Ramadhan unites Muslims worldwide amid coronavirus-enforced physical separation

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries have been forced to take strict precautionary measures to rein in the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak during Ramadhan.

Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Asheikh, Saudi Arabia’s grand mufti, said people would have to perform Taraweeh and Eid prayers at home to prevent spreading the virus.

Oman’s Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs issued a statement prohibiting Taraweeh prayer in mosques with an exception for calls for prayer.

Kuwait’s Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs shared a video showing Sheikh Raed Al-Hazimi, the imam and khatib, explaining the importance of abiding by the measures.

“Allah Almighty wanted, through Islamic law, to preserve the five necessities in Islam: Religion, mind, property, honor and the self.

“If one of these necessities are threatened, exceptions will be made. The spread of this pandemic threatens the self, therefore, the fatwa from the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs came to close mosques,” he said.

Egypt – Ramadhan without Taraweeh

The COVID-19 precautionary health measures, which include the suspension of Friday prayers in mosques, have made for a somber Ramadan across Egypt.

“The decisions with regard to group prayers, including Taraweeh, were taken on the basis of scientific opinion of specialists from various medical institutions, on top of which are the Egyptian Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization,” Mohamed Gomaa, the Egyptian minister of endowments, said on Wednesday. “Both confirmed the dangers of praying in groups in transmitting COVID-19.”

Pointing out the legal basis on which the decision was made, he said: “Our noble religion taught us that the life of someone praying is more important than praying in a mosque, and that saving lives against all hazards is one of the essential aims of our noble religion.”

Abdel-Meguid Abdel-Aziz, a history researcher, said multiple accounts suggested that during the reign of Caliph Al-Aziz Bellah, the Fatimids canceled Taraweeh prayers in Egypt’s mosques for 10 years.

The Ministry of Endowments introduced a number of measures on Wednesday, one of them being that calls to prayer would be announced only in mosques and not in smaller congregational prayers.

Anyone caught violating the ministry’s instructions would be relieved from working in mosques, with no exception granted to even imams and staff.

Jordan – Qatayef to be available at local bakeries

The availability of popular Ramadan sweets matters a lot to Jordanians during the holy month.

Minister of State for Media Affairs Amjad Adaileh put consumers at ease when he said that local bakeries could sell the popular folded pancake called qatayef.

With large group prayers, iftar meals and Taraweeh prayers forbidden, local TV stations are expecting a quantum jump in viewing figures.

Zakaria Sheikh, owner of Amman-based Haqiqa Al-Dowalieh TV station, said a mix of Ramadan season programs had been planned.

“Our fare will include news and commentary on social and awareness programs, Palestinian news and cultural and religious quizzes,” he added.

Turkey – Pandemic hits Ramadhan traditions in Turkey

Social-distancing measures adopted by Turkey mean Ramadan will be celebrated this year without the typical large meals shared with friends, relatives, neighbors, or the poor.

Turkey has banned mass meals during Ramadan as the number of COVID-19-related deaths soared.

To prevent large groups of people from gathering, political parties and municipalities have been prohibited from setting up tents for offering iftar and suhoor meals for free. Mosques have been shut for weeks now.

The sale of pide, a Turkish Ramadan traditional flatbread, is regulated by a government decree that requires people to maintain social distance in queues at bakeries. The selling time of this Ramadan-specific bread will end two hours before the iftar meal.

Citizens have also been banned from giving money to musaharaties, Ramadan drummers who walk through neighborhoods to remind people for their last meal before dawn.

Trips to cemeteries during Ramadan will be strictly regulated, with officials subjecting visitors to temperature checks.

Lebanon – Refugees stare hunger in the face amid lockdowns

Lebanon’s citizens received a jolt on the eve of Ramadan as the US dollar’s buying rate touched 3,575 liras and its selling rate 3,625 liras at money changers, while the official rate remained 1,515 liras.

Banks in Lebanon are refusing to give customers their dollar deposits and have also stopped returning deposited funds.

The lira’s drop coupled with higher demand for foodstuffs during Ramadan has resulted in the doubling of prices of fruit and vegetables.

“This year, I’ll settle for only one dish a day, along with a salad and some soup,” said Samar Bakkar, a supermarket shopper in Beirut. “The Ramadan family gathering that happens every year will not take place because of the coronavirus. My husband has been receiving half pay for the past three months, so we cannot afford the luxuries we were used to.”

Kibbi, the head of the charity fund, which helps Palestinians in the occupied territories as well as Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, said: “People who support this fund have told us they might not be able to donate much because their financial situation has deteriorated. And these are just the big traders.”

Ghassan Ayoub, a member of the PLO’s political leadership, said Ramadan would be tough for Lebanon’s Palestinian refugee population, dispersed across 12 official camps and 11 other locations.

“Even before the coronavirus pandemic, the situation was hard in the camps. Jobs were virtually non-existent. We faced a crisis, with Palestinians forbidden from working,” he added.

Based on an official Lebanese-Palestinian census, around 175,000 refugees live in the camps.

There are 910,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon who are registered with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and their circumstances are no better.

Abu Mohammed, who lives in a camp in the Bekaa Valley, said: “We used to eat only one meal in the afternoon because that is what we could afford. Nothing will change now. We will keep on eating one meal but at sunset for Ramadan. There’s no interaction between people in the tents.”

Lisa Abou Khaled, UNHCR spokesperson in Lebanon, said: “Three-quarters of Syrian refugees in Lebanon live below the poverty line. Their daily income does not exceed $4. Their situation has become harder with the COVID-19 crisis.”

She said the UNHCR helped 20 percent of Syrian refugees’ families with a monthly amount and provided food assistance to around 40 percent of refugees.

Palestine – A return to community values

The arrival of Ramadan in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic has forced major changes in how Palestinians celebrate the month, especially in the holy city of Jerusalem.

Sheikh Muhammad Hussein, the mufti of Palestine, said: “By the decision of the Islamic Waqf, there will be no mass prayers in Al-Aqsa Mosque, no mass iftar meals and even the task of sighting of the crescent to determine the beginning and end of Ramadan will be given only to specialists from the fatwa department and members of the Palestinian Astronomical Association.”

The Israeli Ministry of Health said shops in places with large Muslim populations would not be allowed to open between 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. during Ramadan.

Wasfi Kailani, executive director of the Hashemite Fund for the Restoration of Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock, said: “This is the first time in history that Islam’s third-holiest mosques will be closed for the entire month of Ramadan, which sees attendance sometimes surpassing 250,000 during Ramadan Fridays.”

Kailani praised the cooperation between the Islamic Waqf and the Orthodox Church in distributing packages and cash support to Jerusalem’s needy families, most of whom were also unemployed.

Taraweeh prayers would be broadcast online from Al-Aqsa Mosque on a daily basis, Waqf officials told Arab News.

Micky Rosenfeld, a spokesman for the Israeli police, said while Ramadan was an important month for Muslims, they must celebrate it this year in a minimal and responsible way. “We call upon all the public in the different communities to obey specific laws and regulations of the police and Ministry of Health so that we can keep everyone safe.”

Israel has allowed a maximum of 19 worshippers to meet at any location for religious prayer on the condition of social distancing.

Israeli officials issued fines of up to $1,200 to people who gathered at the Christian quarter to receive the holy fire during Easter. Many felt it was an early warning by Israeli health officials to discourage large gatherings.

“Ramadan has become the month of extravagance and huge meal banquets,” Ata Qaymari, a Jerusalem-based publisher, told Arab News. “The coronavirus pandemic will bring Ramadan back to its original values of modesty, prayers and meditation.”

India: People observe Ramadhan in lockdown shadow

With forlorn markets and mosques, the first day of Ramadhan in the national capital on Saturday lacked the usual festive atmosphere as people stayed indoors and most shops remained shut in the wake of lockdown due to coronavirus outbreak.

“There is a festive mood on Ramadhan as people throng the markets and the mosques have increased footfall. But all this is missing this time due to the lockdown and people are keeping indoors,” said Burhanuddin, a resident from Lal Kuan in the walled city.

The eateries and shops in old city areas including Chandni Chowk and the neighbourhood of Jama Masjid are normally teeming with not only those observing Roza, but also with food lovers from other parts of the city.

But only a few shops were open in these areas on Saturday.

“Due to restrictions of lockdown most of the shops are closed. There is also confusion regarding opening shops in the evening hours,” Burhanuddin said, adding, “I hope the government will relax the lockdown restrictions so that people do not face hardships in buying food”.

Many of the ‘Rozedars’ (those who observer fast during Ramadhan) complained that ‘khajla-feni’, a staple during this period for ‘sehri’ (food taken in early hours), is unavailable.

“Khajla (a deep fried food item) mixed with milk amd sugar is a complete diet. But, we are not getting it from shops famous for it like Sri Bhawan near Jama Masjid and Chenaram,” said another resident.

As all religious places are closed due to the lockdown, people could not visit mosques for prayers.

“Islam has the option of offering Namaz at home under unavoidable situations. So, people need to stay at home and offer Namaz and read Tarabi(ritual prayers) during Ramadhan, by following social distancing norm as there is threat of epidemic,” said Shahi Imam of Fatehpuri mosque Mufti Mukarram Ahmed.

Prominent clerics of the city including Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid Syed Ahmed Bukhari and bodies like Delhi Waqf Board have appealed the people to offer Namaz at their homes during Ramadhan and follow social distancing and other lockdown guidelines. “Lockdown itself is a big challenge. With Ramadhan it is even a bigger problem as we are unable to go to the mosques. But the situation is unavoidable with coronavirus infecting a large number of people,” said Shahid, president of resident welfare association of old city locality Gali Darziyan.

For many, a total halt of commercial and industrial activities during lockdown in the city has also led to financial constraints.  (With India inputs from PTI)