These and other restrictions, members say, have led to a strange sense of isolation in a community that is so close members call it their second home.
“When you’re used to praying shoulder-to-shoulder with other people, as we do in Islam, and you move with them in all the same motions, there’s just something powerful about that that is still not quite there,” mosque president Ed Tori says.
If there’s a time of year that most embodies the closeness at the heart of Islam, it’s Ramadan, the period in which Muslims believe the Prophet Muhammad received the first revelations of the Quran, Islam’s holy book, as he meditated in a cave in what is now Saudi Arabia.
The month calls on Muslims to fast from the predawn hours to dusk, engage in intensified prayer, spend more time reading the Quran, and perform good deeds, all in an attempt to become closer to God, attain his forgiveness, and become a more selfless person.
It’s a communal holiday, as well. Mosques around the world offer extra prayer sessions, which feature imams reciting one-thirtieth of the Quran each night. Muslims begin each day with a predawn meal, normally shared with family and friends. They break their fast just after sunset with iftar, usually eaten in large groups, either in mosques or homes.
The Islamic Society of Baltimore was virtually closed during Ramadan last year. It offered a drive-thru version of iftar, but only on a handful of days.
It was so popular that mosque leaders decided to present it each night during Ramadan this year. Early every evening between now and May 11, volunteers will hand one or more fresh meals to those who arrive by car, free of charge. Guests take the meals home and serve them at sunset.
Mosque members have donated money to help pay for the operations, which cost up to $3,000 for 600 meals a night. Different local vendors prepare the food.
With mosque offerings otherwise restricted, regulars say a chance to come together in person, even if only briefly and by car, is a godsend.
At Wednesday’s drive-thru, Shaista Mohammed helps lead a team of female volunteers, all wearing head coverings known as hijab, in handing out meals of tandoori chicken, chickpeas, dates and basmati rice from the Kabob Hut in Catonsville to the motorists rolling through.