In shadow of coronavirus, Muslims face a Ramadan like never before
Days before the holy fasting month of Ramadan begins, the Islamic world is grappling with an untimely paradox of the new coronavirus pandemic: enforced separation at a time when socialising is almost sacred.
The holiest month in the Islamic calendar is one of family and togetherness – community, reflection, charity and prayer.
But with shuttered mosques, coronavirus curfews and bans on mass prayers from Senegal to Southeast Asia, some 1.8 billion Muslims are facing a Ramadan like never before.
Across the Muslim world the pandemic has generated new levels of anxiety ahead of the holy fasting month, which begins on around Thursday.
In Algiers, Yamine Hermache, 67, usually receives relatives and neighbours at her home for tea and cold drinks during the month that Muslims fast from dusk till dawn. But this year she fears it will be different.
Ramadan in Asia
Ramadan is a holy month for the world's Muslims. It is a month of peace and the time in which the Koran was first sent down from heaven to the Prophet Mohammed. The fasting takes place from sunrise to sunset and means abstinence from eating, drinking and sex. It is a form of worship. Those who fast should gain a better appreciation of the predicament of the poor and the destitute. Ramadan is also a month devoted to intensive prayer and social welfare. Our slide show presents impressions of Ramadan from the varied Islamic cultures all across Asia.
During Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, the breaking of the fast, or ''Iftar'', begins at sunset. A Pakistani family celebrate ''Iftar'' on the square of the 17th century Mughal Badshahi Mosque in Lahore
A father and son in Indian Kashmir conduct the cleansing ritual to prepare themselves for the obligatory prayers. Ramadan is also a time devoted to intensive prayer and spiritual reflection
Every country has its own culinary customs for the ''Iftar'' celebration. In Pakistan, for example, the fast is broken with dates, pakora, choley and chutney. A short prayer is uttered before the breaking of the fast
Muslims are required to share their food with the poor during Ramadan. Here in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, food is prepared for residents of the entire city
Iftar dinner for jobless men in Afghanistan. Alongside the declaration of faith, daily prayer, the pilgrimage to Mecca and the giving of alms, fasting is, as one of the five pillars of Islam, an integral element of the faith
Children, such as this boy, who is a member of the Chinese Hui minority, are exempt from fasting. Pregnant women and the sick are also not required to fast
Women conducting ''Tarawih'' prayers at the Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta. Tarawih prayers are extra prayers performed at night during Ramadan
Ramadan sees increased numbers of the faithful visiting holy shrines, to express their wishes and prayers. Iranian Shiites touch the grave of Saleh at his mausoleum north of the capital Tehran
Close to the historic Eyüp Sultan Mosque in Istanbul, people enjoy the short night before the next day of fasting begins
Household outgoings soar during Ramadan. Many people are not only spending more money on food, they also buy prayer mats and other religious articles. Market in Bangladesh
China is home to around 22 millions Muslims, members of the Hui and Uyghur minorities. Many of them are fasting this month. Two Hui Muslims read the Koran in this Chinese mosque in Beijing
The beginning and the end of Ramadan are determined with the sighting of the crescent of the moon. This year, the holy month began on 1 August and will probably continue until the 30 or 31 of August
“We may not visit them and they will not come,” she said, weeping. “The coronavirus has made everyone afraid, even of distinguished guests."
In a country where mosques have been closed, her husband Mohamed Djemoudi, 73, worries about something else. “I cannot imagine Ramadan without tarawih,” he said, referring to additional prayers performed at mosques after iftar, the evening meal in which Muslims break their fast.
In Jordan the government, in coordination with neighbouring Arab countries, is expected to announce a fatwa outlining what Ramadan rituals will be permitted, but for millions of Muslims, it already feels so different.
From Africa to Asia, the coronavirus has cast a shadow of gloom and uncertainty.
‘Worst year ever’
Around the souks and streets of Cairo, a sprawling city of 23 million people that normally never sleeps, the coronavirus has been disastrous.
“People don’t want to visit shops, they are scared of the disease. It’s the worst year ever,” said Samir El-Khatib, who runs a stall by the historic al-Sayeda Zainab mosque, “Compared with last year, we haven’t even sold a quarter.”
During Ramadan, street traders in the Egyptian capital stack their tables with dates and apricots, sweet fruits to break the fast and the city’s walls with towers of traditional lanterns known as "fawanees".
But this year, authorities have imposed a night curfew and banned communal prayers and other activities, so not many people see much point in buying the lanterns.
Among the few who ventured out was Nasser Salah Abdelkader, 59, a manager in the Egyptian stock market.
"This year there's no Ramadan mood at all," he said. "I'd usually come to the market and right from the start people were usually playing music, sitting around, almost living in the streets.”
Dampening the festivities before they begin, the coronavirus is also complicating another part of Ramadan, a time when both fasting and charity are seen as obligatory.
‘All kinds of togetherness missed’
In Algeria, restaurant owners are wondering how to offer iftar to the needy when their premises are closed, while charities in Abu Dhabi that hold iftar for low-paid South Asian workers are unsure what to do with mosques now closed.
Mohamed Aslam, an engineer from India who lives in a three-bedroom apartment in downtown Abu Dhabi with 14 others is unemployed because of the coronavirus. With his apartment building under quarantine after a resident tested positive, he has been relying on charity for food.
In Senegal, the plan is to continue charity albeit in a limited way. In the beachside capital of Dakar, charities that characteristically hand out "Ndogou", baguettes slathered with chocolate spread, cakes, dates, sugar and milk to those in need, will distribute them to Koranic schools rather than on the street.
Meanwhile in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, some people will be meeting loved ones remotely this year.
Prabowo, who goes by one name, said he will host Eid ul-Fitr, the celebration at the end of the fasting month, via the online meeting site Zoom instead of flying home.
"I worry about the coronavirus," he said. "But all kinds of togetherness will be missed. No iftar together, no praying together at the mosque and not even gossiping with friends.” (Reuters)