'We have to get creative': Minn. Muslims prepare for a socially distanced Eid

Pandemic means no gatherings at mosques and other large venues: ‘Nobody thought this could happen in our lifetime.’

Rand Ansari of Eagan
Eid is a time for families to spend time together and share festive dishes at home. This year, It will be a much more modest affair this year for Rand Ansari of Eagan.
Dymanh Chhoun | Sahan Journal

This story comes to MPR News from its news partner, Sahan Journal.

In years past, Rand Ansari of Eagan would invite as many as 30 family members to her home for dinner and gift exchanges to mark Eid al-Fitr, the holiday celebrating the end of Ramadan. This year, it will be just her, her husband and three adult children.

Muhayadin Mohamed, president of the Islamic Center of St. Cloud, will be home, too, with his wife and children. Ugbad Abdilahi of South St. Paul will use Zoom to connect with family and friends.

As the month-long fast of Ramadan drew to a close this week, thousands of Muslims in Minnesota kept their eyes peeled for news about the sighting of the new crescent moon which marks the end of the month and launches the celebration of Eid.

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On Friday evening, reports of the young moon trickled in from the Islamic world, and many took to their mobile devices and social media platforms to wish loved ones and friends Eid Mubarak, or Blessed Eid.

In normal times, Muslim families would congregate at mosques, on park grounds and inside rented spaces such as the Minneapolis Convention Center and the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul early on Eid morning for prayers and celebrations.

But with the semi-lockdown to combat the COVID-19 pandemic still in place, the Eid celebration this year won’t be what it used to be. There are no big festive gatherings at homes, no dining at all-you-can-eat restaurants and no hanging out at the Mall of America and Valleyfair for kids and teens.

President Trump on Friday declared houses of worship “essential services” and urged state governments to allow them to open immediately. But it was doubtful he had any authority to order them reopened.

In any case, Mohamud Dulyadeyn, imam of Masjid Al-Rawdah in Minneapolis, said Trump’s declaration didn’t change his mind. “We’re following the government and health professionals’ suggestions to save people,” he said. “We’re 100 percent sure that coronavirus did not go anywhere. So what the president said has something to do with politics; it doesn’t have anything do to with worshiping God or saving people.”

Despite the restrictions, families and mosque leaders in the state — home to an estimated 150,000 Muslims of diverse backgrounds including African-American, Somali, Oromo, Liberian, Egyptian, Palestinian, Indian, Pakistani, Bengali and others — are planning creative ways to celebrate the occasion.

Virtual Eid prayers

Since Gov. Tim Walz first announced the stay-at-home order in March, many mosque leaders have delivered sermons to their congregations and taught courses through Zoom, Facebook Live, YouTube and other online platforms.

Makram El-Amin, imam of Masjid An-Nur in north Minneapolis, posted regular lectures and reflections on his Facebook page throughout Ramadan. Earlier this week, when Sahan Journal caught up with El-Amin, he said he would probably live stream an Eid sermon via social media.

That’s something that many mosques across the state might do, as well. “Likely,” El-Amin said, “there will be a number of virtual Eid programs, whether it’s Zoom platform or Facebook Live, where imams will read the khutbah [sermon] that will be transmitted to all those who tune in.”

Mashhood Yunus of New Brighton, a religious education coordinator at five Twin Cities-area mosques and secretary of the Building Blocks of Islam outreach organization, said that the live streaming services and Friday sermons have been common among mosque leaders and imams in the U.S. during the pandemic. “I’m sure they’ll do something like that, just to cheer the community,” he said.

Virtual Eid celebrations

In addition to morning prayers, Eid is also a time for families to spend time together and share festive dishes at home. It will be a much more modest affair this year for Ansari.

There won’t be any new clothes for this Eid, she said, but she did go ahead and make traditional date-filled Palestinian cookies. Usually she would serve them to family and friends who come to celebrate Eid. But this year, she will be sending them out.

Mohamed, of the St. Cloud Islamic center, said despite the pandemic, his family has been just as excited about the arrival of Eid as they have been in past years, and approached it in many of the same ways. They went to shop for Eid clothes and decorated the house.

But with the lockdown, the family plans to pray and celebrate Eid at home. “We’re talking about celebrating at homes — each family, individually, praying together,” he said. “That’s a big change. Nobody thought that this could happen in our lifetime, but it’s the reality that we live in at this time.”

In normal times, Ugbad Abdilahi of South St. Paul typically started Eid prepping days before the sighting of the moon. She would take her young twin boys for a haircut and to shop for prayer clothes at malls and stores that tailor their services to Muslim clients. On Eid morning, she would join Eid prayers with thousands of other Minnesota Muslims.

This year, Ugbad and her boys are taking a different approach. They did their Eid shopping online, and instead of taking the boys to the barbershop, she picked up the hair clippers to do the work herself.

“We’re kind of fearful of getting coronavirus,” Ugbad said. “So, now we have to be creative with everything and how we’re going to do things.”

This creativity includes connecting with family and friends via phone and computer screens, instead of inviting them over or visiting their homes. “We’re trying our best not to have contact with people,” she said. “We’re going to Zoom call our family members and communicate with them and wish them Eid Mubarak.”

But Ugbad isn’t limiting her Eid to just Zooming with loved ones and dining at home with her twin boys. Eid coincides this year with the Memorial Day weekend, and she’ll be doing something that a lot of other Minnesotans will be doing, as well, on the long weekend that traditionally launches the summer season.

She plans on heading up north in the afternoon for some camping and fishing. “There are a few families that are also going to the same place,” she said. “So we’re going to practice social distancing with them and experience the outdoor life.”

COVID-19 in Minnesota