For DC area, April’s religious holidays won’t look the same

The ADAMS Center in Northern Virginia is usually bustling during Ramadan.

More than 500 people attend the Sterling mosque’s evening meals during the monthlong holiday, which involves fasting while sun is out. The community traditionally interrupts the meal for a sunset prayer. Another evening prayer is recited once the meal concludes.

During this year’s Ramadan, which begins on April 23, there won’t be any gatherings at the mosque, said Hurunnessa Fariad, its head of outreach and public relations. Prayers and meals will be based in homes and with limited interactions between families.

Ramadan is one of three April holidays that will look different in the D.C. region because of the coronavirus pandemic. Ramadan, Easter and Passover all encourage togetherness, religious leaders say.

This month, though, they are advising congregants and followers to obey social distancing guidelines and avoid congregating to observe the holidays.

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“We have to do the best we can in our homes with our families,” Fariad told WTOP. “It’s a time to still be grateful for what we have, because we can still fast, we can still pray, we can still get the rewards we were supposed to get.”

At a time when Maryland, D.C. and Virginia have introduced stay-at-home orders, the ADAMS Center and other local religious centers have been pressed to get creative. Fariad said the mosque is among those offering social media sessions discussing spirituality and how to observe the holiday while quarantined.

Communal meal and prayer are commonplace during Ramadan, Fariad said. In the current environment, she stressed the importance of families praying, cooking and telling stories together.

Fundamentally, the holiday is the same, she said.

Friday prayers and the five daily prayers the mosque previously hosted during Ramadan can still be done at home.

Easter mass services, as well as other Holy Week events traditionally held in person, are similarly going virtual. That’s a realization Bishop Michael Burbidge of the Catholic Diocese of Arlington said he came to as soon as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced gatherings should have 10 or fewer people.

“I have to say the diocese, on a diocesan level, but also our local pastors are celebrating the masses throughout the entire diocese,” Bishop said. “The [online] viewership is so inspiring to see.”

Bishop said many of the 70 parishes have been and will continue live streaming services. A spiritual connection can still be made, even if the community isn’t together in church.

He said making a spiritual communion has been helpful to many people who have come to the realization churches will be empty April 12.

“I’m so proud of our parishes and our priests and everyone allowing that even in a sense of absence, from being physically present in church, to stay spiritually connected first of all to God, but also to one another,” Burbidge said.

Synagogues, among the locations for Passover seders, are set to be noticeably empty once the holiday begins Wednesday night.

Traditionally, seders in synagogues and homes feature many people around a table “commemorating and really experiencing and reliving the Jewish exodus from Egypt, upwards of 3,000 years ago,” said Rabbi Moshe Walter of the Rabbinical Council of Greater Washington.

Seders are held the first two nights of the eight-day holiday. Walter said his guidance has been to suggest people avoid conducting the seders with anyone who doesn’t reside in the same house.

“Everybody is going to come to the table and there are going to be tears in people’s eyes,” Walter told WTOP about the beginning of the holiday on Wednesday. “It’s not going to be easy, because you’re not going to be with people that you love. And you’re not going to be with your family and friends.”

Walter advised residents to contact local synagogues for assistance in securing materials to observe the holiday.

Some rabbis are helping their congregants make plans to do a virtual Seder, via a videoconferencing app. However, more traditional rabbis continue to support the ban on technology during many important Jewish holidays. Rabbi Walter is one of them. He is advising members of the Orthodox Jewish community against holding a virtual Seder.

Though many won’t be physically together, Walter, Burbidge and Fariad all said there will still be a sense of togetherness as the holidays are observed.

“We’re confident that the right way to approach this holiday is following the directives of the government and the medical community, making sure that we celebrate the holiday properly and safely,” Walter said of Passover. “And if we do that, God willing, there will be many other happy holidays to celebrate in the future.”

WTOP’s Dick Uliano and Megan Cloherty contributed to this report.

Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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