This Ramadan, Surria Fadel misses praying shoulder to shoulder with others in the Windsor community, but she knows it's for the best and remains hopeful that next year will look different.
For the second year in a row, those celebrating Ramadan in Ontario are being told to stay home due to COVID-19. The month-long celebration began on Tuesday and is typically a time of gathering and connection, but the pandemic has once again forced people to only be with the members of their household.
Mosques in Ontario are allowed to open but only at 15 per cent capacity in any room or building with masking and physical distancing rules also in place.
"Typically in prayer you're shoulder to shoulder ... so to be six feet apart, it's safe right now and that's the way we have to do things, but it definitely takes away from that feeling when you're actually in that spiritual space, just praying with people around you, that sense of brotherhood, sisterhood," Fadel said.
Reflecting on last year, Fadel said that although she missed seeing family and friends, it was nice to take a step back for once.
"It was not rushed. I actually felt it was more spiritual because I was able to stay home and pray more and read more," she said, adding that for once she wasn't worried about cooking for other people. "It was a good change, not that we want it to be that way permanently."
"Two years in a row might be a little overkill, but you know we'll make it work," she said.
M. Khalid Raana, president of Windsor's Islamic Association, said the association is following all the appropriate public health measures and encouraging those who are celebrating to do the same to ensure people's lives aren't put in "jeopardy."
"People are definitely not happy, but they have to follow the rules, it's for their own safety and security," Raana told CBC News.
Unlike last year where only 10 people could gather in mosques, Raana said the 15 per cent capacity means the Windsor Islamic Association mosque can accommodate 200 people.
"It's better than before," Raana said, but he added that in a normal year they would have about 1,500 people gathered at the mosque.
This year, Raana said priority attendance at the mosque will be given to younger people with the exception of children and people who have been vaccinated.
Raana said they will also broadcast Adhan, the call to prayer, outdoors. People are invited to come and participate in their cars.
Loss of community weighs on some
But the loss of community weighs heavy on Windsorite Sarah Mushtaq.
In a Facebook post, Mushtaq said despite the month being one of "renewal" and "hope," she feels worn down this time around.
"This Ramadan feels different from last year because last year in the spring the pandemic had just begun. It was still new ... it's a little bit difficult to be a year later and almost kind of be in the same spot," Mushtaq told CBC News Tuesday.
She said it makes her "sad" to think that she and others haven't stepped into a mosque in over a year.
"Having that sense of community, knowing everyone's in it together, seeing every one every night at the mosque, it fosters a sense of community and we're all in it together and a sense of support ... [but] that sense of community is missing that physical presence of being in a mosque or spiritual or sacred space," she said.
In her Facebook post, Mushtaq mentions the sadness she feels this time around and told CBC News it was important to talk about that grief to both normalize it for others who may be feeling the same way and foster a sense of community.
"I wanted to be honest and give people space to say 'look I'm feeling this as well, let's work through it together,'" she said.
"We're going to work through it together and hopefully come out of this month on the better side."
Ramadan celebration advice from public health
The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit said in a news release Tuesday that residents should observe the holiday with public health measures in mind. Though mosques are open, the health unit said the "safest way" for people to celebrate is by staying home.
Indoor and outdoor gatherings with people outside of your household are prohibited under the provincial stay-at-home order.
The health unit said even those who have received one or two doses of a vaccine must comply with public health guidelines.
Anyone planning to attend a mosque should abide by the following measures:
Keep two metres apart from others.
Wear masks or face coverings at all times indoors and if unable to keep physical distance from others.
Do not gather outside prior to or after prayer.
Visit only one local mosque and follow the rules in place.