ENTERTAINMENT
23/04/2020 11:46 PM AEST | Updated 13/05/2020 4:33 PM AEST

MasterChef Australia's Amina: Ramadan During Covid-19 Will Be Different

She said social distancing restrictions will change how she and other Muslims celebrate the "community-focused" holy month.

Amina Elshafei still remembers celebrating Ramadan as a young primary school girl.

After having arrived in Australia from Saudia Arabia just a few years earlier, the daughter of a Korean mother and Egyptian father would look forward to visiting relatives to break the fast with crumbling kunafe (pastry dessert) and mouthwatering maamoul (semolina biscuits).

For years the MasterChef Australia contestant has continued these traditions alongside her family and friends. However, Ramadan in 2020 – beginning on Friday April 24 – will be different for the Muslim community due to coronavirus social distancing rules. 

“When you think of Ramadan, it’s a very community-focused month,” Amina told HuffPost Australia. 

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MasterChef Australia: Back To Win contestant Amina Elshafei

As explained here by HuffPost US, during Ramadan Muslims fast from dawn to dusk every day and increase their daily prayers in order to achieve self-discipline and piety. Ramadan is also a popular time for worshippers to gather and eat together when they are not fasting, meet for evening prayers and perform acts of charity and other social services in large numbers.

“It’s all about communal eating in terms of feasting with families when you break your fast, but also the special prayers that we have in Ramadan too,” said Amina. “It’s going to the local mosque to pray amongst other local Muslims. It’s a huge deal of our communal worshipping.

“So obviously with Covid-19, it impacts dramatically on the feel and vibe of Ramadan. It affects everyone enormously.”

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Amina Elshafei with her daughter, Aya

In recent years, Amina and her husband have visited both sets of parents, or invited them to their home for iftar (breaking of the fast) “almost every night or every second night”. 

This year there will be no such communal feasting, but instead the daily Facetime iftar. 

“It’s a very odd sensation and to think how lonely it could be for a lot of families,” she said.

The TV cook hoped Muslim people would look at the “opportunity” during these different times to think, “How can we help communities?” by perhaps making food for the “disadvantaged”. 

“Essentially, that is also Ramadan,” she explained. “It’s about looking after these disadvantaged people and it’s also a time of reflection of your spirituality. Doing good is the epitome of Ramadan.”

From her previous Ramadan experiences, visiting the “packed” mosques in Lakemba or Auburn in Sydney’s west meant meeting “thousands of people” who were doing the same.

“This year, it’s going to be empty and bare,” she said.  

The Australian National Imams Council (ANIC) issued a statement this week, acknowledging it will be “a very different year” for the Muslim community. It advised people “to conduct Taraweeh (Nightly) prayers at home with their household members and to continue maintaining the spirit of Ramadan through the observation of spiritual practice at home and observation”. 

On Thursday NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian asked the Muslim community to “please respect the restrictions during this time”. 

“Just as Easter was a difficult time for many families across the state, including my own, where people abandoned what they normally do, I say to our friends in the Muslim community; please, please respect the restrictions during this time,” said Berejiklian.

“I know for many of you, the holy month of Ramadan will have special significance, because it is a month about sacrifice and family, and this year more than ever that sacrifice will really test everybody.”