For Ramadan this year, Magdy Hafez has longed to reclaim a cherished ritual: performing nightly group prayers called taraweeh in the mosque once again.
Last year, coronavirus increased the 68-year-old Egyptian’s routine of going to the mosque to perform these prayers, traditionally during the holiest month of Islam. The pandemic had disrupted Islamic worship around the world, including in Egypt, where mosques were closed to worshipers last Ramadan.
“I have been going to the mosque for 40 years, so it was definitely a very, very, difficult thing,” he said. “But our religion commands us to protect one another.”
Still, “It’s a completely different feeling, and the spirituality of Ramadan is like nothing else.”
Since then, Egypt has allowed most mosques to open for common prayers on Fridays, and for this Ramadan, it will allow them to observe taraweeh, even with precautions, including shortening its duration.
Ramadan, which begins this week, comes as much of the world has been hit by an intense new coronavirus wave. For many Muslims navigating restrictions, this means that hopes for a better Ramadan than last year have been marred by the increased level of infection, even though the rules vary in different countries.
A time of fasting, worship and charity, Ramadan is also when people usually gather for prayers, gather around feasts to break their day-long fast, cafes and exchange visits.
Once again, some countries are imposing new restrictions. But there is great concern that the month’s joint rituals could lead to another wave.
“The lack of compliance that happened last Ramadan, the sudden lifting of the curfew at that time and the resumption of assembly places … led to serious consequences that lasted for months,” said Ahmed Al-Mandhari, the World Health Organization’s regional director for the Eastern Mediterranean.
While #Ramadan social traditions can change, we can still keep our spirits alive. Instead of social gatherings, we can show our love for family / friends by encouraging them to stay safely at home and connect by phone or video call.
Dr Al-Mandhari @WHOEMRO Regional Director pic.twitter.com/Tn5WEls92H
– VEM EMRO (@WHOEMRO) April 12, 2021
“We have a lot of concern about a repetition of what happened last Ramadan, especially since Ramadan coincides with another important holiday, which is Easter,” he said via email. Orthodox Christians mark Easter on May 2.
In Pakistan, the number of new cases increased from less than 800 per day at the beginning of last month to more than 6,000 per day a few weeks after the end of Ramadan. Officials largely attributed the increase to Pakistani fighting. After a dip, the country is back to more than 5,000 new cases a day.
Iran on Saturday began a 10-day shutdown amid a severe increase in infections that followed a two-week public holiday for Nowruz, the Persian New Year.
Financial difficulties also threaten over the month for many. In war-torn Syria, Abed al-Yassin was worried about what his iftar – the meal at sunset that breaks the fast – will look like this year.
“It will be difficult to even have fattoush,” al-Yassin said, referring to a salad that is a staple of the holy month in his country.
He spends his second Ramadan in a tent deal near the Turkish border after being expelled from his hometown last year during a Russian-backed government offensive that displaced hundreds of thousands.
“Our main desire is to return to our homes,” said al-Yassin, who lives with his wife, three sons and daughter in a tent. He relies mostly on food aid, he said. The residents of the camp have recently received bags of lentils, pasta and bulgur and receive bread daily.
‘We must learn from last year’
Lebanon is under pressure from the worst economic and financial crisis in its modern history, exacerbated by the pandemic and a massive deadly explosion in Beirut in August.
“We are going through a period when some people are fasting, whether it is Ramadan or not,” says Natalie Najm, an insurance broker. Even with her job, she can barely cover food costs, she said. “What about others who lost their jobs?”
To prevent large gatherings during Ramadan, Saudi Arabia has banned mosques from serving iftar and suhoor, a meal just before Lent begins at sunrise.
Many Muslim religious leaders, including in Saudi Arabia, have tried to dispel concerns about getting the coronavirus vaccine during Ramadan, saying it does not violate fasting.
In Pakistan, authorities allow mosques to remain open during Ramadan with rules in place that include blocking worshipers over the age of 50 and requiring masks.
But given how rules were widely ignored last year there, doctors have asked the government to close mosques.
“We are very concerned about the rallies,” Dr Qaiser Sajjad, general secretary of the Pakistan Medical Association, said on Sunday. He called on the government and Pakistani priests to put together a better plan during Ramadan to stop the spread of the virus.
“We have to learn from last year,” he said. Sajjad calls for a complete closure of the eastern city of Lahore.
Back in Egypt, Nouh Elesawy, Deputy Secretary for Mosque Affairs at the country’s Ministry of Giftedness, had a message for believers earlier this month: “If you want God’s house to be open, follow the precautions and regulations. ”
( Jowharwith AP)