Muslims in Athens mark shadow of Ramazan they know

City’s Muslims celebrate start of holy month in different way amid coronavirus pandemic


Anadolu Agency May 05, 2020
PHOTO: ANADOLU AGENCY

ATHENS: It’s Friday, and Ashraf and his friends are getting ready to perform Maghrib prayer just after sunset.

But this time it will be different from what they’re used to, as everyone will be praying from their homes, with he and his friends taking part via video conference.

The holy month of Ramazan this year is very different, said Ashraf, an Egyptian, who prefers to keep his last name for himself.

“The Athens New Mosque and all other religious venues are closed due to the virus. We cannot meet and pray together.”

The novel coronavirus pandemic has forced the government to shut down all religious venues in Greece in order to contain the spread of the virus. Mosques will hold prayers throughout the fasting month without public attendance.

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Christians are obliged to do the same thing.

During Ramazan, Muslims abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and sexual relations from sunrise to sunset.

Ramadan started last week for Muslims in Greece, and like all other countries, celebrations this time are taking a different turn.

There are no street events and no mass Quran readings. People will not meet at coffee shops after the iftar or breaking of the fast to smoke their shisha water-pipes.

In the past, a walk through downtown Athens, particularly the Metaxourgio/Kolonos or Psirri/ Gazi neighborhoods, would give one an idea of what it’s like to celebrate Ramazan in the city.

Shops would be decorated with traditional lanterns or ‘fanoos’ in Arabic. The scents from the cooked traditional Arab food would be so strong and one could easily “travel” for seconds and get the impression that they are in some Arab country.

“If it happens and you walk around during the iftar time, people would call you in and ask you to join them,” Ashraf told Anadolu Agency. "It is so different from past years."

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“We have to obey  the rules to stop the spread of the virus though,” he said.

Ashraf, 45, has lived in Greece for nearly 15 years. His children -- a boy 12 and girl 9 years old -- attend a Greek public school. He works as a painter.

For him and his family, Ramazan is different this year. They stay at home and do not visit friends. They are not able to visit Egypt and are not able to go to the mosque and pray.

“During iftars every year, we used to have so many people in our house, especially the first and last days of Ramazan,” he said.

“For now, we can’t do this, but let’s see what happens until Ramazan ends.”

The roughly 660,000 Muslims who live in Greece will be spending the holy month in the same way.

Barshank Younes is a Syrian refugee and currently works at the Ritsona refugee camp as an interpreter.

He used to participate in the UN Food Festival as a chef specializing in Arab cuisine, which is inspired by his Syrian roots.

“On our first day of Ramazan, we all gather at our father’s house. All the family -- brothers, sisters, husbands and wives and children. We stay up until dawn and recite the Qur’an.”

The food is a mixture of delicious traditional dishes with meat and poultry, lots of salads and lots of side dishes that are seasoned with herbs that make the taste even better.

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If you have a good neighbor, you should share your food with them, Barshank said.

“This is what we do in Syria, and I remember my mother doing this.”

“We start with Tamar Hindi, which is a homemade drink made up of the tamarind fruit.

“It is typical to break our fasting with this drink,” Barshank said.

Some other nationalities break their fasting with a warm soup or another traditional drink called Amar al Din made from apricots.

For these customs and traditions, none will change during this period of the pandemic. The only difference will be the people.

“I don’t have my family here, so for me, it’s different and I don’t feel like at home,” Barshank said.

“And of course, since I am on my own, these varieties of food will not be cooked.”

For Ahmed Talal, 38, who is living alone due to the coronavirus-related travel restrictions, things are different.

He wasn’t able to travel back to Egypt, where his family is. He is married and has three children.

“For me, this time is very hard,” he said in a sad tone.

Ahmed spent his first day of Ramazan at his neighbor’s house. He had his first iftar there, and this made a big difference to him as he would have been alone.

“My neighbor is Egyptian, so we have all the same traditions in food,” he said.

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The good thing is that all Muslims in Athens have a variety of food shops where they can find anything they desire like in their home countries.

For some, this is not a big deal, as the presence of friends or relatives was the most important thing, said Ahmed.

Ahmed is hoping at least that he might be able to travel to Egypt for the Eid al-Fitr celebration.

Eid al-Fitr marks the end of Ramazan for Muslims worldwide.

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