Muslims navigate restrictions in the 2nd pandemic Ramadan
CAIRO >> For Ramadan this year, Magdy Hafez has been longing to reclaim a cherished ritual: performing the nighttime group prayers called taraweeh at the mosque once again.
Last year, the coronavirus upended the 68-yearold Egyptian’s routine of going to the mosque to perform those prayers, traditional during Islam’s holiest month. The pandemic had disrupted Islamic worship the world over, including in Egypt where mosques were closed to worshippers last Ramadan.
“I have been going to the mosque for 40 years so it was definitely a very, very, difficult thing,” he said. “But our religion orders us to protect one another.”
Still, “It’s a whole other feeling, and the spirituality in Ramadan is like nothing else.”
Egypt has since allowed most mosques to reopen for Friday communal prayers and for this Ramadan it will let them hold taraweeh, also with precautions, including shortening its duration.
Ramadan, which began Tuesday in Egypt and other countries across the Middle East, comes as much of the world has been hit by an intense new coronavirus wave. For many Muslims navigating restrictions, that means hopes of a better Ramadan than last year have been dashed with the surge in infection rates though regulations vary in different countries.
A time for fasting, worship and charity, Ramadan is also when people typically congregate for prayers, gather around festive meals to break their daylong fast, throng cafes and exchange visits.
Once again, some countries are imposing new restrictions. But concern is high that the month’s communal rituals could stoke a further surge.
“The lack of adherence that happened last Ramadan, hasty lifting of the curfew imposed at the time and re-opening of places of congregations ... led to grave consequences that lasted for months,” said Ahmed Al-Mandhari, the World Health Organization’s regional director for the Eastern Mediterranean.
“We have a lot of worries of a repeat of what had happened last Ramadan, especially since Ramadan coincides with another important holiday, which is Easter,” he said by email. Orthodox Christians mark Easter on May 2.
In Pakistan, new case numbers grew from fewer than 800 a day at the start of the month last year to more than 6,000 a day a few weeks after Ramadan ended. Officials largely attributed the increase to Pakistanis flouting restrictions. After a dip, the country is back up to more than 5,000 new cases a day.
Iran on Saturday began a 10-day lockdown amid a severe surge in infections that followed a two-week public holiday for Nowruz, the Persian New Year.
Economic hardship also looms over the month for many. In war-torn Syria, Abed al-Yassin was concerned about what his iftar — the meal at sunset breaking the fast— will look like this year.
“It will be difficult to even have fattoush,” al-Yassin said, referring to a salad that is a staple of the holy month in his country.