Charlotte, NC fashion stylist Lamia Ashour shares ways she and other North Carolina Muslims are celebrating Ramadan despite the pandemic, giving back and upholding community here and abroad.
Every Ramadan, Lamia Ashour looks for opportunities to uphold the Islamic tenet of charitable giving, but for the second year in a row, the coronavirus pandemic complicated her routine. So the 29-year-old wardrobe stylist and fashion blogger found new ways to celebrate the holy month, from going deeper with her family to helping others internationally.
Last year, COVID struck right before Ramadan. Because they could not safely meet in person, Ashour and others adopted a habit of scheduling Facetime or Zoom calls to check in and be together.
“Whereas before, when breaking our fast we would assume if we missed them we would see them later, now we’re more intentional about togetherness,” she told Cardinal & Pine in an interview.
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Ashour is referring to the Islamic practice of refraining from eating and drinking during daylight hours for the month of Ramadan. Muslims do it to encourage spiritual introspection and encourage empathy for people in need. After sundown, families and friends find fellowship in the iftar meal and prayers. Pre-pandemic, Ashour and her mom would visit the Islamic Center of Charlotte several times an evening to deliver food, sing and pray. Now, she and her family have incorporated their own traditions at home.
“We switch off when giving our prayers and make specific prayers for our family,” she told Cardinal & Pine. “It’s very intimate, not something everyone is doing. Now me and mom are closer because we are able to share that spirituality.”
This year, Ashour has partnered with Islamic Relief USA on We Are One for Syria, a relief campaign that provides food assistance for people affected by the humanitarian crisis in Syria. Over the past 10 years, conflict in Syria has left millions there and in the neighboring countries of Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey, where many fled, without access to food and shelter. A donation of $100 feeds a family of 5-7 people for the month of Ramadan. There are lower tiers of giving as well. The cause hit close for Ashour, whose mother is Syrian and father is Palestinian.
“We are giving back to people less fortunate than us who may not have the opportunity to even have a meal on table when breaking their fast,” Ashour said.
Other traditions that have changed with the pandemic include the way giving is done. The ICC, for example, used to welcome the public to iftar dinners during Ramadan. Restaurants would often sponsor meals and members would volunteer to share home-cooked food. Now, ICC holds drive-through iftars, where anyone can come and get foodstuffs.
Ashour misses spending time at the mosque, so they recreate the spirit of celebration at home. Family and friends who don’t live in Charlotte check in with each other more. Her sister decks the house with Ramadan lights and decor and she gives treats and small gifts to her nieces. The family prayer area has lights and lanterns.
“It’s extra special. The kids get so excited, they say ‘OMG, Ramadan is coming!’ You don’t usually think of kids looking forward to a time of fasting,” Ashour said.
It’s her favorite time of year, and the pandemic has given her even more to reflect upon.
“It makes you think about what truly matters to you. What you’re grateful for, what you want to hold onto. To me it brought people together, even if we’re apart.”