Reposted from www.dailyherald.com

Suburban Muslims return to mosques for Ramadan prayers

By Madhu Krishnamurthy

Shaykh Mahmoud Ali leads Friday prayer service at Masjid Al Huda Midwest Islamic Center in Schaumburg. The first day of fasting for the Islamic holy month of Ramadan begins Saturday. This Ramadan, in-person services and fast-breaking gatherings will resume normally at suburban mosques after two years of pandemic restrictions. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer
Shaykh Mahmoud Ali leads Friday prayer service at Masjid Al Huda Midwest Islamic Center in Schaumburg. The first day of fasting for the Islamic holy month of Ramadan begins Saturday. This Ramadan, in-person services and fast-breaking gatherings will resume normally at suburban mosques after two years of pandemic restrictions. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

Area Muslims will welcome the start of Ramadan tonight with a return to in-person, nightly communal gatherings for prayer at suburban mosques, and monthlong fasting during daylight hours.

The first day of fasting for the Islamic holy month begins Saturday for those who follow lunar calculations or possibly Sunday for others who wait for the new moon sighting in North America.

After two years of pandemic-related restrictions, community leaders say suburban mosques and Islamic centers finally can return to "normalcy" with members gathering daily for prayers and fast-breaking meals, or iftars, at sundown.

Worshippers usually come together for extra nightly communal prayers, called taraweeh in Arabic, during which one of 30 parts of the Quran is recited each night until the entire book is completed during the month.

"The community is really excited to go back in person," praying shoulder-to-shoulder once again, said Irshad Khan of Gurnee, chairman of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago. "We really look forward to coming to the masajid (mosques) during Ramadan ... going back to somewhat normalcy. That excitement was lacking for the last couple of years."

During the COVID-19 pandemic, mosques resorted to packing and distributing iftar meals to-go.

"(What's) special (this year) is everything is going to be live, all the programs which we had planned ... having community iftars that we were really missing," Khan said.

Muslims abstain from food, drink and sensual pleasures from predawn until dusk, engage in spiritual reflection and take part in charitable giving and community service with the goal of self improvement during the month.

This year, the council is working closely with member mosques, Islamic institutions and service organizations to ensure newly arrived Afghan refugees also are cared for and included in community programs, Khan said.

"The communities have stepped up" offering refugees iftar meals, transportation and preparing gifts for Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr, the feast day at the end of Ramadan, Khan said.

Mosques in Des Plaines, Libertyville, Naperville and Villa Park were among those bracing for the arrival of refugees as part of a coordinated effort through the council.

Illinois already has received 1,600 Afghan refugees and is expecting 200 more. Officials are awaiting word from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Illinois Department of Human Services on when to expect the next wave.

The Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago's Afghan Refugee Task Force is coordinating efforts to provide shelter, food, clothing and other necessities at various sites. Task force members -- Muslim Women Resource Center in Chicago's Rogers Park, Arab American Family Services in Worth, Bridgeview-based Zakat Foundation of America and the council -- have committed to caring for 100 Afghan refugees each.

"We were building the capacity to address the resettlement process, unfortunately when things unfolded in Ukraine, all the (Afghan) refugee resettlement was put on hold," Khan said. "We will not be receiving any refugees until further notice."

The second group of refugees originally was expected March 18.

"We planned for everything," said Shaykh Mahmoud Ali, imam of Masjid Al Huda Midwest Islamic Center in Schaumburg. "We were waiting for our share to take care of them."

Ali said mosque leaders sought community support to help anticipated refugees and turnout "was amazing." The mosque will be having daily community iftars and women's programs among other offerings during Ramadan.

All that preparation won't be wasted for when the refugees finally do arrive, Khan said.

A Ramadan resource guide to all the activities, prayers and programs hosted by Chicago-area mosques and Islamic centers will be posted on the council's website, ciogc.org.