Practicing Ramadan During a Pandemic
By: Tasnim Elnasharty/ Arab America Contributing Writer
Ramadan, normally marked by social gatherings and feasts, is now a muted affair under lockdown. The world’s nearly 2 billion Muslims are not able to hold communal feasts and prayers that are a hallmark of Ramadan, their holiest month.
Ramadan is normally a sociable time, as abstention from food and water during daylight hours gives way to sumptuous meals and gatherings at dusk.
But this year, the coronavirus pandemic has cast a long shadow over the rituals, which have been modified to fit public health directives on physical distancing.
Mosques remain closed to evening prayers and feasting has become a more intimate affair, within the confines of family homes. Large public banquets, provided by authorities, or benefactors, have been outlawed in much of the Islamic world, where curfews and lockdowns remain rigidly enforced.
The pandemic has forced many Arab governments to order restrictions on travel, gatherings, and collective prayers the likes of which the world has not seen before. Around the world, mosques that worshippers swarmed during Ramadan are expected to be empty or have limited attendance.
In Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the doors of Kaaba, the holiest of sites for Muslims, are usually full to the brim with worshippers from around the world during Ramadan. Now, they are closed. Masjid al-Nabawi, the mosque of Muhammad, the Muslim Prophet, is similarly shut.
Saudi Arabia’s grand mufti, Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah Al Al-Sheikh, has told people to pray at home, including the special nightly Ramadan prayers called Taraweeh that attract throngs to mosques. Al Mulla, the muezzin at the Grand Mosque in Makkah, the man responsible for reciting the call to prayer, told the French news agency his heart ached at the thought, “we are used to seeing the holy mosque crowded with people during the day, night, all the time…I feel pain deep inside,” he said.
The restrictions will likely impact the less fortunate who count on the numerous charity tables that spring up across the world wherever Muslims reside. “In the mosque, we used to prepare Iftar, the evening meal, for people who cannot afford it. We also prepared Ramadan food bags and financial aid to poor people. With the current crises, this is decrease somehow, but we hope for the good,” said Eslam Elsherbeny, an imam in Cairo, Egypt.
Others are finding ways to keep the spirit of giving alive. Rana Osama in Islamabad has been organizing a charity table every Ramadan for the last four years.
“This year we cannot organize a charity table. So, we have increased food delivery at home because a lot of people have been impacted by this pandemic. Until now, we have delivered more than 2,000 bags of groceries,” he said. He intends to continue this throughout Ramadan.
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