American Muslims fight COVID-19 with Ramadan’s spirit of giving

For Dr. Haidar Al-Saadi, who works in a Detroit-area emergency room, the stress of treating COVID-19 patients has become part of his own observance of Ramadan. Thirst from fasting from dawn to dusk, while treating patients on 10-hour shifts, reminds him of the Muslim holy month’s tenet of serving others.

Doctor in protective gear standing with arms crossed in hospital corridor (Courtesy of Dr. Haidar Al-Saadi)
Dr. Haidar Al-Saadi treats COVID-19 patients in a suburban Detroit hospital. (Courtesy of Dr. Haidar Al-Saadi)

“You remind yourself this is the time to be patient and look past certain things and do the best you can do to help people,” says the 38-year-old physician, who came to the United States from Iraq when he was just 1 month old. “Being a Muslim, itself, teaches you that.”

He was part of a small team of doctors at Beaumont Hospital in Farmington Hills, Michigan, who treated 250–300 patients a day when COVID-19 peaked in suburban Detroit in late March.

For Dr. Muna Beg, who works in the intensive care unit of a California hospital, finding time to pray five times a day is a challenge. If she misses a prayer while treating patients, including those with COVID-19, she prays twice the next time.

“The way my mom always taught me about Islam is God is not cruel,” Beg told the Los Angeles Times. “So whatever situation you’re in, you should be able to be adaptable.”

That means using a chair to avoid getting her protective equipment dirty during prayers.

Muslims traditionally make a special effort to increase their charitable activities throughout Ramadan. COVID-19 hasn’t changed that.

In March, the Zakat Foundation, named for the Islamic pillar of giving, delivered thousands of examination gloves to hospitals in Chicago. Zakat has pledged to distribute at least 100,000 examination gloves to hospitals across the United States.

People wearing masks carrying boxes to cars (© Paul Hennessy/NurPhoto/Getty Images)
Volunteers from the Islamic Society of Central Florida distribute food April 9 in Orlando, Florida. (© Paul Hennessy/NurPhoto/Getty Images)

The nonprofit American Muslim Health Professionals calls Ramadan, which began in the United States on April 23, “a time of spiritual purification, social service” and has encouraged donations to fight the pandemic at home and abroad.

Omar Ishrak, who recently retired from being the chief executive officer of Medtronic, led the medical technology firm’s effort to speed production of ventilators for treating COVID-19 patients. By June, Medtronic plans to produce more than 1,000 ventilators a week. Medtronic is also facilitating production of ventilators outside the United States and training medical professionals on their use.

“Let’s redouble in our efforts to help others in this month of fasting, self discipline and prayer,” Ishrak tweeted April 24, wishing a happy holiday. “Ramadan Mubarak to all.”

For Dr. Al-Saadi, observing Ramadan during the COVID-19 pandemic means forgoing hugs and kisses when he returns home to his children or delivers groceries to his parents. Yet he continues practicing his Muslim faith by caring for patients in the emergency room.

“Ramadan is that reminder every year” to appreciate what you have, he says of the stress of treating patients while fasting. “[It’s] your chance to restart fresh … to recharge your faith.”