Another pandemic Ramadan: What’s different for thousands of Austinites this year

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Muslims begin holy month of fasting Tuesday

AUSTIN (KXAN) — On Tuesday, thousands of Muslims in Austin woke up before dawn for breakfast, and they won’t eat again until dusk.

It’s part of the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims believe God first started revealing the Quran, their holy book, to His last messenger, Muhammad.

“We don’t feed the soul that much, we are usually paying attention to our body’s needs. So now, putting the body on hold from dawn until the sunset and now allowing for the spirit to come and take more of a forefront of our consciousness,” explains Islam Mossaad, Imam of the North Austin Muslim Community Center, the area’s largest mosque. A spokesperson there estimates there are more than 30,000 Muslims in the Austin-area.

Aside from fasting, Muslims also use the month to become closer to their scripture, understand it better and implement it in their daily lives through things extra charity, volunteer work and performing extra nightly prayers. 

“Every time I get to the beginning of Ramadan and say, ‘Okay, what else I need to improve this year that I didn’t do the last year?'” said Adnan Suleiman, an Austinite for more than two decades.

Last year, like many other holiday celebrations, those nightly prayers were canceled due to pandemic safety, and so were community meals where congregants broke their fast together.

“We tried to adapt to it. It did not feel like it was Ramadan, you know. It did not feel normal,” Suleiman said.

This year, with no statewide mandates, most Central Texas mosques are opening their doors to congregants again while still following CDC guidelines of social distancing and wearing masks.

“Maintaining the balance of, ‘Yes, the mosque is open, but we still need to be careful so that people don’t get sick and that we don’t spread something because of a lack of vigilance,'” said Mossaad, whose mosque sees about 2,000 congregants a week.

However, his mosque and most others said they are still not holding meals for congregants when they break their fast, called iftar.

Bahar Abubaker breaks his first fast of the month in the parking lot of the North Austin Muslim Community Center on Tuesday. He says although it’s not the same as eating with his neighbors during a non-pandemic year, it’s still a step closer to normal compared to last year, when mosques weren’t open at all. (KXAN Photo/Tahera Rahman)

“When we break our fast we want to break it with others. But, again, with the priority is on people’s health and their safety,” Mossaad said.

On Tuesday, volunteers at the North Austin Muslim Community Center passed out food for people to eat in their cars.

The center said it will be using its outdoor space for overflow during nightly prayers and is also streaming them on Facebook Live.

Nueces Mosque is offering food to congregants in a drive-thru method and is asking congregants to register for nightly prayers online.

The Islamic Center of Greater Austin and The Islamic Center of Lake Travis say they are only offering prayers, not food. ICGA is also asking congregants to register for nightly prayers online before coming in.

Masjid Ibrahim said while it is open for Friday prayers it will not be offering the extra nightly prayers for congregants this Ramadan.

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