Muslims around the world prepare to celebrate the Islam’s holy month of Ramadan. In the lunar Islamic calendar, Ramadan is the ninth month of the year, of 29 or 30 days, based on the observation of the crescent moon. According to Islamic practice, in commemoration of the first revelation of the Quran to prophet Muhammad more than 1,400 years ago, Muslims abstain from eating, drinking and sexual relations from dawn until sunset. The holy month this year is expected to begin Wednesday 22 April or a day later, depending on the sighting of the moon tonight and it will conclude on May,23. Usually Muslims celebrate the month with family visits, invitations to iftars and shared meals that break the fast, but this year’s Ramadan will be a very different experience for Muslims worldwide due to circumstances during the new coronavirus, Covid-19, pandemic.
This year’s Ramadan will be without public iftar, the dinner that marks the end of the daytime fast, without the tarawih, the collective prayer in the mosque at sunset and also without the crowded night markets where you can drink tea, eat dates and shop. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan already announced the new guidelines, the celebrations will take place at home and the end of Ramadan celebration, Eid al-Fitr, is also in doubt. The Egyptian, Saudi and almost all other Countries’ religious authorities have adapted and issued fatwas to guarantee the legitimacy of the Ramadan in isolation and the possibility of not participating in collective prayers.
Egypt has recently experienced an Orthodox Easter with empty Coptic churches and now 90 percent of the Muslim population will live Ramadan confined at their home. In neighboring Saudi Arabia, which host the two Islam holiest mosques, Mecca and Medina, it will be the same. The Saudi government opted for a very strict lockdown, closed the mosques, stopped pilgrimages, and, as in Egypt, imposed a curfew from 7pm to 5am. The main religious body of Saudi Arabia, the Council of Scholars, supported the decisions of the authorities and urged to avoid meetings, because they are the main cause of the spread of the infection while all the faithful “must remember that preserve life of people is a great act that brings us closer to God”. Companies that distribute consumer goods have accumulated sufficient stocks for the entire month of Ramadan.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) Fatwa Council issued five Fatwas on fasting in this year’s Ramadan, in the shadow of COVID-19. According to the Council, fasting is obligatory upon healthy people who are required to fast. It ruled that patients may not fast when the virus symptoms appear and if they were told by doctors that fasting will make their condition worse. The frontline medical workers are also permitted not to fast while on duty if they fear that fasting could lead to weakening their immunity or to losing their patients. On Tarawih prayer and whether it could be performed outside the mosque premises or by following radio, TV or social media, the UAE Council ruled that under the current situation, it could be performed individually at home. However, the man of the house may lead the prayer for his family either by reciting verses he memorized or by reading from the holy book. The third Fatwa focused on Eid Al Fitr prayer should the current situation continue until that time. It ruled that people may perform Eid Al Fitr prayer individually at their homes or in group with their respective family members without a sermon. It warned against congregating to perform the prayer, saying this could endanger lives, an act that is strictly forbidden in Islam. In the fourth Fatwa, the Council asserted that performing Friday prayer is not permissible.
Also, the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in occupied Jerusalem, Islam’s third holiest site, will be entirely closed to the public during the holy month for the first time since 1967. Israel, which controls the entrances to the compound, has previously blocked access to the flashpoint site, which is a focus of Palestinian aspirations for statehood. According to a recent statement from the Waqf, worshippers will not be able to visit the site temporarily, in response to religious and medical recommendations. The coronavirus epidemic has brought Israel and the Palestinians closer together. Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has provided $ 5 million in aid and coordinates with the Palestinian Authority to curb the pandemic. In the Palestinian territories there have been 450 cases so far and the closures are very rigid. Here too, Christian holidays, like the Jewish Passover, were celebrated at home.
This Ramadan will be different also for Iraqis, as the new measures announced on Tuesday by letting some businesses reopen and relaxing a month-long curfew, will allow freedom of movement inside the capital Baghdad only between 6 a.m. until 7 p.m. while maintaining a complete curfew on the Friday-Saturday weekend. The great Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the country’s greatest religious figure, previously issued a fatwa specifying that fasting in the month of Ramadan is an individual obligation and therefore adapts to the circumstances. Collective sunset prayer is also not required and anti-contagion precautions must also be observed as long as the risk of contracting the Covid-19 remains. Tunisian authorities as well on Sunday, April 19, announced a shorter daily curfew from 20:00 to 06:00 to give Tunisians more flexibility during Ramadan celebrations.
So far, only in Pakistan the situation is different due to the very strong influence of fundamentalist imams. Premier Imran Khan agreed that the mosques should remain open for collective prayers. However, the government has managed to impose some precautions measures: the tarawih evening prayer will be held without carpets and faithful must respect social distancing in the mosques, being at least two meters from each other.