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Ramadan Lights to pick Detroit area’s best-decorated homes

In a photo from Thursday, May 7, 2020, Hassan Chami, the founder of the Suhoor Festival and one of the leading organizers of the Ramadan lights contest, is photographed in Dearborn, Mich. Families in the Muslim community decorate their homes every year, adding more elements each time, and this year will be no different despite the coronavirus pandemic. This year the community is hosting a Ramadan lights competition in hopes of spreading joy and bringing back some of the holiday spirit during the pandemic. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

DEARBORN (AP) — Detroit-area Muslims who’ve had to socially distance themselves from the more communal aspects of Ramadan because of the coronavirus pandemic are instead celebrating the holy month in lights.

During last year’s iteration of Ramadan, in which worshippers fast daily from dawn through dusk, pharmacist Hassan Chami organized the Ramadan Suhoor Festival. The middle-of-the-night celebration drew thousands who collectively engaged in suhoor, the meal consumed before Muslims begin their daily fasting.

But while Muslims nationwide struggle during the pandemic to celebrate Ramadan — a time when believers commonly gather for late-night meals and nightly prayers — Michigan’s stay-home order makes typical celebrations impossible.

So, Chami and some friends have teamed up to host the inaugural Ramadan Lights contest, calling attention to the local house-decorating practices that make the area’s Muslim community so visible during the holy season that runs for another week-and-a-half.

A number of homes in Dearborn, Dearborn Heights and other Michigan communities feature light-up crescent moons, lanterns and oversized lawn signs with the holiday greetings “Ramadan Mubarak” and “Ramadan Kareem.”

“The short-term goal is to uplift everyone’s spirits during this tough time. But there’s a long-term goal, and the long-term goal is to create this festive spirit of Ramadan,” Chami said.

Residents are invited to nominate their own or their neighbor’s houses by sharing the address and a photo of their handiwork. Representatives from the three groups that organized t

he contest — Ramadan Suhoor Festival, Halal Metropolis and the Michigan Muslim Community Council — and a nominating committee will narrow down the submissions to the top 10 houses from each district. The judges then will visit and evaluate the homes in person. They will pick the most creative and interesting light displays from each district and award them a certificate.

“It’s like something that’s been in the air anyway, circulating — this idea that there should be some sort of celebration of how many people are decorating their houses and how big a tradition this has become in Dearborn and sort of commemorating this in some way, recognizing it,” said Halal Metropolis’ Sally Howell, who directs the Center for Arab American Studies at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.

“But the timing of this year when Ramadan is otherwise sort of very muted and quiet. Those two things coincided very, very neatly for us,” she said.