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Nawaf Alrogiaee celebrates Eid al-Fitr from his family’s Gainesville home alongside his two children, Ammar, 7, and Alia, 1. 

While COVID-19 has separated communities and changed people’s ways of life, a Gainesville family embraced changing traditions Sunday for Eid al-Fitr, the largest celebration in the Islamic calendar.   

Eid al-Fitr, also known as “Festival of Breaking the Fast,” celebrates the end of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Throughout the month, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. In the Islamic faith, Ramadan honors the month that God revealed the first chapters of theQuran, the Islamic holy book, to the Prophet Muhammad.

During Eid al-Fitr, Muslims gather to pray and eat, said Nawaf Alrogiaee, a 34-year-old Saudi Arabian teacher currently living in Gainesville.

Alrogiaee is part of a Saudi program that sends teachers to the U.S. to learn about the American university system. He moved to Gainesville with his wife, Natacha Duartt, 34, and their two children, Ammar, 7, and Alia, 1. 

Duartt said when they arrived in January, she was excited to socialize with the 20 to 30 other Saudi families from the program. However, she said COVID-19 changed her family’s plans for Eid al-Fitr, she said.

“Obviously with the COVID situation, we suspended everything,” she said. “Nobody wants to gather with anybody.”

The celebration usually begins with Muslims dressed in their best clothes gathering at a mosque, the Islamic place of worship, before sunrise, Alrogiaee said. Once gathered, he said worshippers celebrate the end of the fast and their relationship with God by praying, visiting family members and enjoying a feast.

With COVID-19, the gatherings central to the festivity are restricted. The mosques in Gainesville will not hold prayers or celebrations for Eid al-Fitr this year. Instead, some mosques, such as the Hoda Center, are opting for online events. 

Aside from the pandemic, this isn’t a regular Eid al-Fitr for Duartt. Normally, she would prepare a feast of lamb and four of five other dishes for family, friends, and neighbors, but she’s pregnant and taking extra care to stay healthy.

Although COVID-19 upended the family’s Eid al-Fitr celebration, Alrogiaee said they were planning on making it a special occasion. He said they woke up Sunday morning to enjoy a breakfast of Saudi sweets and pancakes as well as to give gifts to their children. The family also went on a day trip to St. Augustine, where they enjoyed seafood and the beach

The couple agreed COVID-19 also affected how their family celebrated Ramadan. Alrogiaee said he usually goes to Al-Masjid an-Nabawi, the holy mosque in Medina, Saudi Arabia, to pray throughout the month.  Duartt said she typically prays with the female members of her husband’s family as Muslim women don’t go to the mosque often.

However, the couple welcomed the change of pace.

“This is the first Ramadan we are actually kinda creating our own mosque at home,” Duartt said. 

The time in quarantine allowed the family to pray together, Alrogiaee said.  He said he spent more time teaching his children about their faith. 

Alrogiaee recalled a time praying with his wife and son Ammar. They were asking God for things they wanted. While Alrogiaee said he asked for his family to have everything they need, his son asked for something different.

“The other day he was asking for the ants outside the backyard to go away,” Nawaf said.

He said this Ramadan in quarantine allowed him to spend more time with his family and enlightened him by practicing Islam at home.  

“I feel like this is the one most close to my heart,” Nawaf said. 

Contact Tristan at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @TristanDWood.