COVID-19 Challenges Houston Muslims in Ramadan, But the Faithful Say Blessings Abound

With the ongoing global threat of COVID-19, it comes as no surprise that Ramadan 2020 will look different than most Muslims imagined only a month ago.

However, many of the Houston-area faithful are heading into the holy month with the intent of slowing down, drawing closer to Allah, and strengthening their faith.

Husband and wife Omar Navarro and Nidah Chatriwala of Pasadena, Texas, both recently lost their jobs, a direct result of the ongoing health crisis. They also live with Chatriwala’s parents, one of whom is suffering from cancer. Needless to say, there is stress and uncertainty as they move into Ramadan.

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“Our typical routine of activities like going for prayers in the mosque, iftars at each other’s homes, going to fundraising galas – none of that is possible in Ramadan,” she told AboutIslam.net. “This (virus situation) has already forced us into a new norm in our existing routine, and it will do it again in Ramadan.”

Rubina Zaman, a Houston-area dentist, said she too will miss the gatherings which are so much a part of the Ramadan ritual. “I will be really sad about that,” she said.

But both women said there are blessings to be found in what they acknowledge are tough and challenging times.

Test of Faith

Chatriwala, who until recently worked in digital marketing for a construction company, is looking at the situation as a test of faith.

“My faith is what keeps me strong and gets me through any trial, big or small,” she said, adding as long as she and her family are healthy and virus free then she can focus on the good she sees around her.

“I am very positive about this situation because even with the bad there will always be some good,” Chatriwala said.

“The death toll is rising, but there are businesses still actively producing personal protective equipment for healthcare workers. I’ve even seen some kids in their backyards making face masks and face shields. They’re doing their part to be local heroes, and that’s great to see.”

Zaman, who is only seeing one or two emergency patients a week, said this will be the first Ramadan in many years that she won’t be working full time. She said she looks forward to not being exhausted, focusing more on the spiritual nature of the month and cooking healthy meals for her family iftars, something she hasn’t been able to do in past Ramadans.

“I feel like the slowing down is a blessing,” she said.

COVID-19 Challenges Houston Muslims in Ramadan

Challenging Muslim Converts

Navarro, Chatriwala’s husband, agreed with his wife the situation is a test from Allah, but he worries it might be even more of a burden for single Muslim converts who will be alone when they break their fast.

“Many of them don’t have a family (who celebrate Ramadan or Eid) and so they usually break their fast at the mosque. Now they’ll have nowhere to go,” said Navarro.

As a convert himself, Navarro said he speaks from experience about how hard it is for single Muslims to practice their faith alone, particularly during the holy month of fasting when gatherings are commonplace. 

“I worry that nobody thinks of them and it may push them away from Islam,” he said. “I really would like to see some community outreach for them.”

Chatriwala encouraged all Muslims to be cognizant of reaching out to each other as much as possible this Ramadan, as it’s likely there will be no communal gatherings at mosques.

She said people should take advantage of technology to check in on one another, maybe use video technology to share iftar meals together and send photos of new `Eid outfits even if they can’t join together for `Eid prayer.

“We can still have fun and celebrate and just be positive,” she said.

For her part, Zaman is starting on the fun early. She recently enlisted her 12-year-old son Jad Choucair to begin decorating their home with holiday decorations.

“I don’t foresee things going back to normal just like that, so we are going to make the best of it,” she said.