Muslims grapple with Ramadan rituals in coronavirus era

A bilal calls for prayer at an empty Tengku Ampuan Jemaah Bukit Jelutong Mosque in Shah Alam amid concern over spread of the coronavirus. -Filepix

WINTER PARK: Seattle resident Maggie Mohamed was looking forward to spending the Islamic holy month of Ramadan in her native Egypt.

Now, with the spread of the new coronavirus, flying is off the table. So is having friends and relatives over for a potluck iftar, the breaking of the fast.

Mohamed is older than 65 and says she cannot risk it.

“It’s very sad. We were very excited,” she said.

But, “I don’t take it as a punishment. I take it as a wake-up (call).”

Ramadan unites Muslims the world over in fasting and worship.

This year, it follows a string of religious holidays that have also unified the faithful from different religions in grappling with how to observe familiar rituals and celebrations in a time of unfamiliarity.

Mohamed is contemplating workarounds. She always looks forward to the special Ramadan prayers, known as “taraweeh,” at the mosque.

She will now pray at home with her daughter. But what about the dua, or supplication?

The imam moves her to tears. As he prays for dead loved ones or those suffering in faraway lands in his “miraculous” voice, sobs rise from the faithful and intermingle with chants of “Ameen” recited in unison.

Ramadan, which starts later in April, is a time for prayers, introspection and charity. Normally, it’s also a time for family, friends and festive feasting for many.

This year, uncertainty looms over the month amid indications the outbreak will cast a pall over many beloved rituals.

Many Muslims have been praying for the coronavirus cloud, which has already disrupted Islamic worship the world over, to lift before Ramadan.

Mosque closures and modified calls for prayers urging the devout to pray at home have left many feeling emotional.

They are relying on worship at home and online religious classes. This year, some are planning virtual interfaith iftars.

Texas-based imam Omar Suleiman said empty mosques are reason for reflection.

“What would make us worthy again of His sanctuaries?” he said by phone.

“How do we build ourselves to where we are more connected to Him?” added Suleiman who has been streaming sermons and nightly reflections to more than 1.4 million Facebook followers.

“Now we have a chance to develop empathy with those that have not had access to their religious spaces due to oppressive circumstances.”

Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore have banned popular Ramadan bazaars where hawkers sell food and drinks in congested open-air markets or roadside stalls.

In predominantly Muslim Malaysia, vendors are now planning to bring their businesses online through mobile apps or digital platforms provided by local authorities during the fasting month.

Mohamad Fadhil, a trader in Malaysia’s southern Johor state, said he was resigned to not being able to do business at the Ramadan bazaar or perform the taraweeh prayers at the mosque.

“It feels odd that we can’t do all the familiar things we take for granted during Ramadan but in this time of crisis, we just have to be patient and follow orders.” – AP