Usually a time for prayer and communal gatherings, this year’s Ramadan will be a more solemn and sombre affair.

As Muslims started observing the holy month of Ramadan, the vast majority of the 1.8 billion adherents have seen their rituals changed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing lockdowns.

In many countries where Muslims reside, mosques will be closed and the call to prayer for many will be observed at home. 

The coronavirus outbreak has meant that Muslims during the month of Ramadan will not be able to meet in large numbers with friends and family to renew social bonds and engage in acts of charity. 

All these things will now be observed strictly within the confines of homes. 

How is fasting being affected in different countries? 

In the month of Ramadan, Muslims wake up before dawn to eat a meal, suhoor, and break their fast after sunset with a meal called iftar.

Often breaking of the fast is a communal affair, however, during these extraordinary times, such a move could have public health consequences which is why countries around the world have moved to limit them. 

In Turkey, the Ministry of Interior made a series of announcements in the run-up to Ramadan. 

Bakeries serving special Ramadan flatbread will stop taking orders two hours before the breaking of the fast to avoid long queues. 

A tradition dating back several hundred years, with drummers going around different neighbourhoods to wake people for the morning suhoor, will also be stopped. 

Public transportation services will be increased three hours before the time to break the fast to prevent overcrowding, and food retailers will be monitored to stop unscrupulous traders from jacking up prices. 

The latest measures follow the closure of mosques more than a month ago.   

In a similar move, Egypt, the most populous Arab country, has also halted communal prayers or breaking of the fast. The government has organised a series of digital activities to encourage social distancing. 

Malaysia’s hugely popular Ramadan bazaars have also been shuttered in a bid to stop the spread of the virus. 

The Health Ministry's director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah recently said: “The government will probably discourage mass gatherings for the next six months or one year.”

The coronavirus has also impacted some of Islam’s holiest sites. Jerusalem’s al Aqsa Mosque is closed to all but those looking after the site. Similarly, the grand mosques of Mecca and Medina have fallen silent. 

One country bucking the trend is Pakistan, where mosques are largely open and worshippers have defied government attempts to limit the size of the congregations. The government released a series of rules including that worshippers should maintain social distance between themselves, bring their own prayer mats and do their ablutions at home. Critics have argued that the measures may ultimately do more harm than good.

Can Muslims still fast during the pandemic? 

As a rule, only those who are able and fit to fast are required to observe Ramadan. The sick, the elderly and infirm, pregnant women and young children are not required to observe the fasts.

If a person is experiencing coronavirus symptoms they should consult a doctor or err on the side of caution and abstain from fasting.

There are no medical studies to date that suggest fasting could make one susceptible to contracting the coronavirus.

In the UK a prominent Islamic scholar, Dr Mohammad Akram Nadwi, argued that for front line medical staff fighting against the virus it is not “obligatory to fast in Ramadan, but it is obligatory for them to fast the same number of days missed in Ramadan at a later time when those conditions of hardship have passed or eased”.

Source: TRT World