As Ramadan begins with the new moon this week, Muslims around the world are trying to maintain the cherished rituals of Islam’s holiest month without further spreading the coronavirus.
Dr. Iftekhar Ahmad, of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Chicago, said this year’s Ramadan celebrations will be an adjustment.
“We are going to be doing our evening reading of the Quran and that discussion, prior to the breaking of the fast, over a video conference,” Ahmad said.
He stressed that community is an important part of Ramadan, but it’s just one aspect of the holy month.
“The real core of the month is about spiritual reflection, it’s about individuals getting closer to God,” Ahmad said. “Doing prayers in congregation, going to the mosque — those are tools that we use to reach that goal.”
At the heart of Ramadan is the sunrise-to-sunset fast, meant to instill contemplation of God. But alongside the hardship of abstaining from food and drink for hours every day, the month sweeps everyone up into a communal spirit. Families and friends gather for large meals at sunset, known as iftars.
In some countries, cafes and cultural events are packed late into the night. Worshippers go to mosques for hours of evening prayers, or “taraweeh.” Many devote themselves to charity.
Muslims now find themselves cut off from much of what makes the month special as authorities fight the pandemic. Many countries have closed mosques and banned taraweeh to prevent crowds. Prominent clerics, including in Saudi Arabia, have urged people to pray at home.
Governments are trying to balance restrictions with traditions.
The loss of communal charity meals will particularly hurt as people lose jobs under coronavirus restrictions. Some are rushing to fill the void.
In Kashmir, the Muslim-majority territory contested by India and Pakistan, volunteers wearing masks and gloves drop off sacks of rice, flour, lentils and other staples for Ramadan at the doorsteps of those in need in the city of Srinagar.
They try to do it quietly, so not even the neighbors know they are receiving help.
“We have to take care of these people’s self-respect,” said one volunteer, Sajjad Ahmed.
Taïb Socé, a famous Muslim preacher on Rfm, a private radio station in the Senegalese capital, Dakar, said that while the government is taking action, “the rich must also help the poor.”
“Solidarity must be in order. This is what the Prophet Muhammad did during times of war. COVID-19 is like a war,” he said.
Donors can’t help everywhere when need surges so quickly.
In the Gaza Strip, the group Salam Charitable usually receives donations from Turkey, Malaysia, Jordan and elsewhere for its Ramadan relief projects.
Last year, it was able to distribute 11,000 food parcels and clothes for children. Charities are vital in Gaza, which has been under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade for 13 years, leaving more than half the population of 2 million under the poverty line.
This year, giving has dried up.
“This time last year, we had already three contracts to give food parcels to the poor. This year we don’t have any,” said Omar Saad, spokesman for the charity. “I think we missed the opportunity because Ramadan is starting soon.”