CALGARY -- There are upwards of 100,000 Muslims in Calgary and Tuesday the majority of them began fasting from sun up to sun down.

"It was prescribed upon us by God that we should fast for the whole month of Ramadan," said Omar El-Hajjar, the president of the Akram Jomaa Islamic Centre.

He said it's also a month of charity, self-reflection and prayer. Typically families would gather in evenings to break fast and friends and extended family would be invited. But this is the second year that Ramadan is taking place during COVID-19 and at-home visits can only be with immediate family.

"All the stuff we used to take for granted is not there any more," said El-Hajjar. "So it kind of brings you back to reality that hey, thank God we had all this, now I understand, please God bring it back."


Prayer gatherings at mosques are also restricted to just 15 percent of capacity. At Akram Jomma only 270 people are allowed in at one time.

"Our facility here, fire code capacity is over 1800 people," said El-Hajjar. "So that's where that 270 comes in play is 15 percent of 1800 people."

El-Hajjar said the mosque worked with Alberta Health Services to make sure the facility is safe. Worshipers are required to wear masks and hand sanitize. There are sig- in sheets for everyone attending to provide their name and contact number in the event that someone tests positive for COVID-19.

"We have a saying from our prophet: don't hurt yourself and don't hurt others," said El-Hajjar. "So this is what we do and we care about our community and our local congregation as well."

Preparations at the Tasse Bakery start early in the morning to make sweets for people who've spent the day fasting. Owner Samira Fayad said typically Muslims practicing Ramadan would stop by the bakery to pick up a gift pack for family they're visiting. That didn't happen last year and now not again this year.

"Ramadan is very focused on family gatherings and being together and enjoying the festive meal at the end of the day together because it's always nice to share a nice meal since you've been fasting," said Fayad. "So there's not much of that anymore unfortunately."

Fayad said Ramadan is a time of giving and some customers are still choosing to pick up some sweet Mediterranean treats to drop off for the important people in their lives.

Ramadan lasts 29 or 30 days depending on the length of the lunar cycle.