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How A Pregnant Muslim Woman in Lake Worth Beach is Observing Ramadan During A Pandemic

Ashley Lauren Cruz
Maisoon Ismail never expected to deliver her first-born during a coronavirus pandemic.

Maisoon Ismail never expected to deliver her first-born during a coronavirus pandemic or be exempt from most of Ramadan, the holiest month in the Islamic faith. And at 8 months pregnant, she's not too happy about her excitement being muffled between disappointment and uncertainty.

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Ismail, an after-school site director in Lake Worth Beach, says she and her newlywed husband see the irony of bringing life into a quarantined world. Their third trimester is burdened by the unprecedented fight to reduce exposure from COVID-19 and other deadly diseases.

“Sometimes I get anxiety, like just simple tasks of leaving the house to go grocery shopping. Like it just worries me,” Ismail said. “Like you never know what you're going to catch — if you're going to get sick.”

Ismail, 29, says it’s “nerve-racking” to attend ultrasound appointments alone. She expected other people in the doctor’s room, not immediate isolation. The throes of pregnancy are growing more complicated by the day. “Same thing for my delivery,” Ismail said. “Like I went from being able to have three people in the room. It's now only one.”

The Lake Worth Beach native says the spread of COVID-19 stripped her of some motherhood celebrations and big, close-knit Palestinian family gatherings. And most of her relatives are essential workers, doing their best to social distance themselves as Florida slowly reopens.

Her husband is also exhausted by the collective anxiety. “He wants to make sure the baby and I are healthy and delivery goes well,” Ismail said. “He’s a bit stressed with losing his job at the moment — at such a bad time, as well.”

Ismail says if there is any time to have “faith in something,” it’s now. The month-long Ramadan, a period of fasting from dawn to dusk that this year began April 23, is typically a time for collective gatherings, communal prayers, and other Islamic obligations. But traditional, cultural norms are being wrecked by isolation guidelines.

For Ismail and her family, the annual observance is still serving its purpose as everyone adapts to the circumstances. Ramadan is a time for “empathy” and reflection of “the small things in life.”

“So it's just important because it brings us closer to our religion. It's like a joyous time for all of us. It's a good family gathering,” Ismail said. "It just teaches us reflection, sacrifice, self-control throughout the month.”

“My favorite memories are big family gatherings. Every week, we’d be at someone’s house for dinner and prayer and spending time with my mom prepping sweets for the night.”

Ismail says the mosque has always served as a place of solitude. And she’s sad about this being her first time not being able to attend. She’s exempt from fasting during her pregnancy and can participate in other Islamic rituals.

Sharif Elhosseiny, president of the Islamic Center of Palm Beach, says Muslims exempt from fasting during Ramadan are encouraged to “give extra charity,” build close relationships with family, and engage in salat — the ritual Islamic prayer performed five times daily.

“For people who are sick they simply don’t fast. And they make up the fast whenever they have their health back,” Elhosseiny told WLRN. “Ramadan isn’t just limited to fasting. There are other ways a person can worship in whatever way is easy for them.”

Eid, which marks the end of Ramadan, will be celebrated online. Elhosseiny says that’s an adjustment that many Muslim leaders have had to make to keep pace with the growing digital audience; it’s difficult because “Muslims are used to breaking fast together” at a mosque.

“You see this happening all over, throughout the different mosques, U.S. and abroad,” Elhosseiny said. “And that is mosques providing class, lectures, and even seminars through apps like Zoom and other video conferencing, and putting them on YouTube.”

Ismail says she doesn’t always feel adrift. Despite the grim news cycle surrounding the coronavirus outbreak or the overreliance of online connection these days, she is “grateful to be healthy” and finds humor in the absurdity of “normality” right now, and pregnancy food cravings are no different.

“I’ve been craving chips, candy, and fruits,” she said. “Luckily those stores are essential so I still had access to them.” Though, from time to time, she interrupts her joy because she's still upset about missing out on physical Eid celebrations. “It’s sad but thankfully there’s live streaming’s we can view.”

Wilkine Brutus is a reporter and producer for WLRN and a guest faculty member at the Poynter Institute. The South Florida native produces stories on topics surrounding local news, culture, art, politics and current affairs.