Ramadan in the times of COVID-19

At the moment, the nearly 2 billion Muslims around the world have started the fasting of the holy month of Ramadan under various forms of restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has crippled the global economy and overwhelmed even the best healthcare systems around the world. It has also so far infected more than 3 million people worldwide of which more than 200,000 have died, although about 1 million people have recovered.

The new coronavirus – which is believed to have originated in the central Chinese city of Wuhan – has not only paralysed the world, it has changed the way people pray and worship, especially for Muslims, whose rituals are usually centered around congregation.

The virus’s latest victim appears to be the holy month of Ramadan, the ninth lunar month of the Islamic calendar, and Muslim month of fasting.

Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam that is obligatory on healthy Muslim adults to observe. During the month-long fasting period, Muslim faithfuls abstain from eating and drinking between sunrise and sunset. They also refrain from smoking, and sexual relations during daylight hours. As a month of prayer, fasting and spiritual reflection, the faithfuls are also encouraged to improve their behaviour, and to avoid swearing, fighting, gossiping, and laziness, as those things lessen the spiritual reward of fasting. After sunset, they break their fast with the iftar meal before engaging in the congregational Tarawih night prayers.

But this Ramadan, mosques around the world won’t be filled with people for the nightly congregational prayers. Nor will faithfuls be able to meet in large numbers for communal iftar meals. This comes as nations take precautions – including banning public gatherings, imposing lockdowns and closing mosques – to halt the spread of COVID-19, the highly infectious respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus.

In many Muslim-majority nations and countries with sizable Muslim populations, mosques have been closed and the call to prayer for many is observed at home. In Saudi Arabia for example, authorities have ban mass gatherings and have encouraged people to pray at home to avoid spreading the virus, that’s particularly deadly in people of over 65 years of age and those with underlying health conditions. Only a handful worshippers now pray at the holy Masjid al-Haram in Makkah. While in the United Kingdom, where mosques have largely adopted online prayer services, the BBC begins broadcasting the Islamic call to prayer (adhan) for Muslims staying at home.

In Nigeria, authorities have enforced lockdown measures and have restricted public gatherings. Mosques have also been closed to worshippers, especially for large congregational prayers and Ramadan public lectures. In Pakistan, however, mosques still remain opened for worshippers although under strict government-imposed social distancing rules.

Surely, these are difficult times. Artisans and other hand-to-mouth traders are finding it difficult to survive as most have lost their source of livelihoods due to lockdown measures. As one of the aim of the fasting of Ramadan is to help bring Muslims closer to the poor and those who feel hunger on a regular basis, I call on the rich to make good use of the wealth God has blessed them with to help the poor and needy in this blessed month.

As we return to Allah for help during this pandemic, let’s not forget the internally displaced persons in Northern Nigeria, the Rohingya in refugee camps in Bangladesh, the besieged Palestinians in Gaza, the persecuted Uighurs in Chinese concentration camps, the displaced people in war-ravaged Syria, Yemen, Libya and Afghanistan and the blockaded Kashmiris.

Finally, even though I live in a city synonymous with conflicts, this could be the first time I am going to celebrate Eid – the feast which marks the end of Ramadan – at home out of fear of the invisible and sometimes merciless enemy of our time. With lockdown measures in place and large gatherings banned, this year’s Eid festivities – even if it were to hold – will be restricted.

This Ramadan 1441 A.H. will be a memorable one: A Ramadan in the times of COVID-19.

 Yusuf writes from Jos, Plateau state.

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