At precisely 6:38 p.m. on Thursday, hundreds of people in a main hall of Kowloon Mosque tore off the plastic covers of a styrofoam container before them and dug into haleem, a congee typically served during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
A silence fell over the cavernous room, with the only sounds being the rustling of paper bags containing dates and the crunch of samosas, prepared for worshippers eating after fasting for around 13 hours.
Thursday was the first evening of Ramadan, during which Muslims abstain from eating or drinking between sunrise and sunset.
And in Hong Kong, it marked the first time since 2019 that they could gather and break their fast in public due to Covid-19 restrictions over the past three years.
See also: HKFP Lens: Fasting, feasting and social distancing – Ramadan in Hong Kong during Covid-19
With the government’s rules in place, Muslims could only observe Ramadan – a time of community and reflection – at home or at their friends’ homes, or in small groups at restaurants.
“I’m happy to see everyone back, that everything is back to what it was,” KK Khan, a Hong Kong-born Pakistani told HKFP.
He added that some volunteers had been at the mosque since 2 a.m. to prepare for iftar, the fast-breaking evening meal. “Some were cutting onions and tomatoes [for the haleem]. Others were packing and distributing,” he said.
Around 1,700 worshippers observed the first evening of Ramadan at Kowloon Mosque, said Mohammed Ali Diallo, a member of the mosque’s management.
The number falls short of the some 3,000 that showed up in previous years before Covid-19. Diallo said he believed some people were not aware that the mosque was serving food again, and that turnout may increase throughout the Ramadan month as people learn that it is offering iftar.
Following iftar, worshippers headed upstairs to a hall for their regular prayers, taking their place in neat rows in the green-carpeted room until it was around half filled. An imam led the prayers at the front of the room, as worshippers bowed their heads to the floor.
Yusuf Mansouri, an Indian who arrived in Hong Kong six years ago, said he marked Ramadan at his home, and at friends’ residences, during Covid – a rather different experience compared to being surrounded by fellow Muslims at Hong Kong’s iconic Tsim Sha Tsui mosque.
“Ramadan is a month of togetherness and gathering,” Mansouri, a project manager at a bank, told HKFP. “I really missed this.”
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