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For Muslims around the world, this Ramadan marks the second during the COVID-19 pandemic. In Canada, it comes squarely in the third wave. During this holy month, Muslims don’t eat or drink from dawn to sunset; they engage in prayer, spiritual reflection and charity. At sunset each day, the fast is broken with a meal called iftar, usually shared with family, friends and community members. This year, these gatherings are being held in ways that respect pandemic restrictions

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Danieh Khan passes a date to her mother while her sister Urba and niece Sophia (far left) watch as the Khan family prepares to break its fast during a picnic in a Surrey, B.C., park.Photography by Alia Youssef/The Globe and Mail

The COVID-19 pandemic has put a pause on many people’s Ramadan traditions and altered their perspective on what the holy month means to them. For many, the public-health restrictions have taken away distractions and allowed them to connect more deeply with their spirituality. Families have had more time with each other, and with those in their household bubbles, than during any previous Ramadan. There is a new-found gratitude for being outdoors, where it is possible to gather safely.

This photo essay showcases families and friends who came together to break their fasts with iftar picnics in and around Vancouver. They shared their thoughts on how the pandemic has affected their experiences of Ramadan this year.

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LEFT: Maryam Razmpush, Norah Alikhani, Maya Alikhani, Kamila Alikhani, and Mason Alikhani sit under their backyard cherry blossom tree for an iftar picnic. RIGHT: Maryam sits with her granddaughter Norah Alikhani at an Iftar picnic she prepared in the family’s backyard.

The Alikhani family enjoy traditional Persian dishes in their backyard. They call this space their “little corner of paradise.” Kamila Alikhani said this is the first year her daughters have been old enough to participate in the Ramadan traditions and learn about its rituals. “It’s been wonderful to have quiet nights of self-reflection, time and space without rush or expectation to attend a gathering,” she said.

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Marta Miazek, left, and her friend Mina Khan enjoy a physically distant picnic at Queen Elizabeth Park in Vancouver.

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Mina Khan places a chocolate covered date onto her plate.

Marta Miazek said that since she doesn’t have family who are Muslim, Ramadan has always been a bit lonely. The pandemic has made it even harder without group activities such as iftar. For people who have converted to Islam, she said, “It can be an incredibly isolating time because we rely so heavily on community, and friends become like family.” The pandemic has allowed greater inner reflection during Ramadan. But, with the warmer weather, the possibility of gathering safely outside has felt really fulfill- ing. “I know you can do Zoom calls, but it’s not the same as seeing someone in person,” she said. “There is also something very special about sharing a meal with someone.”

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Nour Enayeh, centre, and her two children, Iman El-Safadi and Youssof El-Safadi, right, have an Iftar picnic at a popular park along Vancouver’s False Creek Seawall.

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Nour Enayeh said the pandemic changed her family’s experience of Ramadan greatly because they cannot break their fast with friends or gather with the community to pray at the mosque.

“The pandemic pushed us to experience a more quiet Ramadan,” she said. “We bonded more over iftar and by praying together as a family.”

Above, she mixes together a cucumber salad with greens. “We will break our fast with water and dates. I prepared rice with peas and chicken, which is a traditional Syrian dish.”

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Jordan Ouellette, left, Sarah Munawar, and their five-month-old son, Ihsaan, enjoy takeout food from a local grocer at a Vancouver beach.

Ms. Munawar said it’s very hard not to be able to travel and see her family in Ontario for their baby’s first Ramadan. She said: “As much as I wanted with all my heart to fast this Ramadan, I’m finding that postpartum recovery and no access to child care or community support as a new mother has made it very difficult. It’s hard to cook, clean, work, care for baby all day and make time to read Koran, pray and reflect. Instead, I am learning to really focus on strengthening the sincerity and intention with which I perform little actions of worship.”

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From left to right: Mahir Sumar, Zunera Khan, Rushd Khan, Danieh Khan, Arshiya Khan, Urba Khan, Midha Khan, Zafar Khan, and Lubna Khan, make dua (a prayer of supplication) before breaking their fast while picnicking in a Surrey, BC park.

The Khans have a family-run restaurant and prepared-food business, so Ramadan was always a busy time of year serving friends and customers at their buffet. The pandemic has forced them to be creative and think outside of the box. This year, they are working with local mosques and community organizations on drive-through iftar programs. They prepare between 300 and 400 iftar meal boxes a day. Urba Khan said: “The global pandemic has halted all social gatherings, which has made it difficult to connect with our friends like we traditionally did. On the bright side, our family has been lucky because we live together and can celebrate Ramadan together in our home.”

This year, for Ramadan, all 10 members of the family – nine adults and one toddler – decided to live under one roof.

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LEFT: Arshiya Khan, right, and her husband Rushd Khan converse while sipping on a sherbet called rooh afza at their family’s Iftar picnic in a Surrey, B.C., park. RIGHT: For the Khan family’s iftar meal, they created an iftar version of a charcuterie board.

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