Celebrating any holiday during the coronavirus is complicated, and Ramadan, the Muslim holy month that ends on May 23, brings its own set of complications.
This year, the National Library of Israel has helped spearhead a digital effort to mark Ramadan and offer those unfamiliar with the practice an opportunity to understand the richness and value of Islamic culture.
The institution calls the initiative, “Ramadan Nights from Jerusalem,” and it is a collaborative effort to bring together Jerusalem’s great cultural institutions, religious bodies, grassroots initiatives, and community organizations, to experience Ramadan, whether in Arabic, Hebrew, or English.
While the overarching goal of the program is to expand awareness about Muslim culture in general and Ramadan in particular, this year, given the social distancing required by the coronavirus crisis, the platform will offer online events for those unable to participate in Ramadan’s traditional prayers, family gatherings, and public events.
Events will be live-streamed, recorded and later available on demand. Held in either Arabic, Hebrew, or English, they will include lectures, talks, and virtual tours of local museums on exhibits related to Islamic culture and history, traditional Muslim recitations and prayers, intimate conversations in Jerusalem homes, musical performances, culinary workshops, special programs for children, and even a Ramadan calendar, to explain the lunar significance of the period.
The program was planned before the coronavirus, and then pivoted to its current digital format, said Raquel Ukeles, curator of the Islam and Middle East collection at the National Library.
The joint effort is one that Ukeles has thought about for years, along with Nadim Sheiban, director at Jerusalem’s Museum for Islamic Art. Long frustrated with the lack of appreciation for the richness and value of Islamic culture in Israel, they wanted to do something about that, and Ramadan seemed to be the right time for it.
“There’s lots about health and education and employment in the Arab sector, but the idea that Arabs and Muslims come from a vast intellectual culture…there’s very little space for that in Israel today,” said Ukeles. “In our world, in Israeli society, ignorance seems to lead to contempt.”
The national library was not the first to think of building coalitions around Ramadan, said Ukeles. There have been other efforts in Jerusalem, involving the YMCA and Kehillat Zion, a local, pluralistic synagogue community.
The other organizations participating in “Ramadan Nights” are a mix of major institutions and smaller, grass roots organizations, including the Al Aqsa Mosque Library, Dar Assalam for Introducing Islam, The Israel Museum, the Jerusalem International YMCA, Kids 4 Peace, Kulna Jerusalem, The Museum for Islamic Art, The National Library of Israel, and The Tower of David Museum.
“This creates a safe space for Jewish who are curious, who would want to see but won’t cross town to go sit in a mosque,” said Ukeles. “It gives a window.”
Additional events will be added over the next few days, and will differ among the various languages, with certain ones available in Arabic, others in Hebrew, and some in English.
“The coronavirus has motivated people to step up and do things,” said Ukeles. “These are little experiments we’re doing to figure this out, we’re feeling our way forward.”