It is Ramadan again, and Muslims all over Africa and the world embark on a one month fasting and prayer, but there is a little worry as to how Muslims will reconcile religion and the challenges of physical distancing.
Lockdowns have been enforced in many countries, but some Muslims already worry that Mosques too will have to be shut during this period. Ramadan under lockdown is the antithesis of the festival. However, as Covid-19 started drawing upward graphs, religious authorities and governments were determined to ban congregational activities.
In South Africa, President Cyril Ramaphosa reiterated a ban on all gatherings, with the exception of funerals and work, during a Thursday night address to the nation. Muslim leaders in South Africa have filed a legal challenge against the ban, arguing that mosques should be at least partially open during Ramadan.
“Concerts, sporting events, and religious, cultural and social gatherings will not be allowed until it is deemed safe for them to continue,” Ramaphosa said. “The coronavirus is spread by contact between people. If people do not travel, the virus does not travel.”
The essence of Ramadan is fasting, communal prayers, charity, family get-together, eating together, and it is obvious that some of these rituals are off the table for Muslims.
The communal spirit is needed more during this period, but it is not just about sharing meals, it is also a time for self-introspection, strengthening one’s faith and getting close to God through prayer and the recitation of the Qur’an.
COVID-19 has also cast shadows on another key practice in Ramadan – the nightly Taraweeh prayer, when worshipers gather in large numbers at the mosque for communal prayers, as it is believed to yield greater results, but with physical distancing, Muslims will have to do this at home.
Physical distancing is indispensable this period and it is good that we still have our families and loved ones to do all of this together with. It is also a time to work on ourselves, as individual members of the world.
To make up for physical distancing, we could use technologies such as Zoom and Facebook to arrange communal iftars, raise funds for charity, pray together, along with live streaming webinars.
Praying in isolation is a good opportunity to take a deep hard look at our lives, while staying safe.
In a statement earlier this month, Egypt’s Grand Mufti, Shawki Allam, said, “We must look to the positive aspects during these exceptional times that have compelled many people to be quarantined in their homes and turn this into an opportunity for bonding and forgiveness and restoring the spirit of serenity and cooperation.”
We must recognise that this is an opportunity to have a changed world, as it really needs to change for good.