On Sunday, Rizwan Jaka walked around the prayer hall of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) Ashburn, Va. mosque holding a mic talking about possible side effects after being vaccinated against the coronavirus. He was speaking to a room of people who sat in chairs six feet apart on floors covered with plastic sheets, some swinging their arms to prevent soreness from the shot they just got while others checked their phones and watches to count down the 15-minute waiting period. Behind Jaka, chairperson of ADAMS’s board of trustees, volunteers filled out vaccination cards.
This was the second vaccination clinic at the mosque, held jointly with the neighboring synagogue, Beth Chaverim Reform Congregation, for people who had received their first dose at the same location weeks earlier on April 11.
Muslims fast during Ramadan, but Jaka encouraged people to prioritize their health by breaking the fast if they experienced any side effects. “Remember, you can make up a fasting day after Ramadan if you need to,” Jaka said, addressing the Muslims in the room. The first shot had been given the day before the holy month started, but the second shot came just days before the end of the observance.
Now, as Ramadan comes to a close, the coronavirus vaccines are offering Muslims the hope of standing shoulder to shoulder in prayer again. Since the start of the pandemic, the ADAMS Center has streamed prayers virtually. Branches of the center recently began opening at limited capacity, praying six feet apart to stay within safety guidelines. But it’s far from pre-pandemic levels. The organization has 11 locations across northern Virginia. During Ramadan, 4,000 to 7,000 congregants would worship every night of the holiday, according to Jaka.
“[The] community collectively made prayers for the vaccinations,” said Syed Moktadir, president of the ADAMS Center, and thus, the ADAMS community has been “quite receptive” to vaccination so people can return to a semblance of normalcy.
Moktadir said the ADAMS Center was among the first in Fairfax County to offer free clinics and “get vaccines to … all religions, all faith groups, all ethnicities.” The center also held multiple clinics at its other locations in parts of northern Virginia. Since mid-February, Moktadir said, the center has vaccinated approximately 12,000 people of all faiths; about 700 people were vaccinated at the ADAMS Ashburn mosque and BCRC synagogue clinic alone. ADAMS also had a clinic in partnership with My Dr’s Pharmacy on two Friday nights during Ramadan.
Among some Muslims, there was a concern that getting the coronavirus vaccine would be considered breaking the fast while observing Ramadan. The Islamic Medical Association of North America, a network of Muslim American health care professionals, affirmed that receiving the vaccine would not invalidate the fasting period.
“We’ve done evening [vaccinations] especially [for] people who are fasting in the month of Ramadan, in the event there is a concern about nutrition,” Moktadir said. For example, the center offered vaccinations as late as 11:30 p.m. At the Friday night clinics, the center administered a combined total of about 150 to 200 vaccines.
A similar faith-based vaccination push called Faith in the Vaccine has been happening in D.C. On Friday, religious leaders from the area appeared at Masjid Muhammad, the Nation’s Mosque, to encourage residents to “take the shot” at the vaccination clinic the mosque was holding that day. The mosque held another clinic the following day as well, hoping to entice community members to get vaccinated at a place they are familiar with.
Kimberly Henderson, the director of the D.C. Health Office of Communication and Community Relations, said Faith in the Vaccine has been successful, with more than 4,600 shots given through the program, which started in February. “The emotions and expressions of the persons when they receive the vaccine because they’re coming to a place that they know, that they’re familiar with, that has been successful,” Henderson said.
As of Monday, 35.2% of the D.C. population is fully vaccinated. In Virginia, that figure is 37.7%. Nationally, it is 34.8%.
Some people at the Ashburn clinic said they appreciated that the center had reached out to them about vaccination. “I am an active member of this community. I got an email from them that they are taking up the demand for the vaccine, so I took the opportunity to take the vaccine from them,” said Fahim Amin Baig, an ADAMS Center member who received his second shot on Sunday. “ADAMS has given clear [communication] that it is permissible to take the vaccine during the fasting.”
Both ADAMS and Masjid Muhammad plan to keep working to get people vaccinated, regardless of their faith. But, as Ramadan ends, Imam Talib Shareef of Masjid Muhammad said that getting the shots during Ramadan had a big benefit: “The rewards with almighty God in terms of opening things up to you go further when you do a good deed in this month than any other month in the calendar. This is a good deed. If you get your vaccine during this month, you get the reward multiplied many times beyond just that one person to the humanity you can reward and also go beyond this life into the next life to give you an experience that you can never [have] otherwise.”