On the afternoon of March 10, Fuad Mohamed got the call that one of his congregants, a man in his 80s, had suffered a stroke. Fuad hurried to the mosque at the Muslim American Society of White Center where he is the executive director and imam. After prayer, he gathered six other regular attendees to visit the patient, a man with no immediate family in the United States. “We are his family, we have to be there for him,” Fuad recalls telling the others.
The same day, University of Washington hospitals—including Harborview Medical Center, where the congregant was recovering—announced the suspension of patient visits due to the coronavirus outbreak, a rule which would go into effect the following day.
Their friend is one of their most active mosque members, a man Fuad describes as part of the “backbone of the community.” The stroke had left him temporarily deprived of the ability to speak and no one besides a social worker knew his language or could fully communicate his medical status. When Fuad and the others entered the recovery room, the relief was unmistakable. “You could just tell by his face…how happy he was to see, okay, these people are here for me,” says Fuad. It is unclear how long restrictions on patient visits will last, so until the congregant makes a full recovery, Fuad will keep in touch with him through video chat.
With Governor Inslee’s stay-at-home order extended until at least May, Fuad will keep connecting with his congregants remotely—not his preferred method. As an imam, Fuad provides spiritual care in part through physical connection. “When somebody is going through things, you can pat them on the back…when they start to cry you can hand them the tissue,” Fuad says. The mosque is closed until further notice, but he’s doing what he can over the phone or video conferencing; still, the physical absence is a challenge. “You can’t really assure someone over the phone,” he says.
Every day Fuad wakes to lead the first prayer, which starts as early as 3:30am and is followed by a lecture. There are four more prayers to lead—plus additional lectures, office hours, and appointments before he can go home to his wife and two young children. Before the pandemic, Fuad would take a short nap between the morning and afternoon prayers. Fuad works long days, but it’s what gives him joy. “Being there, seeing the community, leading the people,” he says, “that’s the best part of my day.”
Fuad’s work isn’t limited to the walls of the Muslim American Society of White Center. Normally, he moves through the local and national Muslim community to help keep it connected. On a given afternoon, he could be at one of 27 local mosques, and networking and community-building efforts take him all over the country. “We’re in different facilities, but we’re all connected, we all know each other.”
Until regular life resumes, Fuad stays linked to his mosque online. He hosts regular remote meetings that include meal-sharing, prayer, and discussions about financial assistance for members in need. Of his community, Fuad says, “It’s able to hold everybody up together.”
As for the immediate future, Fuad is optimistic, but doesn’t expect the stay-at-home orders to lift in time for the celebrations, feasts, and gathering of thousands of Muslims for the end of the month of Ramadan projected around May 23. “Imagine Christmas without, you know, Christmas,” Fuad says.
In the face of uncertainty Fuad continues to pray, to thank God for his health and the health of his family, for the hope that he’ll lead his congregation in real life. For now, though, he is encouraged. “Just believe in God, know that one day this will be over,” he says. He adds some advice for everyone spending so much time at home: “Don’t talk to the walls too much.”