Coronavirus: Recognizing Our Privileges as American Muslims – Jamila Boudlali

By: Lolla Nur, Freelance Community Journalist

“Every Ramadan something seems to happen to the Muslim world that doesn’t affect us [in the U.S.] directly. But this time it actually is,” Jamila Boudlali observed, reflecting on Ramadan 2020 coinciding with global quarantines amidst the coronavirus pandemic. “One year it was Palestine, another year it was Pakistan.” 

Boudlali is a Moroccan American with a background in global development and community engagement. Formerly a blogger about issues affecting the North African diaspora, Boudlali keeps tabs on news from the Middle East-North Africa (MENA) region.  

“Before it was ‘Let’s just pray for these people far away.’ Now it’s directly affecting us. It’s a test for everyone,” she said.

Experiencing the Pandemic as a Moroccan American 

Watching the news in Morocco and talking to her extended family there, Boudlali said it seems the coronavirus response in many Muslim-majority countries was coordinated and organized by one body. For example, the Kingdom of Morocco announced swift and strict border restrictions in mid-March, shutting down all routes with European countries, suspending flights and calling for citizens to self-quarantine

Boudlali was referring to this efficiency when she said the country had “a very unified approach” between government and health officials. 

“Morocco closed [its] borders at one time as a whole, whereas with the US it’s been mixed between the federal government and states,” she said. “[So] where’s the leadership [here] coming from?” 

While the pandemic has been difficult on her, Boudlali says it’s been a “reality check” for her about privilege, especially living in the U.S. 

“I just feel like everyone has been so heedless and self-centered and that [something like] this has been a long time coming,” she said. “Our society is corrupted in so many ways that people just need something, some struggle to humble themselves, and have a reality check.” 

COVID-19 During Ramadan

Jamila Boudlali poses for the camera at a dock in Wayzata, MN. She loves going out for nature walks and exploring new places outdoors during the pandemic (while practicing physical distancing). Credit: Jamila Boudlali.

Usually active in various masjids across the Twin Cities, Boudlali said she is using this time as an opportunity to reflect on herself and to get closer to Allah. Previous Ramadans have been somewhat marred by FOMO — fear of missing out — on community events and masjid iftars, which Boudlali said she typically couldn’t attend due to her low energy after working while fasting all day. 

“I actually almost feel better about my Ramadan this year because I didn’t have the energy to go to all this stuff and interact with people” she said. “Now, there’s not an option to [go out] so I’m not missing out on anything.” 

The biggest spiritual challenge Boudlali has been facing since the coronavirus pandemic has been not having her specific support group of people at the masjid, halaqas (group Qur’an study), and close friends who help her keep track of her spiritual goals. And Zoom gatherings don’t seem to cut it for her.

However, despite the challenges, she still believes the pandemic will lead to a fundamental shift in how people think about global social and economic inequities.

“I don’t know what it’ll take for people to care about each other, like hoarding the riches of the world. How much pressure will it take to break that system?” she opined. “This is a testing and trying time for human beings everywhere and I hope we all come out of it with more appreciation for what we have, and for everyday privileges and human connection.” 

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