Ramadan 2020: Muslims Prepare to Spend Holy Month Under Lockdown

How the Coronavirus Has Impacted Ramadan

A number of religious festivals have taken place/are set to take place in April. As of the writing of this piece, Jews around the world are celebrating the holy holiday of Passover, while Christians are also celebrating Easter, the most important religious festival in the Christian calendar. The month of April will also witness the beginning of the holy Islamic month of Ramadan, which is expected to begin on April 23 and end on May 23 (though dates may vary as it is based on the lunar Hijri calendar). During Ramadan, Muslims around the world fast by abstaining from food and drink from dawn to sunset. Muslims observing the fast are also required to participate in a number of spiritual activities such as prayer, and they’re encouraged to give to charity and read from the Holy Quran. Ramadan is also a time in which families and friends gather to break fast together, and the first day of Ramadan is usually when many extended families meet and have a hearty meal after a long day of fasting. Some Muslims might even go to Mecca to participate in the Umrah pilgrimage, which unlike the Hajj, can be performed at any time of the year. However, the novel Coronavirus has forced people around the world to adapt to new changes, and Muslims around the world will also need to adapt to new ways of religious observance and gatherings. While things may seem grim now, Jews and Christians have also been forced to make sacrifices with regards to Passover and Easter, respectively. While this year’s Ramadan will be different, there is no doubt it will be memorable. Here’s a list of how Ramadan will be affected by the Coronavirus pandemic.
 
NO PRAYER CONGREGATIONS
 
Throughout the month of Ramadan, it is customary for Muslims to congregate at mosques and participate in daily prayers. While not all Muslims pray at mosques, many pious Muslims consider Ramadan a good opportunity to increase their times spent in prayer and reflection. Furthermore, every night after the Isha prayer (the fifth and final prayer of the five daily Muslim prayers), mosques hold the Taraweh prayers. During the Taraweh prayers, large portions of the Quran are read, and the number of rakat (prayer cycles) is increased (the number of rakat a congregations performs during Taraweh varies from mosque to mosque). In many Muslim countries, it is common to hear imams leading Taraweh prayers recite Quranic verses into midnight, and it is common to find many Muslims spending their post-iftar evenings at the mosque. However, due to lockdowns and social distancing restrictions that are being enforced in a number of Muslim countries, most mosques have been shut down. Videos and images of landmark mosques such as Masjid Al Haram, the El Aqsa and Amr ibn al-As being vacant during times of prayer made headlines all over the Muslim world. For the first time in living memory, mosques all around the world were not welcoming Muslims for weekly Friday prayers. As such, Muslims have had to spend the last few Fridays praying regular Duhr (second of the five daily Muslim prayers) at home rather than Friday prayers at mosques. Even though social distancing restrictions will prevent Muslims from gathering at mosques, it’s not all gloom and doom for those wishing to pray Taraweh prayers. While it is encouraged to pray tarawih in mosques, it is permissable to pray Taraweh prayers at home. 
 
There is a question of whether or not congregational prayers can be done virtually. While priests and rabbis all over the world have been streaming online sermons to fill the void left as a result of the pandemic, most imams don’t think that virtual congregations can replace physical congregations. That isn’t to say that imams have rejected the idea entirely, some have been recording spoken word sermons for Friday (without the prayers) and posting them online. 
 
NO FAMILY GATHERINGS
 
Ramadan is a time in which families and friends gather to break their fast together. Again the social distancing measures put in place will make that difficult. Understandbly, this can be an especially tough time for those who live alone and look forward to those annual family gatherings for company and comfort. Thankfully, with the advent of technology, friends and families can have virtual reunions via video messaging platforms such as Skype or facetime. Many Muslim countries which are usually busy this time of year, will be uncharateristically quiet and somber. Countires such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE  and Jordan have imposed strict lockdown measures to help curb the spread of the virus. Other countries such as Malaysia have gone as far as arresting and detaining those who violate lockdown measures which have been put in place since March. While gatherings might in theory be possible in countries with less strict measures, such as Egypt which only has a 8 PM to 6 AM curfew in place, the fact that most Ramadan gatherings and events take place in the evening would make such prospective reunions difficult. 
 
ALTERNATIVES TO IFTAR TABLES
 
As charity is one of the traditions of Ramadan, it is customary to find “Ma’edat Al Rahman” (tables of mercy) which are charities which provide Iftar meals to the needy. Streets across Muslim countries are lined up with tables which host tens to hundreds of people who are provided with a full iftar meal during Maghrib. The tradition started in Egypt by Ahmed bin Touloun in 880. During Ramadan, he invited dignataries and merchants to dine with him in his residence and then he ordered them to open their own homes for the needy during the month. While the tradition has been on an on again and off again basis, since the 20thcentury it has become a mainstay in Egypt. Moreover, the tradition has spread to a number of Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Lebanon, Turkey and Nigeria. As social distancing measures make such public gatherings difficult, the Egyptian Ministry of Awqaf (religious endowments) stated that the charitable effort would be cancelled for this year’s Ramadan. Instead, those who were going to provide an Iftar table should instead give food, aid or money directly to the needy and this can be done through charities which provide “Ramadan boxes” filled with food and supplies which are given to needy families.