DEARBORN, Mich. – Detroit-area Muslims who've had to socially distance themselves from the more communal aspects of Ramadan because of the coronavirus pandemic are instead celebrating the holy month in lights.
During last year's iteration of Ramadan, in which worshippers fast daily from dawn through dusk, pharmacist Hassan Chami organized the Ramadan Suhoor Festival. The middle-of-the-night celebration drew thousands who collectively engaged in suhoor, the meal consumed before Muslims begin their daily fasting.
But while Muslims nationwide struggle during the pandemic to celebrate Ramadan — 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 Ramadan 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 “Ramadan Mubarak” and “Ramadan Kareem."
“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 Ramadan,” Chami said.
Residents are invited to nominate their own or their neighbor’s houses by sharing the address and a photo of their handiwork. Representatives from the three groups that organized the contest — Ramadan 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, recognizing it," said Halal Metropolis' Sally Howell, who directs the Center for Arab American Studies at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.