Hina Syed has volunteered at the Islamic Center of Central Missouri (ICCM) for the entirety of her 14 years in this community—teaching youth and providing food for the needy. Each Ramadan, she looked forward to organizing and cooking shared meals for single Muslims in Columbia.
“What we used to do is we would bring food to the Mosque, and there would be a set up for dinner, breaking of the fast,” she said. The meal is called Iftar, and in Columbia, it’s a shared celebration at the mosque, often involving 250 to 300 people coming to dinner on weekends.
Imam Shakir Hamoodi said the meals at ICCM were as diverse as the congregation he serves. “We enjoyed food from varieties of ethic groups, from India and Pakistan to Bangladesh to Middle East to America to Bosnia. It’s just a rainbow of really a variety of foods.”
That can’t happen this year, however. Hamoodi said they decided to close the mosque’s doors when the University shut down on March 11. When the month of Ramadan began on April 23, Muslims in Columbia began their fasts in isolation.
“If this coronavirus were not here, we would have done it differently just like any other year,” Hamoodi said.
That would include long nightly prayers, called Tarawih, when Muslims spend hours in the Mosque after sunset, with the Imam reciting long passages from the Quran. In all, the community would typically spend two to four hours together during Ramadan, from sunset to midnight.
But the community is adapting. Instead of community Iftar, the mosque has set up food boxes to help families and individuals with the ingredients they need to break the fast.
“Flour, five pounds of sugar, you know, a big bottle of oil, various things like that,” Syed said. “People can use it as long as they have it, and then if they need to come back, they can come back, bring the box back, and we will refill it again for them.”
The imams are also scheduling lectures and recitations on Zoom, says Imam Misbahu Ali Masbahu.
“We have a program of Islamic history where resume learning from the zoom app. We have lessons from the history of Islam too,” he said. They also had a parenting workshop for teaching kids who are at home in quarantine. Mayor Brian Treece even sat in on one Zoom meeting at the beginning of Ramadan.
The Quran actually provides some lessons for dealing with Coronavirus. “Our religion taught us to be clean and to do social distancing since the time of our Prophet, 1600 years or something like that,” Masbahu said, referencing a passage about leprosy. Muslims also wash their hands five times a day before their prayers.
He also points to teachings that mirror the CDC recommendation to shelter in place. “Whenever there is a pandemic in our religion, you cannot go out from the city that it's happening,” Masbahu said. “And you cannot enter into the city that have been this difficulty just to protect everybody to protect yourself. Protecting life is one major thing in Islam.”
Though quarantine has been a challenge, Imam Hamoodi said it’s an opportunity for reflection and to focus on family. “It’s a test of patience,” he said.
Syed has missed seeing her community, but she also looks on the bright side. She’s spending more time with family, including her youngest two children, who are about to graduate high school and college respectively.
“We are cooking together, we are praying together, we are talking and dealing with a lot of the spirituality that’s going on this month, and volunteering,” Syed said.
Masbahu is proud of how his community has handled this situation.
“Everybody is connected, running the programs, these people that are wonderful, they're doing great job,” Masbahu said. “I ask Almighty Allah to bless them and their family. And I ask God, Almighty Allah to bless all of the members of our community and to bless the people in Columbia as well.”