Ramzan Amidst Battle Against Coronavirus
Soumya Awasthi, Associate Fellow, VIF
Introduction

One of the most potent weapons against combatting Covid-19 pandemic is the norm of social distancing. Social congregation is an anathema to the norm of social distancing. Therefore, during the time when Covid-19 has spread its tentacles wide and deep, all types of events which attract public gathering be it sports, entertainment, tourism or religious festivities have been strictly ruled out and illegalized by the governments world over.

In the context of India, when Covid-19 was threatening to be invasive it was the time of Holi festival which could not be celebrated because it would have had violate social distancing norms. And now another festival of the country, the holy month of Ramzan is knocking at the door. There are apprehensions as the festival attracts huge gatherings in the mosques which would lead to proliferation of the virus. As humanity jostles between the spread of virus and Ramzan, this article aims to dispel certain myths and analyze the likely impact of COVID-19 in the holy month of Ramzan.

Significance of Ramzan

With the onset of the holy month of Ramzan or Ramadan scheduled to be starting this week, several Muslim majority nations are oscillating between the decision of lockdown and Ramzan celebrations under the given circumstances.

Ramzan, according to the Islamic calendar, is the ninth month which celebrates the revelation of the first verse of the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad. During this time, Muslims worldover observe Roza and devote maximum time on ibadat, namaz, zakat (charity), and other such religious acts. Certain groups of Muslims gather to expand knowledge in their faith by joining study circles known as halaqah. Several Muslim men choose to stay in mosques during this period to strengthen their connection with Allah. Festival of Ramzan celebrates its most important tradition of Tarawih (evening prayer) together in close proximities followed by iftar (breaking of fast).

Ramzan is one of the most awaited months for the Muslims as it allows them to mingle with their extended families, close friends and participate in large congregations; for businessmen it is the time of the year when their businesses make the maximum profit. Markets and streets are buzzing with people shopping, feasting on delicacies and there is a semblance of celebration everywhere.

Impact of Coronavirus on the Rituals of Ramzan

Ramzan celebrations are likely to be affected due to social distancing and curfews on the streets. Several countries have issued notices against its public celebrations and have made announcements to confine themselves at home.

However, this year has hit hard to all such celebration plans. As social distancing has to be followed in letter and spirit there is no option left for such events but to skip all of it. Apart from the ban on mosques against public congregation and curfews in the markets, fasting is also one of the most debated aspects.

Although fasting is one of the obligatory practices during Ramzan, this year, many doctors and religious leaders have discouraged people from observing roza for long hours. Doctors are suggesting that people must avoid fasting as it dries out the throat increasing chances of contracting infections. Moroccan Islamic scholar Abdelwahab al-Rafiqi has told the media that given the precarious situation, fasting should be discouraged. He further stated that even by not fasting at this time, we are performing a duty for the community and has greater rewards.1

However, certain religious scholars have unbolted a theological debate on the question of fasting. The theological experts from the Al-Azhar University, Cairo world's prime Sunni Islamic institution have maintained that fasting is mandatory unless an individual is tested Corona positive.

In fact the Al Azhar officials made a statement that Muslims are required to fast this year, and fasting has nothing to do with the possibility of an increased risk of catching coronavirus. "Not fasting during Ramadan is not permissible due to coronavirus, and fasting is a duty and a must for Muslims," officials said in a statement. Al Azhar's fatwa is based on the feedback they received from the World Health Organisation, which says that drinking and gargling with water does not protect a person from catching COVID-19 virus.2

Dr Ali Ahmad Masha'el, Grand Mufti at the Dubai Department of Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities, said: "Fasting is the fourth pillar of Islam, and nothing can excuse one from not fasting except for ailing people who are on medication and fasting may complicate their health condition. He quoted a verse from Quran, "O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that possibly you would be pious," [Al Baqarah 2: 183].3

What is Happening in India and around the World

The Prime Minister of India, while conveying bonhomie and respect for all religions, tweeted on April 19, 2020 that "COVID-19 does not see race, religion, colour, caste, creed, language or border before striking. Our response and conduct thereafter should attach primacy to unity and brotherhood. We are in this together."

In an interview with ANI, the Minority Affairs Minister Sh. Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi made an appeal to the maulanas, clerics and other Muslim community leaders to encourage Ramzan prayers at home instead of praying in mosques.

Asaduddin Owaisi, AIMIM party President, in a press note from Jamia Nizamia, Hyderabad, appealed to Muslim community from Muftis and Ulemas of all Schools of Thought, to refrain from ijtema (gathering) for Tarawih. He appealed that Dua, Durood-e-Shareef and Astasqfar (penance) should be performed at home during the coming month of Ramzan in view of the nationwide lockdown. He also stated that the appeal is not only for the people of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh but to be followed by people across India. In the press note he stated "in the Sharia, responsibilities and duties are assigned at the same time, exceptions and concessions are given during extraordinary circumstances. Offering Tarawih is a sunnah and here, too, exceptions are allowed."

Darul Uloom Deoband, prime Islamic seminary second to Al Azhar University of Cairo, has issued fatwas (guidelines) on April 21, 2020 for observing the holy month of Ramzan. 4 The Darul Uloom Nadwatul Ulama, an Islamic seminary at Lucknow also recommended to continue social distancing during the holy month of Ramzan.5

Maulana Qari Ishaq Gora of Deoband said that the holy month of Ramzan is likely to begin from April 25.6 "In this case, it is recommended that people observe Roza fasting and do iftar at their homes. People must not congregate for prayers in the mosque and pray at homes. Only those who stay or are staying at a mosque should pray there and that too while maintaining adequate social distance," said the Maulana.7

The guidelines of the Darul Uloom about the performing of Jumah Salah should be done at home and should not violate the law; the Muslims will be rewarded as per their intentions.8

These reactions and responses of the Indian political and religious leaders reflect the unity amongst all the stakeholders at the time of national crisis. Each one is doing their best to uphold the constitutional and democratic spirit of the country. Equally appreciated is the proactive behaviour of the Darul Uloom Deoband and Nadwa, Lucknow who issued a fatwa.

Due to coronavirus several countries have decided to keep the celebrations of the holy month restricted and minimalist, given the lockdown and curfews imposed in the cities. Many mosques in the Middle East from Saudi Arabia and Lebanon to the battle zones of Libya, Iraq and Yemen have already closed their doors to curb the spread of the virus and are observing complete shutdown.

The religious authorities of the holiest city of Islam, Saudi Arabia's Grand Mufti Abdul-Aziz al-Sheikh, has ruled that prayers during Ramadan and Eid be performed at home.9 Muhammad Hussein the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and the Palestinian Territories announced similar prayer boundaries during Ramzan, while also advising against the sighting of the crescent moon in public spaces. 10 In Kuwait, the call has been reformed to include the phrase "pray in your homes" instead of the usual "come to pray".11 The Palestinian authorities have already shut the doors of Al Aqsa Mosque for its worshippers in order to avoid gathering for prayers.

In the UK, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) issued a statement saying there should be an instantaneous deferment of prayer services. In the US, the All Dulles Area Muslim Society said all five daily congregational prayers would be cancelled at its ten mosques amid the threat of the virus.12 Some mosques, including the Atlanta Masjid in the US, have started to live stream the khutbah, the sermon given before the congregational Friday prayers. 13 However, in New York, U.S., the worshipers continue to gather for prayers.

Where is the Bone of Contention?

Most of the countries across the world have appealed to their masses to abstain from gathering for Tarawih (evening prayer) and the citizens have also equally responded and have braced the call given by the religious and political heads.

However, certain countries like Iran, Indonesia and Pakistan have decided to fly in the face of the global campaign against the coronavirus. These countries since the beginning not only continued to flout the WHO guidelines but also succumbed to pressures of lobbyists, popular clergies and influential businessman as a matter of appeasement for vested interests.

Pakistan

In Pakistan, group of 50 clerics from Rawalpindi and Islamabad associated with Wafaqul Madaris al Arabia held a meeting at Jamia Darul Uloom, Zakria and warned government against ban on religious congregations amidst coronavirus outbreak and instead asked the authorities to abide by religious norms and allow gatherings in mosques to seek blessings and forgiveness from Allah. This meeting was also attended by certain banned religious groups like Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat and Millat-e- Islamia Pakistan.

Pir Azizur Rehman Hazarvi, President of the Jamia Darul Uloom Zakaria in Islamabad, stated "the closure of mosques, shutting down Friday prayers and Tarawih is unacceptable to the countrymen."14

Similarly, Lal Masjid's cleric Maulana Abdul Aziz challenged the government authorities of Islamabad by openly breaching the official rules of not gathering in a group of more than five people and released weekly video of Friday prayers denouncing the restrictions imposed by the government.1

The Muslim clerics are worried about the donation that people offer in large amounts in the holy month of Ramzan. Part of the defiance also stems from the fact that clerics see mosques as power bases for projecting their influence on the people of Pakistan and it helps them challenge the government. It is a way of projecting that they continue to influence and control the will of the people. 16

Imran Khan Government has been criticised publicly by several religious leaders like Mufti Muneeb and Khaadim Hussain Rizvi by calling their Prime Minister as Imran "Yazeed" and have announced the opening of mosques from the first day of Ramzan. Some other voices also refused to use sanitizers arguing that it contains alcohol which is haram (sinful) in Islam. Once again the unpopularity of the Prime Minister of Pakistan was visible as large sections of the society continued with their usual routine and breaking all norms of social distancing thereby openly deifying the government appeal.

Iran

The Islamic Republic of Iran which was already suffering an economic slump due to the US sanctions also happens to be the worst-hit by Covid-19 in the Middle East, has started reopening some of its highways and markets to recover from economic sluggishness caused by this unfortunate double impact.

However, on the occasion of the birth anniversary of Imam Mahdi (eschatological redeemer of Islam), the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei asked devotees to pray within the four walls of their respective homes. He stirred emotions in the people of Iran that the Allah is testing his followers and one must avoid participating in public gatherings. He told his people that Imam Mahdi will arrive soon amongst us and guard us from our enemies, bad influences and diseases like coronavirus. The supreme leader also asked his people to remember that the U.S is their main enemy and that the pandemic should not lead to ignorance about the objective of their country to fight this enemy. 17

However, religious hardliners of Iran have rejected the option of following online prayers from Mecca and Medina. They argued that nowhere in WHO guidelines it is mentioned that Corona and fasting have any correlations and that the virus does not stop from spreading on observing the rules of Ramadan from home. 18

Indonesia

In the Southeast Asian region, Indonesia records highest number of fatalities due to coronavirus. The official authorities are apprehensive as the holy month is right in the corner when the country's biggest exodus from cities to their native villages takes place every year before Eid ul Fitr called mudik. By the end of May, it is speculated that coronavirus will infect almost 20 million people who are travelling to celebrate the end of Ramadan. In that case, it will lead to a biggest humanitarian crisis.19 Worried about the economic loss that Indonesia will face due to nationwide lockdown, the President and his office is apparently confused in the absence of any concrete plan.

In another news conference, the Foreign Minister of Indonesian Retno Marsudi said 75 Indonesians out of 717 contracted the coronavirus in India after participating in a gathering of Muslim pilgrims last month.20

As of now the National Police of Indonesia is planning to launch "Operasi Ketupat" to put restrictions on the movement of people during the holy month, as the President Joko Widodo, has decided to issue an official ban on mudik. But there are shortcomings in implementation of the ban as the toll roads will remain open and city roads will operate as normal.21

Conclusion

While the ruling governments in most of the countries are adhering to WHO guidelines on combatting the pandemic, some of them seem to have succumbed to the pressures of certain sections of society on account of religious practices or due to apprehensions about the economic slowdown rather than being concerned for the lives of their countrymen.

Given the precarious situation in some of the Muslim majority countries, it is worrisome that there might be a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic. This might turn out to be the biggest humanitarian crisis and the most challenging for which the world may not be prepared adequately.

India especially needs to worry over how it will tackle the spread of coronavirus in the region, given the close proximity of Pakistan and Indonesia. The government of India might want to consider norms and extension of the ban on travel and tourism in the Southeast Asian countries, till such time there is no recurrence of Covid-19 virus. As rightly put by the leadership of India that “we all are in it together” and the guidelines must be followed by all the citizens of the nation.

Endnotes
  1. DW- Middle East, “Ramadan in Coronavirus Times- with a Virtual community” at https://www.dw.com/en/ramadan-in-coronavirus-times-with-a-virtual-community/a-53147516, (Accessed April 19, 2020).
  2. Khitam Al Amir, “Ramadan during COVID-19: What clerics and health experts say”, at https://gulfnews.com/uae/health/ramadan-during-covid-19-what-clerics-and-health-experts-say-1.1586508552717, (Accessed April 19, 2020).
  3. Ibid.
  4. Darul-Uloom-Deoband, Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh “Guidelines about Ramadan During Lockdown” , at https://www.darulifta-deoband.com/home/ur/Sawm-Fasting/178304 (Accessed April 21, 2020)
  5. Indo Asian News Service, Hindustan Times, “Ramadan 2020: Nadwa, Deoband seminary issue advisory for Ramzan”, at https://www.hindustantimes.com/more-lifestyle/ramadan-2020-nadwa-deoband-seminary-issue-advisory-for-ramzan/story-dLZpdq28OA2uxq1ghM7sFP.html (Accessed April 21, 2020).
  6. YouTube, News18Urdu, “Darul Uloom Deoband’s Guidelines on Ramzan & Namaz”, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o-m6Tn2iKzM (Accesses on April 21,2020).
  7. Lucknow Desk Times of India “Covid-19: Ramzan advisory issued amid lockdown” at https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/covid-19-ramzan-advisory-issued-amid-lockdown/articleshow/75121204.cms (Accessed April 19,2020).
  8. Ibid. (No.3)
  9. Bangkok Post, “Middle East braces for bleak Ramadan as virus threat lingers” at https://www.bangkokpost.com/world/1903490/middle-east-braces-for-bleak-ramadan-as-virus-threat-lingers, (Accessed April 20, 2020).
  10. Ibid.
  11. Nadda Osman, “ Coronavirus and Ramadan: How the Muslim month of fasting will differ this year” at https://www.middleeasteye.net/discover/coronavirus-ramadan-affect-update-fasting-eid-covid-19 (Accessed April 19, 2020).
  12. Ibid.
  13. Ibid.
  14. The Economic Times, “Pakistan clerics warns govt against ban on religious congregation amidst coronavirus outbreak” at https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/international/world-news/pakistan-clerics-warn-govt-against-ban-on-religious-congregations-amidst-coronavirus-outbreak/articleshow/75137967.cms (Accessed on April 19,2020).
  15. Ibid.
  16. Diaa Hadidi, “Pakistan Limits Worshippers At Mosques. Many Worshippers Are Defiant”, https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2020/04/17/837007264/pakistan-limits-worshippers-at-mosques-many-worshippers-are-defiant, (Accessed April19, 2020).
  17. Luke O’Reilly, “Iran set to see ‘no pubic gatherings’ during holy month of Ramadan”, at https://www.standard.co.uk/news/health/iran-no-public-gatherings-ramadan-a4411121.html, (Accessed April 15, 2020).
  18. Ibid (No.7).
  19. Ibid.
  20. ABC News “Indonesia has the highest number of coronavirus death in Asia outside of China” https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-04-18/indonesia-has-the-highest-number-of-coronavirus-deaths-in-asia/12161638 (Accessed on April 20, 2020).
  21. Tara Marchelin, “Police to Roll Out Idul Fitri Security Operation Earlier Due to Mudik Ban”, at https://jakartaglobe.id/news/police-to-roll-out-idul-fitri-security-operation-earlier-due-to-mudik-ban (Accessed on April 21,2020).

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>


Image Source: https://www.opindia.com/2020/04/pakistan-islamic-clerics-namaaz-friday-prayers-mosques-social-distancing-lockdown-coronaviurs/

 #

Very informative article indeed. It brings out various thought processes wrt Ramadan within the country and world over. Important is however to keep the social responsibility supreme at this moment.

 

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
6 + 8 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.
Contact Us