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Interfaith ‘virtual iftar’ in Maryland celebrates the power of prayer during Ramadan, COVID-19

Murabbi Mubasher Ahmad, imam of the Silver Spring-based Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA, speaks as part of the first annual “virtual iftar,” titled “The Power of Prayer in a Pandemic.” The meeting was webcast across the state via Zoom Saturday.
Murabbi Mubasher Ahmad, imam of the Silver Spring-based Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA, speaks as part of the first annual “virtual iftar,” titled “The Power of Prayer in a Pandemic.” The meeting was webcast across the state via Zoom Saturday. (Photo courtesy of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA)

Even as the COVID-19 pandemic devastates communities and causes suffering around the world, it is prayer that remains “a source of thousands of miracles,” Murabbi Mubasher Ahmad told an online audience across Maryland Saturday evening.

Ahmad, the imam of the Silver Spring-based Ahmadiyya Community USA, made the remark as part of a first-ever “virtual iftar” — a digital version of the ceremonial dinners Muslims traditionally use to break their daily fasts during the holy month of Ramadan.

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Titled “The Power of Prayer During a Pandemic,” the event featured speakers representing Jewish, Christian, Hindu and Islamic communities in Maryland, each offering thoughts on the importance of prayer amid catastrophes such as the ongoing health crisis.

The event was the latest example of faith traditions taking their religious observances online amid restrictions on large gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic.

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Ahmad, who is based at Bait ul-Rehman Mosque, site of the community’s national headquarters in Silver Spring, made reference to the Ahmadiyya tradition of reaching across religious boundaries to seek peace and goodwill.

“It is such a good feeling that people of diverse faiths have been able to gather and pray collectively,” he said during the hourlong meeting, which was conducted via the Zoom teleconference platform and drew more than 140 unique viewers.

Ahmadiyya Muslims, a progressive branch of the Islamic faith that arrived in the United States 100 years ago, have long hosted iftar dinners as part of “open mosque” initiatives during Ramadan, the month in which the Prophet Muhammad is thought to have received the wisdom that became enshrined in the Islamic holy book, the Q’uran.

The branch represents the only one in Islam that is governed by a khalif, or a single spiritual and administrative leader, and the only one to believe that a redeeming messiah has already lived on earth.

There were plans to hold iftar events in mosques across the nation during Ramadan this centennial year, said Sardar Anees Ahmad, the public affairs secretary for the community’s Maryland branch, but given coronavirus-related restrictions, a decision was made to take this year’s iftar online.

The Maryland event was one of dozens held in the 29 states, and Washington, D.C., where the Ahmadiyya community has a presence with its 70 mosques.

Rabbi Craig Axler of Temple Isaiah, a Reform Jewish synagogue in Fulton, spoke from his Howard County basement about the similarities between the prayer practices of Jews and Muslims. Chaplain Gail Mansell of Atlantic General Hospital in Berlin described how important prayer has been as she has conducted religious rites in multiple traditions “through Skype, through goggles, through microphones and through headphones” during the pandemic.

“This has shaken me in many ways, but it has brought me to a point where I understand better than I ever have that prayer opens us up to be with our own creator, albeit in ways I’ve never seen before,” Mansell told her remote audience.

The iftar is not the only means by which Ahmadiyya Muslims are serving the public during the pandemic, Anees Ahmad said. He mentioned a nationwide blood drive in which branch members are attempting to offset the losses in donated blood reported by the American Red Cross.

Ahmadiyya mosques across the country have received government clearance to serve as donation centers, he said, and the Silver Spring mosque collected 25 pints, or enough to save up to 75 lives.

“This is our centennial year, and we continue to want to make this a year of commemoration and a year of service,” he said.

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