The Islamic holy month of Ramadan begins on Thursday in extraordinary circumstances, as a majority of the world’s almost two billion Muslims find themselves under some form of lockdown or curfew due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Ramadan is usually a time of community, with Muslims coming together in communal Taraweeh prayers and iftar meals to break their daily fast at sunset. Mosques play a central role during Ramadan, hosting Taraweeh prayers and providing public iftars to bring the community together and provide a vital source of food for the poor in society.
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But this year, many Muslims will not be able to experience the communal traditions of Ramadan due to restrictions on movement and social gathering imposed in Islamic and Muslim-majority countries across the world.
While Muslims are still expected to fast between sunrise and sunset, religious authorities in key Islamic countries including Saudi Arabia and the UAE have ordered that prayers be done at home to prevent the virus from spreading via communal gatherings in mosques.
Other countries however, such as Pakistan, are keeping mosques open – with critics suggesting this could put public health in danger and undermine efforts to contain coronavirus.
Here is a country-by-country guide to how Muslims are able to celebrate Ramadan.
Ramadan under coronavirus in the Arabian Gulf
Unlike most of its Gulf neighbors, Bahrain will host some public Taraweeh prayers in its al-Fateh Grand Mosque. However, the prayers will only involve the imam and five people at a time under social distancing rules. The prayers will likely be shown on television, according to sources familiar with the matter.
Elsewhere in the kingdom, mosques and prayer rooms are still suspended following a March 23 announcement.
Kuwait extended its already relatively strict curfew to last until the end of May, including the whole of Ramadan.
The country closed mosques and asked people to pray at home on March 13 and has yet to reopen facilities.
Oman has banned mass gatherings including prayers for Ramadan as the sultanate experiences a rise in cases.
“The committee stresses the importance of avoiding all gatherings during the Holy Month of Ramadan,” said Oman’s Supreme Committee for dealing with COVID-19 in a statement on Tuesday.
“[The committee] affirms that the closure of mosques – even for Tarawih prayers – will continue, except for the call to prayer (Azaan),” read the statement.
Qatar has also closed mosques and suspended communal prayers, with no announcement of them reopening for Ramadan.
“Ramadan gatherings, such as iftar in mosques, tents or public majlises and social, cultural, sports and other group activities are strictly prohibited,” it added.
Saudia Arabia, which is home to Islam’s holy cities of Mecca and Medina, has enforced strict lockdown measures for its residents as the number of cases continues to rise. The measures include a suspension of all prayers at Mosques.
Communal Taraweeh prayers will not be held at mosques and should be held at home, according to an announcement by the Kingdom’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Sheikh. The Mufti added that if the outbreak continues throughout Ramadan, then communal Eid al-Fitr prayers at the end of the month should also be held at home.
On Wednesday Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz approved a reduced version of Taraweeh prayers in the Two Holy Mosques in Mecca and Medina for just workers and employees. Entry to the general public will remain prohibited.
The Kingdom had earlier suspended the yearlong Islamic pilgrimage of Umrah, so pilgrims will be unable to make the pilgrimage during Ramadan this year.
Saudi Arabia’s Council of Scholars has also urged Muslims across the world to pray at home if they reside in countries where lockdowns have been enforced.
Watch: #SaudiArabia has enough foodstuff to sustain the public throughout the month of #Ramadan despite the #coronavirus outbreak that has put most areas on lockdown, says the spokesman for the Kingdom’s Ministry of Trade Abdulrahman al-Husain.https://t.co/EV6a7KjH0u pic.twitter.com/HBF1uIR58I— Al Arabiya English (@AlArabiya_Eng) April 20, 2020
United Arab Emirates
The UAE has also advised that prayers can be held at home during Ramadan, as mosques currently remain closed.
The Emirates Fatwa Council, a body which issues fatwas or religious rulings, urged on Monday for Muslims to pray at home and ruled that the Taraweeh prayer could be done at home too. The ruling reiterated an earlier ruling from the Emirate of Dubai’s Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities Department advised Muslims to perform Taraweeh prayers at home.
The council also said that coronavirus patients and frontline medical workers were exempt from fasting.
Ramadan under coronavirus in the Middle East and North Africa
Algeria closed its mosques on March 17 amid fears of the coronavirus spreading and are set to remain closed for Ramadan.
Quran recitations and religious speeches will be broadcast from minarets during Ramadan, according to the head of Algeria’s Fatwa Committee Muhammad Adir Mashnan.
Egypt was the first major Muslim country that was reported to be canceling communal iftars and prayers during Ramadan.
The country announced back in April 7 that it would be suspending all Ramadan activities including group iftars due to coronavirus.
On Saturday, Egypt’s top Sunni Muslim authority Al-Azhar confirmed that Muslims would still be expected to fast during Ramadan.
Watch: “We do not feel the joy of #Ramadan,” says a customer at a Cairo market selling traditional “Fanous” lanterns as #Egypt enforces a tight lockdown to curb the #coronavirus pandemic. https://t.co/7eCafDFwjp pic.twitter.com/nH4cVVJmMR— Al Arabiya English (@AlArabiya_Eng) April 21, 2020
Iran, one of the worst-hit countries by the coronavirus pandemic in the Middle East, has been gradually reopening “essential” businesses in recent weeks as the economy struggles under coronavirus and US sanctions.
Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has appealed to Iranians to pray at home during Ramadan, while urging them to “not neglect worship, invocation, and humility in our loneliness.”
Watch: Men gather in secret at night in #Iran’s Shia holy city of Qom to practice religious rituals despite the countries’ social distancing rules aimed at slowing the spread of the #COVID_19 #coronavirus.https://t.co/VMIXkJtED0 pic.twitter.com/lfCqco6gjk— Al Arabiya English (@AlArabiya_Eng) April 19, 2020
Iraq has lifted some of the curfew measures imposed on March 15 ahead of Ramadan. New measures will allow movement inside Baghdad during the daytime hours of 6 a.m. until 7 p.m. and some shops to reopen.
However, it is unclear whether authorities will tolerate mass gatherings for Ramadan.
Iraq has been in a state of unrest since at least the outbreak of mass protests in October 2019 against a political elite accused of being corrupt. Despite the coronavirus measures, Iraq has witnessed political and religious gatherings including by followers of Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
Jordan will ban mosque prayers during the Ramadan according to a government minister on April 14. The kingdom has enforced a strict lockdown in the capital Amman, arresting people who leave their homes.
Libya remains in a state of conflict which is setting the country up for a disastrous coronavirus outbreak, according to experts and international organizations. Control of the country is split between the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) supported by a variety of militias and the Benghazi-based Libyan National Army led by Gen. Khalifa Haftar.
Lebanon, which is home to 18 officially recognized religious sects and thought to be around two thirds Muslim, is under a state of lockdown with mosques across the country currently closed.
However, footage has emerged from the northern city of Tripoli showing Muslims continuing to congregate for Friday prayers despite the restrictions on gatherings.
Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque compound will be closed to Muslim worshippers throughout Ramadan, announced the Jordan-appointed council that oversees Islam’s third-holiest site on Thursday.
The decision extends a ban on Islamic prayers at the holy compound, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, that has been in effect since March 23.
The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and the Palestinian Territories Muhammad Hussein has also advised against the public sighting of the crescent moon, which is used to estimate the start of Ramadan.
In the Gaza Strip, Hamas shut down all mosques for two weeks.
The Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad in Damascus has announced that mosques will remain closed for communal prayers until at least May 2.
Syria is still in a state of war, with areas including parts of the northwestern Idlib province controlled by anti-government opposition forces.
Like its neighbor Algeria, Tunisia also suspended prayers and closed mosques in mid-March. They have not been reopened ahead of Ramadan.
Turkey previously suspended mass prayers in mosques on March 16, when the country only had 18 coronavirus cases.
Last week, the country’s senior religious body confirmed that mosques will remain closed for Taraweeh and other communal prayers during Ramadan. It also called on Muslims to avoid hosting large communal iftar meals and practice social distancing.
Ramadan under coronavirus in the rest of the world
Around 80 percent of Bangladesh’s 168 million people are Muslim and have been under a state of nationwide lockdown since March 26.
The prime minister has called on Bangladeshis to pray at home during Ramadan, but has faced resistance from influential clerics who have called on Muslims to turn out in their masses for daily prayers.
Last week, tens of thousands of people defied the lockdown to attend the funeral of a top Islamic preacher. A month before, at least 25,000 people attended a Muslim prayer meeting in a field in the southern city of Raipur to chant “healing verses” to rid the country of the deadly virus.
Muslim devotees take part in the Akheri Munajat, or final prayers, during the annual Muslim gathering 'Biswa Ijtema' in Tongi, some 30 kilometers north of Dhaka on January 12, 2020. (AFP)
Despite only around 15 percent of Indians being Muslim, the country is home to 201 million Muslims – making it the country with the second-largest Muslim population in the world.
The Indian government has imposed a strict nationwide lockdown, although some states slightly eased restrictions on Monday.
On Thursday, Islamic scholars in India appealed to Muslims to remain home when praying and abide by the nationwide lockdown, according to Khaleej Times. The country had previously experienced controversy when Muslims were accused of spreading the virus due to a religious congregation in a mosque in New Delhi in early March, despite members other faiths also congregating in India during March.
Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, home to an estimated 229 million Muslims.
On Tuesday, the country banned its traditional annual exodus – known as “mudik” – when millions of Muslims leave cities at the end of Ramadan to visit their families in the countryside.
Last year, about 19.5 million people in the archipelago of more than 260 million people made the journey, the government says, and President Joko Widodo added that 7 percent of Indonesians had already setout this year.
In a study last week, researchers at the University of Indonesia’s public health faculty warned that if the exodus home were permitted, it could lead to a million infections by July on the most populous island of Java, home to Jakarta.
President Widodo had resisted pressure to impose a lockdown until recently, when a limited shutdown was imposed on the capital Jakarta in early April, with the measures including limits on religious events.
The country’s Ministry of Religious Affairs has also issued guidelines that Taraweeh prayers and Quran recitations should be performed at home, according to an Anadolu Agency report. Public Eid prayers have also been canceled.
France, which is home to Europe’s largest Muslim minority population, has closed all 2,800 mosques and prayer rooms in the country since March 15.
“During Ramadan, Taraweeh (night prayers) will be suspended and all prayers will be performed at home,” said Moussaoui Moussaoui, president of the French Council of Muslim Faith (CFCM), as quoted in Arab News.
“We called on imams to use all means of communication at their disposal to connect with people, so some imams have recorded sermons and prayers and uploaded them online,” he added.
Nigeria, home to Africa’s largest Muslim population, has issued advice for Muslims to avoid social and religious gatherings during Ramadan. The country has banned large gatherings amid the threat of coronavirus.
Nigeria’s most senior Islamic body, the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, has decreed that Taraweeh prayers in mosques should be suspended for Ramadan due to COVID-19. The decision, posted on the organization’s website and signed by director Alh. Ysuf Nwoha, cited the closure of mosques in Saudi Arabia in its reasoning.
Unlike most other Muslim countries, Pakistan has lifted restrictions on congregational prayers at mosques ahead of Ramadan.
The South Asian nation, the second most populous Muslim country in the world, imposed the restrictions less than a month ago, allowing only three to five people at mosques for prayers.
However, after a meeting between President Arif Alvi and religious leaders, it was announced that the restrictions were lifted, meaning Muslims can pray at mosques during Ramadan.
Anyone visiting or praying at a mosque is required to wear a face mask and maintain a two-meter distance from each other, contrary to the usual practice of praying shoulder-to-shoulder.
The government had been under pressure to reverse the congregation restrictions, and clashes between mosque attendees and police had been reported in Karachi, the country’s largest city.
Watch: Thousands of devout Muslims are flouting the #Pakistan government orders issued late last month banning religious congregations of five or more people to stem the spread of the #coronavirus.#COVID_19https://t.co/O0Hn7VJvH9 pic.twitter.com/O6WiaxggMS— Al Arabiya English (@AlArabiya_Eng) April 15, 2020
The UK government announced all places of worship including mosques must be close under its lockdown in late March.
On Friday, one of the country’s leading Muslim figures said that mosques would remain closed during Ramadan unless the lockdown is lifted.
“It would be deemed extremely irresponsible to congregate for night prayers or hold religious gatherings during this Ramadan in any mosque or houses with people who are not members of the immediate household,” said Qari Asim, the chair of the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board told the Guardian.
United States of America
The rules for lockdowns and religious gatherings vary state by state in the US, which has the highest number of coronavirus cases and deaths in the world. There are around 3.5 million Muslims in the US – around 1 percent of the population.
The Islamic Society of North America and other Muslim groups have called for prayers and gatherings to be suspended during Ramadan.
US President Donald Trump caused controversy last week after he suggested that officials enforcing lockdown measures would treat Muslims less severely than Christians.
"I would say that there could be a difference and we'll have to see what will happen. Because I've seen a great disparity in this country,” he said in a press conference, adding “They go after Christian churches but they don't tend to go after mosques.”
States including Kansas and Kentucky imposed limits on religious gatherings during Easter, prompting a backlash from some who accused governors of imposing on their constitutional right to worship freely.
With agencies.SHOW MORE