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Celebrating Eid al-Fitr in Massachusetts while social distancing

Asif Hirani and his family (counter-clockwise) Fatima, 9, Hibban, 7, Maryam, 6 months, and wife Zohra enjoyed a meal as they broke the fast of Ramadan on May 21.
Asif Hirani and his family (counter-clockwise) Fatima, 9, Hibban, 7, Maryam, 6 months, and wife Zohra enjoyed a meal as they broke the fast of Ramadan on May 21.Blake Nissen for the Boston Globe

Eid al-Fitr usually marks the end of the month-long fast of Ramadan in a celebration of communal prayers and an abundance of feasts with family and friends.

Not this year, though.

The Islamic holiday, which falls on Sunday, comes at a time when Massachusetts has reported more than 90,000 cases of the coronavirus and more than 6,000 deaths, with the numbers growing every day. So Muslims in the state this year are celebrating the holiday — a pinnacle moment of togetherness and community — at home and adhering to social distancing measures.

“A lot of people don’t realize the month leading up to Eid is not only the holiest, but it’s also the most social month. It’s a month where we see our friends and family the most,” said Fatima Al Dhaheri, an infectious disease doctor at Boston Children’s Hospital who is from the United Arab Emirates and lives in Brookline.

Al Dhaheri’s family had planned to fly to the United States from the United Arab Emirates to spend the holiday with her and to attend her graduation ceremony from the fellowship program, which would conclude her 12-year-long medical journey. However, due to the pandemic, her family’s plans were canceled.

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On Sunday, Al Dhaheri, 31, now plans to celebrate Eid with a small group of friends, whom she describes as her “second, chosen family.”

They plan to eat brunch in a friend’s backyard while maintaining social distance.

“At least being in the presence of each other with social distancing and with the daytime coffee we haven’t had for a month, will be nice,” she said.

Khaled Said, a scientific researcher at Harvard Medical School, who is also from the United Arab Emirates, said this year’s Eid will be drastically different from any he has experienced.

“The joy of Eid is being with your family. That couldn’t be the case this year,” Said, 23, said.

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Before the pandemic unfolded, he had planned to visit family in the United Arab Emirates for the holiday. But, he said, “all the traditional ways to celebrate Eid, including the Eid prayer, have been taken away.”

Out of caution and lack of proper equipment to open safely, at least four of the state’s major mosques, including Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, the largest one, canceled services despite recent state regulations allowing them.

Said and his four roommates, who all live in Boston, plan to celebrate with an at-home Eid prayer followed by an Arabic-style brunch, including dishes such as hummus and falafel.

Despite the difficulties, some Muslims expressed how much easier it has been to spend time with families in the month leading up to Eid since students are home from school and many parents are working remotely due to the statewide stay-at-home advisory.

Worcester Imam Asif Hirani said he now is able to spend more time with his wife and three children, eating meals and praying with them every day. And this is the first Ramadan and Eid he can focus on being with them.

Asif Hirani held his youngest child Maryam, 6 months, after a prayer on Thursday.
Asif Hirani held his youngest child Maryam, 6 months, after a prayer on Thursday.Blake Nissen for the Boston Globe

Ramadan is usually the busiest month for imams, who lead hours-long prayers every night.

“This is the first time I was able to pray taraweeh, the nightly prayers, with my kids and wife. My family was craving [that] I spend Ramadan with them,” said Hirani, 33. “For an imam, we don’t usually get that.”

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Hirani and his family plan to decorate their car and join an Eid parade, which will be hosted at the Worcester Islamic Center from noon to 2 p.m. Sunday. The Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center in Roxbury also will host a parade Sunday from 10 a.m. to noon, and the Sharon and Quincy branches of the Islamic Center of New England will hold volunteer-run Eid parades from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Families are welcome to decorate their cars and participate in the parades. Following health guidelines, sweets given out will be prepackaged.

Esraa Al-Jubory of Stoughton said her family, who is originally from Iraq, plans to attend the Sharon parade in hopes of maintaining a sense of normalcy during this year’s celebration.

“We’re trying to find the good rather than the bad," said Al-Jubory, 23, one of six siblings. “We’re all at home and able to do our prayers more actively, especially since previously the entire family was usually separated, since Ramadan and Eid would fall during school and work.”

Asif Hirani and his family laid out a variety of foods to break the fast of Ramadan on Thursday.
Asif Hirani and his family laid out a variety of foods to break the fast of Ramadan on Thursday.Blake Nissen for the Boston Globe

The family has converted its living room into a prayer room since mosques closed, and that’s where they’ll perform the morning Eid prayer.

Al-Jubory said her family will also stay in touch with loved ones through video and phone calls, including their older brother Ali Al-Jubory, 24, who was visiting extended family in Iraq when his flight back to Boston was canceled because of the pandemic in early March.

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It is unclear when their brother will be able to return. But despite the unsettling circumstances, she said, her family is coping through faith and prayers, and hopes to celebrate the holiday as best they can.

“We’ll be getting dressed up, and have meals in our backyards,” she added. "We’re just trying our best to get a holiday feel.”

Maysoon Khan can be reached at maysoon.khan@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MaysoonKhan.


Maysoon Khan can be reached at maysoon.khan@globe.com.