As Muslims across Ontario mark the end of another Ramadan under a provincewide lockdown due, front-line workers say observing this past month while working through the pandemic has been nothing short of difficult.
Amid battling a third wave and record-breaking ICU admissions in Ontario in April, Muslim doctors and nurses have been observing the holy month of Ramadan, refraining from food and drinks from dawn until sunset each day.
With the month coming to an end, Eid al-Fitr, which translates to "Festival of breaking the fast," will take place Thursday and look a little different this year as a provincewide stay-at-home order remains in effect.
"Challenging" is the word that Jehan Kadri, a registered nurse in London, uses to describe the past month for her as a Muslim front-line worker.
Kadri is in the emergency department at University Hospital, where she has worked the last five years. While this may be the second month-long fast under lockdown, it's much different, she said.
To feel more spiritual this month, we tried to focus more on understanding the purpose of Ramadan and working on building better habits, building our character.– Jehan Kadri, RN in London, Ont.
"For us this year was unlike any other year. We definitely did not expect to be in lockdown again. Last year was tough, in its own way, but this year has definitely been more difficult."
"Each day brings a different challenge and you never know what you're going into."
While nurses and doctors are used to doing long 12-hour shifts, a work day during Ramadan makes it all the more intense, said Kadri.
As of Wednesday, 71 patients with COVID-19 were being cared for by London Health Sciences Centre, including 37 in critical care. With out-of-region transfers, 32 patients were being treated in London from outside health regions, including eight in acute care and 24 in intensive-care units.
"It's very different because there's all this additional stress from the pandemic, and the risk of COVID-19, with the changes to our day-to-day practices as Muslims during Ramadan," she said.
"I can handle not eating at work, but it's the thirst that gets me. We work in a really dry environment and wearing a mask all day makes it challenging."
Kadri, who has a teenage son and daughter, said having to stay home and refrain from any gatherings, and learning remotely have taken a toll on her children.
"To feel more spiritual this month, we tried to focus more on understanding the purpose of Ramadan and working on building better habits, building our character."
Sermon via drive-thru
Kadri will celebrate Eid with her husband and children, and dress up to mark the occasion, Facetime with friends and family throughout the day, and take part in a drive-thru Friday prayer.
The prayer, which was approved by the Middlesex-London Health Unit, will see cars line up and people remain in their vehicles as the imam gives a sermon.
Ahmed Hegazi, an anesthesiologist at University Hospital, said between work and spending time at home with family, Ramadan this year was a blessing in disguise.
"It's all been at home, but it has been a good time because you get to connect more with your family, you get to focus a bit more," said Hegazi.
"I find Ramadan to be a good time to actually exert self-control over what your routine is like and rearrange your priorities to meet the obligations."
He said while it was a quiet month with no get-togethers, spending it focusing on yourself and with family was "in the spirit" of the holy month.
"The congregation, we obviously miss but there's a lot of sincerity in doing it all all home, on your own."
For the past few weeks, Hegazi mainly worked in the hospital's ICU and had to balance overnight and daily shifts while fasting from dawn until sunset.
"There were nights where I had to stay up all night with very sick COVID patients."
'Coming together' virtually
For Hegazi, Eid will not look much different compared to years before because he reconnects with his relatives who all live in different countries.
On Thursday, a virtual Eid celebration was also organized by the London Muslim community to "capture the essence of coming together," said Aarij Anwar, interim imam and Islamic education co-ordinator with the London Muslim Mosque.
The event will begin with prayer, followed by a sermon, and end in a trivia game dubbed Beat the Imams where people will be quizzed and awarded with special prizes on their knowledge on Ramadan and information from sermons during the month.
Anwar said while a communal gathering is "essential" to celebrate Eid, this will allow them to maintain that while adapting and celebrating the safe way.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sara Jabakhanji is a reporter with CBC News and graduate of Ryerson's School of Journalism. Sara has chased stories for the CBC across the province of Ontario in Toronto, Ottawa and is currently working with the CBC London bureau. She was born in Damascus, Syria and immigrated to Canada with her family when she was eight years old. Sara can speak fluent Arabic and is working on improving her French. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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