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The holiest time of the year on the Muslim calendar, Ramadan, which starts Thursday and goes through May 23, generally ends each evening with communal break-the-fast snacks and prayer at Albuquerque’s mosques.
Like churches and synagogues throughout New Mexico, safety precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have forced the closure of mosques, which will rely to some extent on livestreaming of services for their congregants, as do many houses of worship.
During the month of Ramadan, Muslims do not eat or drink from sunrise to sunset, said Abbas Akhil, vice president of the Islamic Center of New Mexico, and a Democratic member of the state House of Representatives from Albuquerque.
“At sundown, we break the fast with a slight snack and prayer, then a full meal, followed again by prayer. We repeat the same routine for the entire month,” he said.
Muslims also pray five times each day – “prayers that require us to bow down (from a kneeling position) and touch our foreheads to the ground,” Akhil said. “God forbid someone is carrying the virus and they cough on the carpet in the mosque; it would really expose our congregants to the possibility of picking up the infection.”
The only way to avoid that scenario was to shut down daily services, as well as the gathering of the faithful at the mosque during Ramadan, he said.
In the interest of public health, that same decision has been made at mosques worldwide, according to recent news reports.
Because the holy month of Ramadan is about allowing time for people to reflect on their own spirituality, they are certainly capable of reflecting, even while isolating at home, Akhil said.
“During the rest of the year, we are busy with work and going about our daily worldly routines. We eat regular meals throughout the day and don’t think about where the food comes from and the blessings that come with having that food. The month of Ramadan allows us to focus on our inner selves,” he said.
“The ancillary benefit is, since so many people are fasting, it allows your body to ramp down and you go through a purging process. When you fast and give up a meal and don’t drink water, you appreciate what you have. It makes you more deliberate and allows you to appreciate what God has given you.”
It’s also a time to think about the hungry and needy living in our own community, he said, as well as to consider with compassion “all the hunger in the world and the people who can’t even get a clean glass of water for drinking.”
What Ramadan is not, “it is not intended as a hardship or to punish yourself, and it is not a penance or absolution for your sins.”
Rather, it is an opportunity “to better get in touch with the things that are important in your life and to thank God for those things,” Akhil said.
And, as widely attributed to the classical Greek philosopher, Socrates, an opportunity to “know thyself.”