A Call to Prayer?

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Normality has seemed like a distant reality for the majority of 2020, Covid-19 having the largest impact on humanity of any event in living history. Populations across the world have had to find new solutions to cope, different countries tackling the virus in different ways. Ramadan has, for many Muslim-majority countries, been a necessary focus in Coronavirus planning due to the importance of many social aspects within the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. 

As one of the five pillars of Islam, Ramadan is a particularly important time for Muslims. Rituals within Ramadan offer a sense of community – they gather in mosques or streets; involve themselves with charity and use their breaking of fasts as a communal affair in which large iftars are usually hosted, often to help the poor. Covid-19 however rendered much of this impossible.

Perhaps the biggest consequence of Coronavirus for Muslim-majority countries was the impact the virus has had on holding social gatherings and communal prayers during Ramadan. The nightly prayer of Taraweeh is a favourite Ramadan ritual for Muslims, held at mosques and bringing members of the community together. The WHO however advised virtual alternatives, though Rozana Isa, head of Malaysia-based group ‘Sisters in Islam’, criticised this: “[On] this occasion where we have to practise physical distancing, not to greet one another in the way that we usually greet by hugging our fellow Muslims or shaking their hands, this will definitely have an impact on the spirit,”. 

Rituals within Ramadan offer a sense of community; Covid-19 rendered many of the activities impossible or dangerous

Economic impacts were also prevalent – Ramadan is a time when many Muslims partake in giving charity and zakat which is another of the five pillars of Islam, large numbers relying on this charity. A nightly nation-wide curfew was imposed in the UEA on March 26th meaning charities now delivered iftar meals to the poor instead of serving them in Ramadan tents or mosques. A mosque in Saudi Arabia however took this further – the mosque of Prophet Muhammed did not provide iftar meals to those in need, many being unable to break their fast.

The political significance of Ramadan during Covid-19 has been of particular contention – different lockdown policies were enacted by different Muslim-majority countries and Muslims have therefore had varying amounts of freedom depending on their location in the world, something Islamic activists have taken issue with. Morocco and Pakistan took distinctly different approaches – Moroccan citizens were “formally prohibited from traveling outside their home” between 7:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m., being unable to distribute food packages or share meals within this time. Pakistan however took a much more relaxed view – Islamic clerics were allowed to hold mass prayers while practicing social distancing. 

Despite the Pakistani Muslim population generally praising this governmental decision, it was found that during Ramadan, more than 60% of positive Covid-19 cases were linked to religious events. Prime Minister Khan has since been slammed for an apparent “lack of policy” in tackling coronavirus, this once popular policy now seen as a death sentence for worshippers who thought it safe to continue many Ramadan traditions.

The question here is clear: should the government have the power to dictate how its citizens are able to worship? During Covid-19 it is clearly necessary for some restrictions to be in place in order to protect lives. Arguably sacrificing some traditions and practices within Ramadan, though unfavourable, is essential to ensure the holy month can be celebrated under normal circumstances in years to come as well as ensuring minimal lives are lost. Though politics and religion are and should remain largely separate, a pandemic surely warrants government intervention in order to save lives and protect its population.

Image: Pooyan Manoochehry via Flickr

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