Muslim community begins the most important month of the Islamic calendar in pandemic

The month of Ramadan and its celebration during the pandemic

AFP/MINISTERIO DE MEDIOS SAUDÍ - The Kaaba, Islam's holiest shrine, at the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Mecca on 26 July 2020.

For the second year in a row, the Holy Month of Ramadan will occur in the midst of a pandemic of the notorious COVID-19. Despite the knowledge we have already mastered and awareness of the virus, the essential nature of the Holy Month requires reiterating the importance of having a sense of individual responsibility and respecting all safety measures and restrictions. 

Whereas last year Ramadan began in the midst of a worldwide confinement, this year it will take place during the new normal. Under restrictions, curfews and security measures, in addition to the fact that many Muslim countries are in the midst of a COVID-19 vaccination campaign. 

This month of fasting for Muslims around the world will be affected in a few ways, with Tarawih prayers not being able to be performed collectively and family members not being able to gather to break the fast. But the most important thing about Ramadan is the spirituality that this month holds in the hearts of Muslims, so its celebration will not affect any individual outside of the practitioner. 

Some Arab countries in light of the increase in cases, despite official warnings of the seriousness of the situation and in particular the rising death rate in many countries, are tightening restrictions to deal with this new wave. 

Un hombre lee el Corán en la Gran Mezquita antes del mes sagrado de ayuno del Ramadán. REUTERS/MOHAMED AL-SAYAGHI

Although in the UAE, for example, the infection rate has decreased significantly in recent weeks, with the total number of infections on 21 March 2021 down 56.8% compared to the peak on 3 February 2020. At the regular media briefing given by the UAE Government on 16 March 2021, the National Contingency, Crisis and Disaster Management Authority (NCEMA) announced a series of precautionary measures during the Holy Month of Ramadan so as not to set back gains. These measures include banning family and commercial tents and iftars in public areas, as well as the distribution of iftar meals in front of houses and mosques.

NCEMA noted that those wishing to help distribute meals should coordinate with charitable authorities, adding that Zakat donations should be paid electronically. Family visits should also be avoided, as well as the sharing of meals between houses and families, and only families living together in the same house can have a group iftar inside the house. It will allow Tarawih prayers in accordance with COVID-19 precautionary measures and preventive instructions related to prayers, but will prohibit iftar tables in mosques and limit Isha and Tarawih prayers to 30 minutes.

For its part, Egypt on Tuesday issued several decisions in preparation for the upcoming month of Ramadan, including the need to provide important goods and supplies at low prices and to cope with the pandemic. The measures include, Tarawih prayers not exceeding 30 minutes and not bringing children to mosques while prayers are being performed, the ban on holding large gatherings during Ramadan in enclosed places such as funerals or celebrations continues. It also places a strong emphasis on strengthening security campaigns in markets to control prices and tackle commercial fraud.

In Saudi Arabia, iftar and suhur meals will also not be allowed inside mosques during Ramadan, the minister of Islamic affairs said on Tuesday. Sheikh Abdullatif al-Asheikh said the practice of i'tikaaf, which involves staying in a mosque for several days, will also be suspended.

The General Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques Affairs said the daily capacity of the Grand Mosque in Makkah would be increased to 50,000 pilgrims and 100,000 worshippers. Sheikh Abdulrahman al-Sudais, head of the Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques, said that vaccination is a requirement to enter the Grand Mosque and the Prophet's Mosque.

Niños musulmanes organizan comidas Iftar (romper el ayuno) dentro de una mezquita durante el mes sagrado de ayuno del Ramadán, en Guwahati, India, en 2018.

Tunisia has extended its night-time curfew by three hours and tightened other restrictions ahead of Ramadan after a surge in COVID-19 infections. The measure will apply from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. from Friday until at least 30 April. Government spokeswoman Hasna ben Othman also announced other measures Wednesday night, including a ban on all public and private gatherings, as well as the closure of weekly markets and stricter use of face masks. 

Morocco will also strengthen the curfew during Ramadan to curb the coronavirus pandemic, an executive statement announced Wednesday. "The government has decided to ban night travel nationwide from 20:00 to 06:00 hours," the press release confirmed, however the date is yet to be specified by local religious authorities.

It took restrictive measures such as a ban on festivals and gatherings, a de facto suspension of collective night prayers in mosques and a ban on traditional family outings after breaking the fast. Under a state of health emergency since mid-March last year, a curfew in place since December, the North African country recently stepped up preventive measures to limit the spread of the virus and its variants, with the British variant being of particular concern.

Moreover, the Muslim community living in the West will have to respect the security measures that each country has imposed. However, despite all these restrictions, the observance of Ramadan will not affect the pandemic or alter cases because Tarawih prayers can be done at home with online monitoring through many portals. Fasting is individual and iftar and suhur can be carried out normally without family gatherings.