Ramadan like never before: Muslims observe fast under Covid-19 restrictions

By Sarwar Kashani

Srinagar, India, May 3 (EFE).- Showkat Hussain, a Muslim businessman in India-administered Kashmir, had never missed out on the nightly congregational prayers during the month of Ramadan in his living memory.

But for Hussain, 70, like many other Muslims in India that has become the global epicenter of the coronavirus crisis, it is the second year in a row that he has not been to a mosque for tarawih prayers, a mainstay of Ramadan, offered every night during the month of fasting.

This Ramadan, like in 2020, has been an unprecedented experience for over 1.8 billion Muslims globally, of about which 200 million live in India.

“I started going for tarawih prayers with my father when I was 10 or 11. And since then, there has not been a single-day break,” Hussain told EFE.

The pandemic disrupted the way Muslims the world over prayed, including in India, where mosques were closed to worshipers last Ramadan, a time for fasting, worship, and charity.

This year also, many mosques across India closed down after daily Covid-19 cases started growing exponentially in the second wave of the virus outbreak, coinciding with the beginning of Ramadan.

Ramadan fasts require Muslims to abstain from food and drink during daylight hours, which they believe is an act of worship and enables them to strengthen spiritual health and self-discipline.

Usually, people would host community iftar, the evening meal to break Ramadan fast at sunset, in mosques.

But as part of social distancing measures, many mosque management committees have only allowed the muezzin to sing the call to prayer over loudspeakers.

The priest prays in the mosque with four or five worshipers, and the rest of the people break their fast and offer namaz at home.

“It is not the same now. It was not like that last year also,” said Hussain, who sells medical equipment in Srinagar, the main city in the Muslim-majority Kashmir region.

“What we miss in these tough times is congregational prayers in mosques when we could raise our hands collectively in submission to Allah, seeking his forgiveness.”

Mufti Nazir Ahmed, a well-known Islamic scholar in Kashmir, said offering prayers at home was “inevitable,” the way Muslims did last year when the first wave of the pandemic hit the globe.

“In normal circumstances, Muslim men cannot pray at home,” Ahmed told EFE.

Nazir, who heads an Islamic seminary in north Kashmir, said the pandemic rules of social distancing run contrary to the spirit of Ramadan.

“The concept of fasting, besides voluntary starvation, emphasizes on community building. Iftar is an occasion to congregate, to feed those who may not be able to fend for themselves and their families,” the Mufti said.

“But Covid-19 isolation, lockdowns, restrictions have made all that impossible.”

The scholar said he insisted people follow Covid-appropriate behavior because “it is only a matter of time before we return to normal.”

India, home to about the world’s third-largest Muslim population, has been battling a spiraling Covid-19 crisis, with over 300,000 daily cases reported since mid-April.

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