Every year during Ramadan, the Light of Muhammad Mosque in Cairo sets up long tables on the street and dishes out free meals at sunset for the underprivileged to break their daily fast. It’s a charity that many rely on in the impoverished district on the edge of the Egyptian capital.
This practice could be potentially dangerous due to the coronavirus. Many such events, including “Tables of the Compassionate,” have been barred in Egypt and in other Muslim countries.
So, the mosque, which like others in Egypt had to shut its doors as a precaution against the virus, will use the funds that would have gone into the free communal tables to distribute packaged meals and cash to those in need.
“We hope this could ease their suffering,” said Sheikh Abdel-Rahman, the muezzin of the mosque in the district of Bahtim.
As Ramadan begins with the new moon later this week, Muslims around the world are trying to maintain the cherished rituals of Islam’s holiest month without further spreading the outbreak.
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.
Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Egypt loosened their curfews, moving them back to start anywhere from a half-hour to 90 minutes after sunset. That gives time to get to iftars, but not much: People can’t go too far to visit others unless they intend to stay the night.
Other countries have banned long internal travel. Syria gave people a window of two days this week to move between provinces, then restored its ban.
In Malaysia, Mohamad Fadhil said he will miss out on the surge in business at the Ramadan bazaar, where he and other sellers hawk food and drinks in crowded open-air markets. The bazaars have been shut down.
But he hoped the country’s lockdown will be eased so he can bring his 7-year-old daughter home. She was at his parent's house about an hour away when the lockdown began six weeks ago, trapping her there.
“I hope we can be together as a family during Ramadan,” he said.
In Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, the government has banned millions of government employees, soldiers and police from traveling home during Eid al-Fitr, the holiday marking the end of Ramadan.
“Fear of coronavirus has blocked us from celebrating Eid with my parents,” said Rachmad Mardiansyah, a civil servant in Jakarta.
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 have been dropping 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.
Taib Soce, 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.
In Germany, the Coordination Council of Muslims in Germany (KRM) is preparing for the opening of mosques on May 3, which were closed as part of the anti-coronavirus measures.
Burhan Keskin, chairman of the KRM, told Anadolu Agency (AA) that they will prepare a draft on how to conduct worship in mosques during the pandemic after a meeting at the Interior Ministry and present the draft to the government and state administrations.
Stressing that they are aiming to open mosques at the beginning of May by taking some measures, Kesici said: "Surely, it depends on the course of the outbreak and what kind of steps that the politicians will take. Our aim is to open the mosques on May 3.”
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