Muslims celebrate Eid al-Fitr amid pandemic with drive-in ceremonies

Standing on the bed of a pickup truck in the parking lot of the Ottawa Mosque, Imam Muhammad Sulaiman leads a chant for Eid.

"Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar," Sulaiman chants into a microphone.

From inside their vehicles — each parked two spots apart — those in attendance turn on their radios to listen and chant along with their windows down.

The drive-in ceremony Saturday allowed Ottawa's Muslim community to get together in-person to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, or "the festival of breaking the fast." The holiday marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan, and is one of the most important on the Muslim calendar.

"Although we are not in the same place, in one mosque, next to each other as we are used to ... at least our hearts are together and we are joining each other in one prayer service," said Sulaiman in an interview following the ceremony.

With the COVID-19 pandemic preventing mass public gatherings of all kinds, Muslims across Canada have been observing Ramadan for the past month by fasting and praying at home.

It's a major change from the community-oriented celebrations of the past, where many Muslims go to the mosque multiple times per week to pray and break their daily fasts with communal meals.

However, the Ontario government granted religious organizations an exemption from emergency orders that ban public gatherings last week, just in time for this weekend's celebrations. Drive-in religious ceremonies are now allowed, as long as people stay inside their vehicles and maintain physical distancing. 

'A very remarkable day'

Sulaiman led two such services this weekend at the Ottawa Mosque. The ceremonies were also broadcast live on Facebook.

"We tried our best to help our community and get them engaged with us," said Sulaiman. "It was a very remarkable day."

Other Ottawa mosques are also taking advantage of the exemption.

Imam Sikander Hashmi of the Kanata Muslim Association said his community would celebrate Eid on Sunday, at an outdoor ceremony in the parking lot of the Nokia Building on March Road.

Farheen Fatima

Hashmi said he's expecting a few hundred people to attend in their vehicles.

"After two months of no gatherings, finally being able to gather — even if we're still in our cars — I think that really gives people something to look forward to and a lot of hope," said Hashmi.

Hashmi said not being able to gather at the mosque for prayers or to break fast with others in the community has been difficult. 

"It was very tough at first for people," said Hashmi. "I think people are going to value meeting each other a lot more now."