Members of the Islamic Center of Maine marked their second day of fasting during Ramadan on Wednesday by holding a COVID-19 vaccine clinic at their mosque on Orono’s Park Street.
Md Ikramul Hasan, 24, of Orono was grateful his community gave him the opportunity to receive his first dose of the Moderna vaccine because he could walk to the mosque from where he lives.
Getting appointments at other vaccine sites had been difficult because of transportation challenges, he said.
Malick Kone, 29, of Bangor did ask if having the vaccine during daylight hours on the second day of Ramadan would break his fast. When he learned that it would not, he signed up to receive his first dose of the vaccine at the clinic run by Penobscot Community Health Care.
“This was convenient for me because this is our mosque,” he said.
The clinic is part of a PCHC initiative to conduct clinics at houses of worship, according to Dr. Bilal Quraishi, director for quality improvement at the health care organization and a member of the Orono mosque. Wednesday’s clinic was the first PCHC has held for a faith community.
Holding a clinic at the mosque also helped PCHC reach a group that includes people of color, who have been disproportionately represented in COVID-19 infections and deaths across the country.
“COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted communities of color,” Quraishi said. “Leaders of our organization, PCHC, recognize the importance of eliminating barriers, such as transportation, so that most members have easy access to the vaccine.”
Quraishi expected about 22 people, some of them Black, to be vaccinated Wednesday.
Muslims, like Jews and Christians, again will spend their holiest time of the year this season in a pandemic, with gathering limits and social distancing in place.
During Ramadan, all healthy adult Muslims abstain from food, drink, smoking and sexual activity from sunrise to sunset. The month is to be devoted to reflection and spiritual discipline, as well as the reading of the Quran, which was revealed to the prophet Muhammad by Allah during the final days of the month of Ramadan.
Followers also are expected to perform good deeds and pray more often than the usual five times a day, including each evening in a mosque with other Muslims if possible. Weekly prayer in the Orono building is limited to between 40 and 50 people rather than the pre-pandemic number of 60 to 70.
The biggest change the pandemic has imposed on members of the mosque is how far apart they must be when they kneel in prayer, according to Kone. Squares on the floor of the main room designate where worshippers should kneel.
“Before the pandemic, we prayed close to each other,” he said while waiting the required 15 minutes after his shot to see if he would have a reaction to the injection. “Now we are praying 6 feet apart. At first it felt really weird. We have become used to it, but it is just not the same spiritually.”
The community also has been unable to hold its pot luck dinners after communal Friday prayer during the pandemic, but members have adapted. They prepare takeout meals for members of the community, according to Quraishi. That will continue during Ramadan.
Eid al-Fitr, the communal celebration to mark the end of Ramadan when the fast is officially broken, will be subdued again this year because of the pandemic and its related restrictions.
“We all want to get back to normal,” Quraishi said.