Ramadan Focuses Debates on How Religious Practices are Affected by the COVID-19 Crisis

muslim child with face maskDebates began even before the start of Ramadan, and they continue, about how standard practices and especially prayer are affected during the holy month. Al-Jazeera has reported that scholars have generally agreed that Friday prayers should be conducted from home; this has happened as mosques have closed around the world in the past two months.

Tarawih are additional ritual prayers that congregations conduct at night during Ramadan. Where coming together in a congregation is not possible, these prayers will take place at home. There is some consensus that tarawih prayers should not be live-streamed or virtually shared, taking place instead with the family at home, even as other Ramadan gatherings such as lectures and iftars will go virtual.

There are and will be exceptions. Pakistan is allowing for congregational prayers in mosques during Ramadan, albeit with restrictions to strictly limit numbers and allow for physical distancing. Religious leaders in countries from Ireland to South Africa have decided to hold tarawih prayers online. While governments and religious leaders advise people to stay at home, reports from Niger speak to disturbances and arrests related to bans on congregational prayers during Ramadan. Protests call for being allowed entry to closed mosques for Ramadan.

The two holy mosques in Medina and Mecca remain closed, but tarawih prayers continue behind closed doors. Other practices are also seeing adaptations worldwide. In Ghana, the chief imam has requested time on the national television channel to broadcast his call to prayer at the breaking of the fast. In Indonesia, a tradition to visit graves just before Ramadan has been adapted to limit numbers in cemeteries. The biggest change, however, comes with a ban on the annual mudik exodus in Indonesia, when just under 20 million people return to their home towns from the cities towards the end of Ramadan. Researchers found that mudik could lead to a million new infections on the island of Java alone, and President Joko Widodo has announced that the practice is banned this year.

(Based on: April 21, 2020, Reuters and Al-Jazeera articles; April 22, 2020, Ghana News, the Guardian, Al-Jazeera, and Yahoo News articles; and April 23, 2020, Jakarta Globe article)

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