For many Muslims, Ramadan is a time of renunciation and mercy, but also of praying and eating together. In the Corona crisis, however, the long tables and mosques remain empty. Only the internet can help against loneliness.
Traditions and rituals are sacred to many Muslims. But in the Corona crisis, they too have to give up loved habits. From Morocco to Egypt to Saudi Arabia, the mosques have been empty for weeks. In some places, the muezzins have adapted the call to prayer. They no longer shout “come to prayer”, but “pray at home”.
Even the Great Mosque in Mecca, where thousands of pilgrims walk around the Kaaba every day, has died out. The holiest city of the Muslims was cordoned off early after the virus spread to the slums and to workers who were working to expand the mosque. “Our hearts are crying,” said Ali Mulla, a veteran muezzin from Mecca, the AFP news agency.
Painful break with traditions
The inner pain for many Muslims is likely to increase from Thursday when the new month of Ramadan begins. In the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, Prophet Mohammed is said to have retired to a cave near Mecca, where the Archangel Gabriel revealed the Koran to him.
Today, on the one hand, Ramadan is a time of renunciation, in which fasting should not only take place during the day but also worldly delights such as smoking, chewing gum or framing sex. Similar to Christmas for Christians, Ramadan is also a time for Muslims to visit friends and families and to pray and eat together. They are deeply rooted traditions that are also celebrated by Muslims who do not practice strictly.
The focus is on the iftar – the common and often abundant fasting break after sunset – and the nightly prayers (tarawih) in the mosques. In countries like Egypt, which lives Ramadan intensely, people turn day to night. Street cafes and restaurants are full, mosques distribute food to the poor who gather at long tables or on the floor, colourful Ramadan lanterns light up the dark everywhere.
But none of this will be the case this year. Like other Arab countries, Egypt has banned nighttime outings and large gatherings. The muezzin of the influential Al-Azhar mosque is also heartbroken: “If I call people, nobody can come. It feels like God rejects us, “said Mohammed Rashad Zaghlul the “New York Times”.
Mosque becomes a free market
But even if it will not be an atmospheric Ramadan, there are certainly ways to implement the commandment of the good deed for the next and most needy even in Corona times. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends in their guidelines for “safe Ramadan practices” to distribute the food in packets to the poor. The advice is followed: mosques, charities, and merciful businessmen have cancelled their banquets and are serving portions to the socially disadvantaged.
The Dedeman Mosque in Istanbul also had to close its doors for prayers. For this, it has now reopened as a free market for the poor. The wealthy can donate food that the needy can then pick up in the entrance hall. Only two people can enter the mosque at a time and choose eight products each. “I need it,” said a woman to AFP. “My husband doesn’t work. I cleaned in private households, but because of the virus, I am no longer booked. “
In the UK, the Ramadan Tent Project has been organizing large open-air iftars for seven years. Around 50 were planned this year. Now the organization wants the biggest thing under the hashtag “MyOpenIftar” Organize virtual fast breaks. Interested parties can register online, receive recipes delivered to their homes and have the opportunity to meet on the screen for a live iftar.
Despite the pandemic: fasting remains a duty
The Muslims do not appear to be fasting away from the coronavirus either. Doctors warned that a dry throat could increase the risk of infection. However, Al Azhar University in Cairo ruled that even in times of the pandemic fasting is compulsory as long as the believer is not infected. So far, it has not been proven that drinking water can prevent infection. After all, the scholars allow believers to gargle with water.
People don’t have to do without the popular Ramadan series on TV. Given the ban on going out, their entertainment value should be estimated even more this year. Despite the risk of infection film crews worked in the streets of Cairo until April in order to complete the television series, which are often propagandistic in Egypt.
Even after the month of fasting, Muslims will not be able to practice their rituals as usual. The big pilgrimage to Mecca – the Hajj – has not yet been cancelled. Over two million believers take part every year. In view of the epidemic, however, it is difficult to imagine that such a mass event could already be held at the end of July. As a precaution, Saudi Arabia, which makes around eight billion dollars a year with the Hajj, has called on all Muslims not to book a trip to Mecca yet.