CAIRO — The first day of the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan is particularly significant to Muslims all over the world. However, They cannot enjoy Ramadan properly due to coronavirus pandemic restrictions this year.
An Egyptian Muslim, Sayed Mahmoud, usually celebrates the lunar month’s start with a big gathering of his married daughters and their families in his Cairo house for the fast-breaking iftar meal at sunset.
But this Ramadan, the 64-year-old pensioner will have to forgo this tradition due to government restrictions imposed in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
“The joy of Ramadan is about family reunion and the warmth of coming together for the iftar and worshipping,” he said.
“This isn’t possible this Ramadan because of the corona(virus). My daughters and grandchildren are living outside Cairo. The curfew and home isolation make it difficult for them to come to join me and my wife for the iftar,” the father of three added.
Authorities in the Arab world’s most populous country have implemented a nationwide nighttime curfew and closed mosques to contain the outbreak.
During Ramadan, which begins Thursday, observant Muslims abstain from eating, drinking, and smoking from dawn to dusk.
In normal times, the faithful flock to mosques for intense worship and read Islam’s holy book, the Koran, to experience spiritual renewal. The month is also marked by a special nightly prayer called “Taraweeh” usually performed in packed mosques.
But this year, Egypt has said the mosques will remain shut in Ramadan to protect public health and called on Muslims to worship in their homes instead.
Authorities have also banned public charity banquets, a time-honored feature of Ramadan in the predominantly Muslim country.
Colorful street decorations, ushering in Ramadan, have all but disappeared this year.
Traditionally, Ramadan revelers would stay outdoors until dawn in Egypt’s bustling public places. But this year cafes and other businesses are shuttered, making this impossible.
Similar steps are in place in other mostly Muslim countries, casting a shadow over Ramadan’s religious and social traditions.
“This Ramadan is different due to the coronavirus and the related restrictions,” Abdel-Hadi al-Musawi, an Iraqi Muslim cleric, said.
“These measures will prevent Iraqis from keeping Ramadan traditions such as the gathering of relatives and friends at the iftar banquets,” the 57-year-old man added.
“They won’t either be able to go to mosques and holy shrines that are now shut. This is unfamiliar,” he said.
Amina Khaled, an Iraqi Muslim, has her own reasons to feel sad.
“We had originally planned to spend Ramadan this year in the holy sites in Mecca and Medina. But the precautions imposed because of the virus have prevented us from making the trip,” the 53-year-old woman said.
Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, has halted religious journeys to Mecca and Medina and put several areas under lockdowns in a bid to stem the coronavirus outbreak.
In Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, restrictions are also impacting Ramadan observance.
Authorities in the greater Jakarta area, home to about 30 million people, have imposed a partial lockdown, banning a gathering of more than five people, including congregation prayers, and restricted travel.
Places of worship, nonessential businesses, entertainment centers, and schools have been ordered to close.
“This Ramadan won’t be like it used to be,” Ida Nursanti, a 43-year-old Jakarta housewife, said.
“We won’t be able to perform the Taraweeh in the mosque, and sadly, there won’t be joyous iftar gatherings with friends and mass Eid prayers,” she added, referring to Eid al-Fitr festival that marks the end of Ramadan.
The situation does not differ much in Algeria, one of the Arab countries hit hardest by the coronavirus outbreak.
“The pandemic has changed life patterns all over the world. The Muslim communities are no exception,” Youcef Mushria, an advisor at the Algerian Ministry of Religious Affairs, said.
“Now that the mosques have been closed, the prayers, including the Taraweeh, will be performed in homes in compliance with rules of domestic isolation,” he told DPA.
For Libyans, Ramadan comes as their country battles a double ordeal: a years-long war and coronavirus crises.
“We experienced Ramadan before under war,” Ali al-Ruhaibi, a Libyan man said. “But this year, things are worse as the pandemic has placed an unexpected burden on us.”
The North African country descended into chaos after the 2011 overthrow of dictator Moamer Gaddafi and has become a battleground for rival proxy forces.
“This Ramadan, we’ll miss a lot of traditions,” al-Ruhaibi said. “We’ll miss congregation prayers in mosques, particularly the Taraweeh. We’ll miss reciting the Koran in mosques.”
“We’ll miss smiles on the people’s faces as they compete to host charity iftar banquets in the streets,” he added.