Staying Socially Connected While Physically Distancing this Ramadan: Interview with the Ontario Medical Association’s Dr. Sohail GandhiWritten by Chelby Daigle
This Ramadan is shaping up to be like no other due to the COVID 19 pandemic.
Ramadan is usually an important time for socializing with family, friends and our fellow Muslims as we celebrate the revelation of our holy book, the Quran. However, with mosques shutdown and the requirement to respect physical distancing in order to reduce the spread of the virus, the social connection that Ramadan often provides will not be easy to access at a time when we need it most.
Dr. Sohail Gandhi, the past President of the Ontario Medical Association, a membership based organization that represents over 44,000 doctors and medical students across the province, understands the challenges facing his fellow Muslims this Ramadan due to physical distancing. Muslim Link interviewed Dr. Gandhi about why it is important that we find ways to stay socially connected while still practicing physical distancing in order to stay safe this Ramadan.
Tell us how you went from graduating from the University of Toronto to becoming a doctor in "small town" Ontario?
When I did my medical residency, that’s the two year training program after you finish medical school, I spent two months as part of my training in Haliburton and Parry Sound, Ontario. The lifestyle there was wonderful; the people were wonderful. Your ability to do more for your patients as a family physician in a small town is really enhanced. I got to practice a more comprehensive style of medicine, which I really enjoyed doing. You get to practice a wide variety of your skills because you have to do a bit of everything. So, I wanted to establish a practice in an environment like that.
For example, in my practice in Stayner, Ontario, where I’ve been practicing as a family doctor for over 28 years, for the first 14 years of my practice, I delivered babies and worked in the Emergency Room! The first thing doctors in our area do in the morning is visit our patients in hospital, then we go to the office. We are involved in Cradle to Grave Care (birth to death).
Ontario Medical Association (OMA)’s YouTube Channel includes Seasons Greetings messages from you for a variety of religious holidays and community celebrations. Why is it important that OMA highlights these special times of year?
Something that had a really strong effect on me personally was when I went for the Hajj about 8 years ago. I know it sounds extremely cliche to say this, but when you are in an environment like that, where you meet people from all walks of life, from different stages in their life, and from different socio-economic classes, you realize we are all equal. It really brought home to me the fact that people are the same and it is important to respect each other. It was a beautiful, heartwarming experience.
I was pleased to have started making these seasonal video messages because I thought it would be nice to do; I had already seen other organizations do it. It is a way to recognize and acknowledge the diversity of our profession and to show respect for each other’s beliefs.
Watch Dr. Gandhi’ Ramadan Message on the OMA’s YouTube Channel below (It may take a few moments for the video to load from YouTube)
In your Ramadan message for OMA, you discussed how this Ramadan will be different for us all because of physical distancing. How will your family's Ramadan be different and how are you all trying to adapt? Also, sharing food is a big part of Ramadan, is that a tradition we can still maintain with physical distancing?
We will still have the iftar (evening meal to break the day’s fast) but it will just be immediate family because we are the ones who live together. We will not be able to have extended family over or go to their houses like we usually do, which is sad but it is important to stay safe. My in-laws have Whatsapp video chat, so it’s not like we won’t see them.
This Ramadan will certainly be a challenge but I think it is still something we can pull off because Ramadan is about patience and it is about facing challenges, overcoming hardships, and it is about recognizing that other people may have it harder than you do so, I think we just need to incorporate this line of thought into how we practice Ramadan this year.
There is a hadith from Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) that says if there is a land that has a plague to not go in, but if you are in the land that has the plague do not go out. I am glad to see this hadith being shared more and more because it is an important message that teaches us that we shouldn’t go out and spread sickness. Right now, the best way to avoid spreading sickness is to stay home and by staying home we are staying safe, helping to keep others safe, and we are following guidance from the Prophet (pbuh).
I know that some people may want to still share iftar meals with their friends and family members. If you are going to do this it is important to still practice physical distancing, so don’t hand the food to the person, just leave it on their doorstep or set it down somewhere so he or she can pick it up. It is also very important to disinfect the packaging that the food comes in. For example, if you are placing the food in a tupperware container, make sure to clean and disinfect it and when you receive food, also clean the surface of any containers before sharing them with your family. Food should be heated so make sure to reheat any food that has been shared with you.
To learn more about the Dos and Don’ts of Physical Distancing, visit VirusFacts.ca
Are you a senior looking for help with using electronic devices and online programs to stay connected this Ramadan? Consider reaching out to Connected Canadians who are offering supports to seniors so you have the skills you need to stay connected this Ramadan, click here to learn more
Are you self-isolating due to COVID 19 so you can’t get out to buy groceries to make your favourite iftar dish? Volunteers are available to help you get those groceries, connect with the Good Neighbour Project if you live in Ottawa or the Greater Toronto Area or the Ansar Youth Association if you live in Edmonton.
You work in small town Ontario. There are many similarities between the dynamics of small towns and of minority ethno-cultural and religious communities like Muslims in Canada in terms of the value placed on in-person socializing, mutual aid, and close inter-generational relationships. What are some of the challenges physical distancing is presenting in your small town?
Stayner is a town of 4,200 people with 13 churches. It is a great community. The church is a big part of the social life for many of the residents. You can see how physical distancing is really starting to wear on people because they are not getting that social contact.
That is why we are trying to use the term Physical Distancing instead of Social Distancing. We do not want physical distancing to become social isolation. We need to find ways to keep in contact. Being isolated from other people is really hard on mental health.
Looking for ways to stay connected this Ramadan? Consider connecting to an online Iftar through Remote Iftar, (there are brothers only and sisters only options), click here to learn more. For Sisters, consider signing up for a weekly Sisters Online Gathering through The Sisters Retreat, click here to learn more?
The COVID 19 lockdown has put tremendous stress on people across Canada and around the world. As a result of stressors such as losing a job, social isolation, and feeling overwhelmed with supporting children who are now home all the time, more and more people are showing symptoms of depression, anxiety, and trauma. What are your thoughts on this?
We are already starting to see the mental health impact of this crisis. We need to raise awareness of the impact this is having on people’s mental health and we need to raise acceptance of that. This is nothing to be ashamed of. We also need to find ways to reduce the negative mental health impact this crisis is having by making sure that people have some form of social support. It is true that it is not the same to Face-Time someone as to talk to them in person, but it is better than nothing, so we need to make time to connect in these virtual ways with each other.
Looking for some mental health support this Ramadan? Consider contacting Naseeha Mental Health, click here to learn more
There has been some confusion about the benefits of wearing homemade facemasks or facemasks that are not designed for medical professionals. However, even now hospitals such as the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario are asking the public to sew free facemasks for children and caregivers. What are the benefits for the general public of wearing homemade facemasks when interacting with people and what considerations should people take when wearing homemade masks?
Wearing homemade facemasks can reduce your chances of spreading the virus if you have it, but it will not prevent you from being exposed to the virus. It goes back to the hadith that says if you are in the land that has the plague do not go out. You should avoid spreading sickness so it is good to wear a homemade facemask. But even if you are wearing facemasks, if you have to go outside, you still have to follow physical distancing and practice proper hygiene, which is also a requirement of our faith, like washing your hands for a minimum of 20 seconds, in order to reduce your chances of being exposed to the virus.
To learn more about wearing facemasks, visit VirusFacts.ca
The economic impact of the COVID lockdowns has hit many people hard financially and we are seeing food banks across the country struggle to meet the increased need. Why is making sure people have access to nutritious food so important in the context of the COVID 19 pandemic?
From an overall health point of view, it is better to have fresh nutritious food than processed foods. But frankly a lot of processed foods are cheaper. So I am worried that people in dire straits will not have the means to purchase healthy food. If people can only afford processed food, there is going to be a negative health impact down the road.
This is why charitable giving to organizations like food banks is important this Ramadan and throughout the year.
If you need help with accessing food, considering reaching out to the National Zakat Foundation Canada, click here to learn more. If you are in Ottawa, you can reach out to the Ottawa-Gatineau COVID 19 Relief Project organized by the United Muslim Organizations of Ottawa-Gatineau, Ottawa-Gatineau COVID 19 Relief Project, click here to learn more.
Looking to donate to support your local Food Bank? Visit Give30.ca to donate to a Food Bank near you, click here to learn more.
Charity is an important aspect of Ramadan. Do you feel that giving charity could also help us stay socially connected despite physical distancing?
Charity is one of the five pillars of the faith. Doing anything that contributes to the well-being of others is charity.
Whether you are doing something small like volunteering to sew free facemasks, or you have done something big like the initiative Conquer COVID-19 that was started by some young Muslim medical professionals, which is fundraising and delivering Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to health care workers across Canada, whether what you are doing is big or small, all of it is an important part of charity. You may not be able to give money but you can give of your time and that's a great way to stay socially connected.
Looking for charitable initiatives to volunteer with or donate to? Consider financially supporting Conquer COVID-19 initiative, which is working with the Canadian Muslim charity IDRF to raise funds for PPE for healthcare workers, click here to learn more.
Looking to volunteer your time? Considering volunteering to make deliveries with the Good Neighbour Project (GTA or Ottawa) which is helping seniors, single parents, pregnant women, health care workers, and self-isolating community members get the supplies they need, click here to learn more or if you are in Edmonton connect with the Ansar Youth Association, click here to learn more. Can you sew? Sign up with Army of Masks to support community organizations in need of cloth masks across Canada, click here to learn more.
In a March 24th post about how your small town is responding to COVID 19 , you named cleaners as unsung heroes at your local hospital. The reality is that in many major cities across Canada Muslims, particularly newcomers, work as cleaners. What precautions do you recommend that cleaners take to reduce the chances of picking up COVID 19 through work?
Again, going back to my experience at Hajj, we need to remember that we really are all equal at the end of the day in terms of our value. The cleaners have such an important job in our hospital because they disinfect the rooms after a patient leaves. And if a patient has COVID 19 or another highly infectious disease, it is really important for the cleaners to wear protection in the form of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) because they could get these diseases. The fact is that the first hospital worker who died of COVID 19 was someone who worked in Environment Services, a cleaner.
Cleaners in health care settings need to take the same precautions as doctors and nurses and other hospital employees so when they get home, they need to immediately change their clothes, put them in a plastic bag, and put them immediately in the laundry, and wash their hands for a minimum of 20 seconds because that is the most common area that the virus might be staying.
In a hospital it is easier because a cleaner will know if they are cleaning a room where there has been a patient with COVID 19, but if you are a cleaner in the community, that’s a tough one, because you won’t know. But that is why we need to all be washing our hands for a minimum of 20 seconds, practicing good hygiene, coughing and sneezing into our sleeve because we need to avoid spreading the virus to other people, like cleaners. If you are a cleaner in areas where people may have COVID 19, I recommend that you take the same precautions as hospital cleaners by changing your clothes and washing them as soon as you get home.
For more advice on how to protect yourself against COVID 19 while working as a cleaner, check out the Workers’ Health and Safety Centre’s COVID 19 resources.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Muslim Medical Association of Canada has been working with its members and religious organizations to dispell myths about COVID 19 and share relevent information in the community. Why do you feel this initiative is important?
Yes, the Muslim Medical Association of Canada, in partnership the Islamic Medical Association of North America (IMANA) released a statement about observing Ramadan during the pandemic, which I think is amazing. These types of initiatives are important because it enables our community to practice in a safe way by combining medical expertise with religious knowledge.
The Muslim Medical Association of Canada has created a website, COVID Information Hub, for medical professionals and the general public, dedicated to providing factual information about COVID 19, click here to learn more.
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