al-Shaikhli.

Like the rest of the month’s celebrations, many traditions will have to be changed to adhere to social-distancing guidelines. Al-Shaikhli says while aspects of the holiday will be missed, as long as the prayer of the day is performed, that’s what really matters.