Ramadan ended Saturday evening, and Mehmet Oguz broke his fast at home with his wife and two daughters. Typically, Eid al-Fitr – the holiday that marks the end of Ramadan – is celebrated with large gatherings of friends and family, Oguz said. But not this year.

“We have virtual gatherings [instead],” Oguz said.

Oguz and his wife called some friends to schedule a video call when they all break their Ramadan fast It’s not the same as physically sitting with friends to celebrate Eid, he said. 

“But at least it’s better than nothing.”

The Muslim community of San Antonio, like other faith communities, have foregone meeting in-person for religious services and cultural events during the coronavirus pandemic. On Friday, however, President Donald Trump called on governors to allow churches to reopen. Gov. Greg Abbott has allowed churches to conduct in-person services while other businesses remain closed or restricted with occupancy limits. But many spiritual leaders and members of the faith community are hesitant to throw open the doors to their places of worship again.

Rev. Wyndee Holbrook spent part of her Saturday passing out hymnals to her congregants. She serves as the interim pastor of Covenant Baptist Church, which has been meeting virtually since April, she said.

“Like anybody else, we started off thinking, ‘OK, we’ll do this for a few weeks, then we’ll see,” she said.

But as the coronavirus pandemic continued, Holbrook met with elders at her church, and they decided to keep meeting online for the health and safety of the congregation. She also rallied faith leaders in the San Antonio community to sign a “Proclamation of Care and Compassion” affirming “that physical distancing is an act of compassion and absolute medical necessity.” The proclamation was released Friday.

Though the proclamation came on the heels of more businesses and activities reopening in Texas, Holbrook stressed that this was not a political statement.

“Now, there’s more urgency as things are reopening and congregations are pressured in a different way,” she said. “It’s a really heavy decision, is the best way to put it, as I have been in contact with many congregational leaders trying to weigh out options and what makes the most sense.”

Reverend Wyndee Holbrook delivers hymnals to the Schweers family to allow them to continue prayer while social distancing. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

More than 70 leaders and organizations from the Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, and Muslim communities signed “The Proclamation of Compassion and Care.” 

“We call on all people of faith, no matter the expression, to join in our urgent appeal to carefully heed health guidelines as we consider incremental steps toward gathering in person for worship and prayer,” the faith leaders wrote. 

“We will work to help diminish the spread of the COVID-19 virus as we respectfully honor the sanctity of human life.”

Dr. Rajam Ramamurthy, a retired neonatologist, serves as the coordinator of the Interreligious Council of San Antonio. She signed the proclamation of care as a member of the council as well as a member of the Hindu faith community, she said.

Though closing the San Antonio area temples has been hard on the Hindu community, they understand the need for social distancing to keep the novel coronavirus from spreading further, she said – there is no rush to open the temples again.

“Let us think, let us take our time to do the right thing so we can keep this thing down and not have a second wave,” she said.

Oguz, a member of the Raindrop Foundation San Antonio, also signed the proclamation. He said that San Antonians have to work together during the coronavirus pandemic, which includes not meeting in-person for religious reasons. In any other year, Oguz would mark the end of Ramadan with 2,000 people – fellow Muslims and friends from other faiths gathering to celebrate Eid. This year, things had to change.

“We have to accept the reality,” he said. “I might have a strong immune system, [the coronavirus] might not affect me. But it might affect someone that I might interact with. So we have to be careful. It’s not just protecting yourself, but others as well.” 

The idea behind the proclamation was not to instruct people to do things a certain way, but to show that many faith leaders in the community agree that caring for their congregants’ health is crucial, Holbrook said. Like other businesses and organizations, places of worship have felt the pressure to allow people to gather in-person. 

“We brought together as many voices as we quickly could to be in unison on this message because there is strength in numbers,” she said.

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Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang is the local government reporter at the San Antonio Report.