Muslims in many parts of the world marked the start of Ramadan on Tuesday, but a spike in coronavirus cases in several countries has once again put curbs on the holy month’s signature feasts and lengthy prayers in mosques.
Still, there are glimmers that Ramadan 2021 could feel less restricted than last year, when Islam’s holiest period coincided with the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Mosques have since reopened and limits on movement have eased as vaccine rollouts continue in Muslim-majority nations. Clerics in such places as Indonesia have issued assurances the vaccine does not break one’s daytime fast.
Ramadan is marked by longer prayers, dawn-to-dusk fasting and nightly feasts with family and friends, though crowded shoulder-to-shoulder gatherings in mosques and large gatherings for meals remain prohibited due to the continued spread of coronavirus globally.
Throughout Ramadan, Muslims abstain from any food or drink – including water – from morning to night. The month-long practice is aimed at heightening remembrance of God, curbing unhealthy habits and deepening gratitude.
In Mecca, home to the Kaaba – Islam’s most sacred site – Muslims performed socially distanced taraweeh prayers, marking the start of Ramadan. Observant Muslims around the world pray toward the Kaaba five times a day.
Only limited numbers of worshippers are being allowed inside the Grand Mosque that houses the Kaaba in an effort to prevent the spread of the virus. Saudi authorities are only allowing individuals who’ve been vaccinated or recently recovered from the virus to perform taraweeh prayers at the Kaaba.
In Lebanon, most Muslims began Ramadan on Tuesday amid soaring inflation. The small country is in the grips of the worst economic and financial crisis in its modern history, with the Lebanese currency losing some 80 percent of its value against the U.S. dollar in past months.
The crisis – a result of decades of endemic corruption and mismanagement – has been compounded by the coronavirus pandemic. Many people are having to scale back their Ramadan preparations.
We cannot buy anything. We ask how much the lettuce is, the cucumber and the tomato, said Samiyeh al-Turk at a busy open air market in Beirut Monday. “How are we going to get through the month of Ramadan? I don’t know, she added.
In Iraq, a curfew will remain in place from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. throughout Ramadan, with total lockdown on weekends. The Health Ministry warned that non-compliance with these measures could lead to three-day continuous lockdowns. Citing economic concerns for business owners, restaurants and pastry shops will be able to operate but solely through home deliveries.
Meanwhile, a 10-day lockdown due to increased infections went into effect on Tuesday in northeastern areas of Syria controlled by U.S.-backed fighters. The region, which borders Iraq and Turkey, is home to 5 million people.
In Indonesia, COVID-19 cases are also spiking. Mosques are being allowed to open for Ramadan prayers with strict protocols in place.
The government will allow people to hold iftar gatherings during Ramadan in restaurants, malls and cafes, which can open at 50