HOUSTON - For the last two years, COVID-19 impacted several events and religious rituals for people across the world. Fortunately, the U.S. is seeing a record low number of COVID-19 hospitalizations, and cases in Harris County seem to be dwindling.
This is welcomed news for Houston and its sizable Muslim population fasting during the holy month of Ramadan. Saturday marked the first official fast for Muslims, where they abstain from food and drink (yes, even water) from sunrise to sunset for 30 days.
RAMADAN 2022: What is the Islamic holy month? How is it celebrated?
However, fasting during Ramadan has a more spiritual aspect to it that means different things to other Muslims. For Houston City Councilmember Letitia Plummer, who represents at-large Position 4, it's a time for reflection.
"I think that Ramadan is a time for me to recalibrate, and just kind of recenter myself and cleanse myself in many things and my thoughts in my body, and my feelings and my experiences," she said during an interview. "And so it kind of, it's a time where I can come back to who I am, at my essence [and] at my core of who I am. "
Born to a half Indian, half Persian mother from Yemen and an African American father, CM Plummer is the first female Muslim council member to serve the city of Houston and the first female Muslim to hold a political office across Texas. Despite being born Muslim, many people were initially unaware of the council member's religious identity.
"It's interesting sometimes, because, you know, when I ran for Congress, in 2018, I was challenged a lot like, ‘well, I don't look like I was Muslim, my name wasn't Muslim, and so I found myself almost defending myself or proving - dragging my mom around showing, you know, ‘this is really my mom,’ CM Plummer said chuckling. "It sounds funny now, but at the time, it was a little bit disheartening. And because I don't look like ‘traditional Muslims,’ as they would say, ‘well, are you a Black Muslim?’ I'm like, 'Listen, I'm Muslim.'"
Another surprise came during an interview with Senior Police Officer A. Khan, the South Asian and Middle Eastern Community Liaison for the Houston Police Department. Like Councilmember Plummer, she is initially not seen as someone of South Asian descent but admits there are quite a number of Muslim officers on the force.
"A lot of times people will think I'm like, you know, Hispanic, that's common, or sometimes people will think I'm Middle Eastern, or whatever the case is, and my hair is kind of different and stuff," Officer Khan said. "Since we're such a diverse city…and there really are like, so many Muslims on the department as well."
Officer Khan mirrored CM Plummer's statements on Ramadan and the ability to reflect on our own moral consciousness but added how much she enjoyed the communal aspect as well. "
"I love the time with the family, the coming together, and then I like going to pray for tarawih (nightly prayers) like when I can…when I'm not exhausted," she explained. "And I love cooking and preparing for iftar (breaking the fast), and having get-togethers and passing out food also at the mosque or donating."
And while the last two Ramadans have been impeded by COVID-19, things seem to be dwindling across the U.S. allowing for celebrations to resume semi-normally.
"I do believe that the city obviously has opened up, but COVID-19 has not gone away…I think we need to be really cognizant of that," CM Plummer explained. "We need to follow the CDC guidelines, if you're over 50 [years old] there's a third booster that they're recommending for you. I do believe that the mosques are going to take all the necessary precautions in terms of the many people coming in."
Coupled with the increase in crime across Houston, Officer Khan said it's just as important to remain aware of your surroundings.
"One of the newer trends that started before COVID was the whole being out for sehri (starting the fast), those big grand buffets…at like, three o'clock in the morning, four o'clock in the morning," she explained. "Just keep in mind when you're out at that time of night, there's also a lot of other stuff going on…there's a kit more crime."
Both ladies stressed the importance of celebrating safely in groups instead of alone and remembering to practice common sense when being out and about.
"There's a lot of after-hours, clubs that are open, so be cognizant of drunk drivers and that kind of thing…just be careful, where you go and be cognizant of your surroundings," Officer Khan concluded. "And if you're with a group of people, that's always better than being by yourself."
"We're clearly seeing crime increases all over the nation. It's not just the city of Houston, it's all over the nation," CM Plummer added. "And so we need to be respectful of that, and prepare, you know, appropriately."
In an exclusive statement, Mayor Sylvester Turner also acknowledged the holy Islamic month wishing the city's Muslim community a happy and safe Ramadan.
"I wish everyone a safe and Happy Ramadan," Mayor Turner said. "I encourage people to get tested and vaccinated so that they are healthy during the celebration of faith while gathering with others in local mosques. If you are sick, please stay home."