By Martha Bezzat
During last year’s Ramadan, mosques were closed due to pandemic, but Malden resident Fatima Chibane said that difficult period was a reminder that we should not take all that we have for granted.
“Last year was the first time we were all forced to observe Ramadan in solitude,” she said. “It gave us the opportunity to only focus on the worship of Allah and our connection with Him without any distraction.”
Still, she is pleased that mosques are open for this year’s Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting which began this year on April 13 and goes to May 12. “We are trying to stay connected and be there for each other especially during Ramadan, which is really heartwarming to see,” she said.
“Tarawih [evening community prayers] is one of my, and many Muslims, favorite parts of Ramadan,” she said. “It helps us feel spiritually uplifted. At least we can join others. at the mosque respecting social distancing.”
One local mosque for Malden Muslims of diverse backgrounds, including Moroccans, Algerians, Syrians, Palestinians, Jordanians, Pakistanis, Indians, Bosnians, Turks, and American converts, is the Malden Islamic Center, which recently acquired new building space at 405 Pearl Street and has an active online presence with its Facebook page and YouTube channel.
Mohamed Chouiki, a youth mentor at the Malden Islamic Center, said the mosque offers a variety of activities and services many adapted to the pandemic.
“The new building is a lot nicer than the old one,” he said. “It’s spacious especially because of Covid, with [group] prayers, the board members have been very strict and on top of it multiple [community] members are in the medical field and bring fresh news, educating about the vaccine within the community.”
Since the pandemic began a year ago, the mosque has been active with ICNA (Islamic Circle of North America) Relief to distribute boxes of meat and vegetables to needy families on Fridays after prayers. Chouiki said that early on in the pandemic, “it was very difficult not being able to see each other….it’s a very tight knit community…people were cooking for each other…doing grocery store runs.”
Chibane agrees, saying, “Many people have experienced suffering, grief, and loss amidst this pandemic, and it is more important now than ever to be compassionate and be there for others…in the true spirit of Ramadan…this life is not guaranteed,”
In her opinion, Muslims are drawn to Malden because “there is a true sense of sisterhood and brotherhood where everyone looks out for each other.”
The mosque also addresses mental health issues among youth, considered one of the most valuable work in which the mosque is engaged. “Kids are so used to spending time with others…but now [under Covid] they’re gaming, watching shows… and that can be detrimental to their health and social interactions,” Chouiki said. Chouiki himself is a mechanical engineer and he and other youth mentors routinely reach out to youth and talk to them about how to navigate applying to colleges, bringing in professionals to promote certain careers, and making sure the youth are “doing their school work and checking in with them.”
The mosque is currently open for daily group prayers through “sign ups” and there are 70 spots. For the very popular nightly prayers during Ramadan, the mosque may have two sessions in order to accommodate everyone who wants to join and also comply with Covid guidelines. Chouiki explained that “it’s a very sacred month and that “it’s a vibe…you get the energy of the group….everyone wants to come…everyone looks forward to it.”
The mosque has also pivoted effectively with technology as seen by its Facebook Live programming and Zoom meetings that have given the Muslim community continued contact with their Imam and his Friday Jumaa sermons, live prayers, group chats, and “an IT guy that is really up on making sure that everything is working!”
The mosque doesn’t have a visible sign up yet at their new building, but all agree “the parking is beautiful,” Chouiki said. The mosque now has its very own parking lot.
If was one thing Chouiki would want all of Malden to know about the Malden Islamic Center, it is: “The mosque is open for everybody and we’re open for questions.”
You can reach the Malden Islamic Center at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 781-605-0759. Martha Bezzat is a citizen journalist for Neighborhood View, a program of UMA – Urban Media Arts (formerly MATV) in Malden.