BALTIMORE – It’s 2 1/2 hours before sunset, a drizzle is falling under gloomy skies, and the cars are lined up by the dozen in the parking lot of the Islamic Society of Baltimore.
Drivers and passengers, many wearing headscarves or skullcaps, wait in minivans, luxury sedans and old beaters for a signal to move forward. On reaching the entrance to the mosque, they’ll be handed fresh, boxed meals to take home to their families.
It’s a coronavirus-era version of the communal ceremonial dinner known as iftar, a nightly observance for Muslims during Ramadan, a holy month that began Monday.
No one seems put out by the unusual arrangements. Certainly not Anam Vahora, a young woman at the wheel of a black SUV near the front of the line.
“Ramadan? I see it as a time to stay away from sin, reconnect with where you come from, and purify your soul,” Vahora, 17, a high school student from Ellicott City, says through a rolled-down window. “And one thing Ramadan teaches is patience.”
Patience is an essential virtue in Islam, and not just during Ramadan, a period of fasting, prayer and atonement considered the faith’s most sacred time. It’s viewed as a measure of one’s gratitude and trust in God.
The past 14 months have placed an emphasis on the virtue of patience at the Islamic Society of Baltimore, a close-knit community of faith in Windsor Mill that serves an estimated 14,000 regular attendees.
Officials of the mosque, the largest in the Baltimore area, were quick to shut down virtually all on-site activities when the coronavirus first made its presence felt in Maryland in March 2020.
A schedule of five obligatory daily prayers was canceled at the mosque for months. So were communal Friday afternoon prayers. Youth group functions, lectures and social events were scrubbed. Volunteers developed a system to livestream religious activities on the mosque website.
With social distancing guidelines, the mosque’s in-person worship has been cut from 2,000 people to 160. Worshippers are required to undergo temperature checks, wear masks and bring prayer rugs (the mosque provides wax paper for those who forget). A massive plastic tarp covers the floors.