Lighting up Ramadhan

Mike Householder

DEARBORN, MICHIGAN (AP) – Detroit-area Muslims who’ve had to socially distance themselves from the more communal aspects of Ramadhan because of the coronavirus pandemic are instead celebrating the holy month in lights.

During last year’s iteration of Ramadhan, in which worshippers fast daily from dawn through dusk, pharmacist Hassan Chami organised the Ramadhan Suhoor Festival. The middle-of-the-night celebration drew thousands who collectively engaged in sahur, the meal consumed before Muslims begin their daily fasting.

But while Muslims nationwide struggle during the pandemic to celebrate Ramadhan – a time when believers commonly gather for late-night meals and nightly prayers – Michigan’s stay-home order makes typical celebrations impossible.

So, Chami and some friends have teamed up to host the inaugural Ramadhan Lights contest, calling attention to the local house-decorating practices that make the area’s Muslim community so visible during the holy season that runs for another week-and-a-half.

A number of homes in Dearborn, Dearborn Heights and other Michigan communities feature light-up crescent moons, lanterns and oversized lawn signs with the holiday greetings “Ramadhan Mubarak” and “Ramadhan Kareem”.

The Muslim community in Dearborn, Michigan is hosting a Ramadhan lights competition in hopes of spreading joy and bringing back some of the holiday spirit during the coronavirus pandemic. PHOTOS: AP
Festive lights are displayed on a house in Dearborn
Hassan Chami, the founder of the Ramadhan Suhoor Festival and one of the leading organisers of the Ramadhan lights contest, is photographed in his home in Dearborn

“The short-term goal is to uplift everyone’s spirits during this tough time. But there’s a long-term goal, and the long-term goal is to create this festive spirit of Ramadhan,” Chami said.

Residents are invited to nominate their own or their neighbour’s houses by sharing the address and a photo of their handiwork. Representatives from the three groups that organised the contest – Ramadhan Suhoor Festival, Halal Metropolis and the Michigan Muslim Community Council – and a nominating committee will narrow down the submissions to the top 10 houses from each district.

The judges then will visit and evaluate the homes in person. They will pick the most creative and interesting light displays from each district and award them a certificate.

“It’s like something that’s been in the air anyway, circulating – this idea that there should be some sort of celebration of how many people are decorating their houses and how big a tradition this has become in Dearborn and sort of commemorating this in some way, recognising it,” said Halal Metropolis’ Sally Howell, who directs the Center for Arab American Studies at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.

“But the timing of this year when Ramadhan is otherwise sort of very muted and quiet. Those two things coincided very, very neatly for us,” she said.