Celebrating Ramadan As A Newcomer In Canada During COVID-19

Unlike the lively Ramadans she celebrated in Oman, Rahma Khan struggled to find community when she arrived in Vancouver.

woman hangs up ramadan decorations at home

(Photo: Getty)

Ramadan is the month of congregating, community building and helping each other. The holy month brings together Muslims from all over the world to celebrate and pray in union. But Ramadan has looked a bit different these past couple of years. In 2020, COVID-19 changed the way people socialize. And just like every other public gathering, Ramadan celebrations changed and had to be done in isolation at home.

I landed in Vancouver as a newcomer from Oman at the start of 2021. The challenging feat of leaving my family behind to make a living in a new country was made more difficult thanks to COVID-19. Having to quarantine for two weeks alone, in a tiny basement room, added to my homesickness and the struggles of trying to make friends in a new city.

Within a couple of months of being in Canada, the month of Ramadan approached. Prior to coming to Vancouver, I lived with my family. Everyone would come together to break our fasts at iftar with typical fares like vegetable fritters, yogurt dumplings and fruit flavoured drinks. We’d have communal meetings at the mosque and prepare treats for the children on Gaargean—an old tradition practiced in Middle Eastern countries where children go door-to-door and collect treats in celebration of completing half of Ramadan. My favourite part of the month was gathering for taraweeh, or night prayers, at the mosque with friends and neighbours.

But in Canada, Ramadan felt very different. I had to rely on social media and online meet-up apps to make friends. In place of the fritters and dumplings my mom used to make, I would start my fast with a humble cheese toast and break my fast with microwaved food. In Oman, I could find special Ramadan food sections at the grocery store—but here, that was not the case. Because of this, I had a hard time finding foods that I used to eat at iftar. While Vancouver is a booming city for Muslims, the community felt almost non-existent to me during those early days. All of the places of worship in British Columbia were shut down indefinitely during that time. Though there’s a mosque very close to where I live, I could only long to visit it someday to offer prayers in congregation and get to know other Muslims in my new city. Things got worse when the provincial government closed indoor dining just a week before the start of Ramadan, shattering my hopes of enjoying communal iftars at halal eateries.

My only saving grace was a few Muslim friends I met through a Facebook group for newcomers in Vancouver. We used to meet in very small groups at each other’s homes to eat and pray. Luckily, the group gathering restrictions in B.C. opened up and, with summer approaching, our group iftars shifted outdoors. These gatherings allowed more people to join the group, and my small circle of Muslim friends in Vancouver started to expand. While I certainly didn’t get a chance to experience my first Ramadan in Vancouver like I used to back home, I adapted and managed to meet fellow Muslims going through the same thing as me.

With the easing of COVID-19 restrictions recently in B.C., the Muslim community is planning to celebrate a closer-to-normal Ramadan this year. As the month is fast approaching (the first day of fasting is April 2nd), preparations have started in full swing. A pre-Ramadan women’s bazaar took place recently where small women-run businesses sold food, clothes and household items. The mosque gatherings are now allowed at full capacity and the B.C. Muslim Association is organizing weekly Ramadan knowledge circles at mosques, Islamic schools and Muslim community centres.

I am excited to celebrate Ramadan this year with the small yet tight-knit circle of Muslims friends I’ve made in my past year in Canada. We have already planned for group iftars and exchanged gifts of Islamic books, prayer mats and dates. To inspire a familiar Ramadan spirit and to replicate my mother, who used to cook and serve food for iftar at the local mosque, I have registered myself as a volunteer for weekend iftar arrangements at the mosque in my neighbourhood. Continuing the same Ramadan decorations that I used to do with my siblings back home, I have decorated a small section of the wall in my room with a crescent moon and star, as well as cut outs that read Ramadan Mubarak. Small things like these help me feel connected to my family traditions.

The events this year leading up to Ramadan are paving the way for me to finally get involved in Vancouver’s Muslim scene, and they make me hopeful for a lively and vibrant holy month ahead.

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