Mosques across Ontario are trying to salvage Eid celebrations as best they can during the COVID-19 pandemic, with some opting for drive-thru gift handouts while others plan to lead congregants in online prayers.
Eid al-Fitr is a celebration that comes at the end of Ramadan — the month in the Islamic calendar where Muslims around the world forego food and drink from sunrise to sunset. This year, it starts after the last fast on Saturday and is celebrated on Sunday morning.
Usually, hundreds and thousands of Muslims crowd into neighbourhood mosques or gather at parks for a congregational prayer and sermon before embracing with others and visiting homes for food and drink throughout the day.
That won't be the case this year, so the Islamic Society of North America plans to hand out about 1,000 gifts to families during a drive-thru celebration at its mosque in Mississauga, Ont.
"It is a tough time, people are still scared, there's still a lot of uncertainty, but we did not want that to overshadow the joy of Eid and the spiritual experience of Ramadan," said Chihab Kaab, chair of the ISNA board.
"That's why we're doing all this."
The mosque has already been doing a drive-thru meal service throughout Ramadan. The practice replaces community dinners that are usually held at mosques throughout the month to break fast.
On the first day of the service, ISNA managed to hand out 200 meals, but that increased to 1,200 meals on a single night by this week.
Kaab said the plan for Sunday is to hold the drive-thru from 10 a.m. to noon, at which point families will go home and be able to access a pre-recorded sermon and instructions for families to do the Eid prayer at home.
The program will cap off with a video that shows children how to interact with some of the items in their gift bags.
A henna artist will show kids how to apply a tube of the temporary tattoo material on their skin, while a balloon artist will show them how to make balloon animals.
"That way you're connecting them, and there's engagement," said Kaab.
In St. Catharines, Ont., Masjid al-Noor board member Hussein Hamdani said a network of mosques discussed different ways to best celebrate the holiday while obeying physical distancing rules.
Masjid al-Noor decided to release an online sermon and give congregants instructions on how to do the Eid prayer at home with their families.
"It's tough because it's been a month of fasting," said Hamdani, noting it's a taxing time for Muslims, who generally look forward to celebrating it's end together.
"We're so historically used to dealing with things in congregation ... and so people are really yearning for getting together and seeing other people and celebrating."
He said other mosques have opted to livestream the Eid prayer on Zoom to mimic how prayer is led by Imam inside a mosque.
"It certainly captures the spirit of what the community is looking for, which his a bit of coming together," said Hamdani, although he said his mosque chose not to do the prayer that way.
Back in Mississauga, Kaab said he's been overjoyed to see that the idea of drive-thru Eid celebrations is catching on. Drive-thru meals for Ramadan have also taken place in other parts of the country, with Al-Rashid Mosque in Edmonton handing out over 1,000 meals in a day.
"I've seen posters all over the city promoting the same thing," said Kaab. "It's beautiful. That was the whole purpose."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 22, 2020.
Salmaan Farooqui, The Canadian Press