Coronavirus crisis: Muslims in Anaheim's Little Arabia to celebrate Ramadan amid communal spirit, physical distancing

Muslims in Orange County and beyond are trying to maintain the cherished rituals of Islam's holiest month without further spreading the outbreak.
ANAHEIM, Calif. (KABC) -- Ramadan begins this week -- and like virtually every other religious observance, it's going to be significantly different this year.

For Little Arabia in Anaheim, Ramadan marks the busiest month of the year. Muslims flock to the area each day after fasting from sunrise to sunset.

"Our community comes out from all the way from like the Valley, L.A., San Diego, to our restaurant and some of these other restaurants because of our food," said Alan Abdo, owner of the Olive Tree.

But this year, COVID-19 restrictions have brought significant change to the observance. Abdo says he's offering boxed meals for pickup, instead their typical buffet dinner where they serve about 220 people in an hour, an experience that helps make Ramadan more festive outside of the Middle East.

"It's celebrating with family and friends and so on, so that's being taken away from us," said Abdo.

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Not to mention all the income. His business is already down 80% to 85% before Ramadan even starts.

A similar situation is underway down the street at Little Arabia Bakery & Cuisine. The owner told ABC7 that, in the past, business from the month of Ramadan has been equal to the other months of the year combined.

Instead of packing restaurants with people, businesses across Little Arabia will be packing boxes with food.

"Unfortunately, the local businesses are going to get hurt, but that's just money," said Abdo. "Besides that, the religious part of it, it's God, and that doesn't change."

Abdo hopes people still come to him for business, just encouraging them to celebrate differently this year.

"Ramadan is not being canceled," said Abdo. "I think it's just going keep us at home. My message to everybody is: Be positive. Be as festive as you are during any other Ramadan."

The Islamic Society of Orange County is offering virtual programs during Ramadan. Most events will be broadcast on Facebook, YouTube and Zoom
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