Many Muslims in Nova Scotia spent last Ramadan in lockdown, but this year, thanks to low COVID-19 cases, they'll be able to gather together in small groups for prayer and support.
The holy month of fasting began earlier this week with mosques open for physically distanced services, which is "absolutely different" than this time last year, said Abdallah Yousri, the imam at Ummah Mosque in Halifax.
"Last year, the mosque was locked down completely so we didn't have any services or prayers or gatherings or anything … This year, we have a little bit of a room there to have family members come together and pray," he told CBC Radio's Information Morning.
Yousri said many members of the Muslim community will also get their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine this month.
Even though the fasting period from dawn to sunset includes no food or drink, getting the shot won't break a fast, he said.
"I got this question from different community members, and it is not a problem at all to have the vaccine while you're fasting," he said.
The Canadian Muslim COVID-19 Task Force has also shared information online about Ramadan and the COVID-19 vaccine, saying there's no reason for people to postpone their appointment if it falls during the holy month.
"It is not necessary to eat before or right after vaccination. Staying hydrated and eating nourishing suhoors [meal before sunrise] will help ensure that we are staying well for activities during Ramadan, including vaccination," the group states on its website.
Working to dismantle misinformation
Initially, Yousri said some community members were hesitant about getting the vaccine.
That's why he's been holding sessions during the pandemic to debunk misinformation and make sure people are armed with the right information to make a decision.
"I'm not a physician at the end of the day, but I'm just trying to help them see through these conspiracy theories that [don't] have any kind of foundation at all," he said.
Yousri said while public health offers some basic information about the vaccines in Arabic, there are very few resources to help people navigate what's true, and what isn't.
"The work that I've been doing to educate the community about this was my research about these issues and how can I respond to that and how can I find evidence against these theories, but I was not provided any kind of support in that," he said.
"I think it would be very helpful and would help many members and make it very convenient for many community members as well."
The importance of fasting
Imam Zia Khan with the Centre for Islamic Development in Halifax said even though Ramadan will continue to look different this year, he's grateful people can come together to support one another.
"Usually we'll hug and all of those things. But now … we just point and rather than praying very close shoulder to shoulder, we are separated," he told CBC Radio's Mainstreet, "but we're still very, very grateful."
Muslims have been fasting for thousands of years as a way to purify themselves physically and spiritually, he said.
"It's like an oil change for the human being because we are at least in this part of the world, we are so suffocated and so brimming with over excess of everything that we tend to not empathize with the poor," Khan said.
Spending up to 16 hours a day abstaining from food and drink isn't just about the individual, he added.
"It has a ramification to all of the people of the world so that we will be able to look toward the poor and the wretched and the weak and the downtrodden and the meek, and in order for us to actually see how ungrateful we are, and in order for us to become grateful," he said.
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