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Ramadan and Covid-19

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BY: Junaid Ahmad Khan

With the spread of Covid-19 impacting millions of people worldwide, the holy month of Ramadan, which is scheduled to begin on or around Thursday 23, April may look very different this year.

For Muslims around the world, Ramadan is one of the most revered months of the year. Many of the World’s estimated 1.6 billion Muslims will fast every day, abstaining from food and drink from the sunrise to sunset as an act of worship. Islam follows lunar calendar, which means the dates of Ramadan change every year. Muslims believe that through fasting, they are able to strengthen their relationship with God, practice willpower and empathise with the less fortunate.

Muslims observing Ramadan use the weeks in the run-up to ensure their kitchens are stocked with ingredients for traditional meals. This year curfews and lockdowns imposed in some countries, as well as reduced opening hours, mean that many Muslims will struggle to prepare as usual month ahead. Independent businessman and market sellers are likely to be some of the hardest hit by the pandemic as Ramadan is typically a key period for bakeries, restaurants and craft sellers.

Fast during Ramadan is obligatory. Exemptions are made for children, women who are pregnant, nursing and people who are ill or travelling. Those who are experiencing Covid-19 symptoms may not have to fast during Ramadan, if they are not physically able. A beating drum can sometimes be heard during the early hours. This is Musaharati/Sehar Khawan, who wakes up residents in time for the predawn suhoor and wishes residents a blessed month. This year the sound of the Musaharati/Sehar Khawan may be silenced as they abide by lockdown regulations.

During the day itself, most Muslims who observe the fast continue to work and attend universities/colleges/schools, while abstaining from food, but the Coronavirus pandemic has forced thousands of schools to shut and millions of people to work from home. This could bring some relief to some of those who are fasting; the hours usually spend travelling to and from work can instead be used to be catch up on sleep lost during the late nights.

Ramadan is very communal festival through the month-but this too may be affected by the Coronavirus pandemic. Iftaar-literally translated as “breaking the fast”- is a highly anticipated meal often shared with extended family, and friends. The spread of Covid-19 will likely stop larger families and groups from gathering, as Governments Worldwide urge people to physically distance for me one another. It may also prevent those living in smaller households, who often invited to join a larger gathering, from doing so. To get around the social distancing restrictions, some organizations should set up online webinars and video conferences in order to address spiritual questions and offers advice on how to benefit from the holy month.

Every evening during Ramadan, extended Prayers, called Tarawih, take place in mosques around the world. These communal acts of worship are held in the belief that there is greater reward for prayers made in congregation. Mosques fill with worshippers during this time: the more popular venues are filled to overflowing, with the faithful following prayers from the courtyard and surrounding streets. But this year, many mosques have already closed their doors to curb the spread of the virus. In some parts of the Middle-East, the Azaan, or call to prayer, which is amplified from mosques five times a day, has been used to encourage people to stay safe. In Kuwait, the call has been altered to include the phrase “pray in your homes” instead of the usual “come to pray”.

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