AP – Ramadhan is usually a time of togetherness, with Muslims filling mosques for hours of prayer and sharing large, lavish meals with friends and neighbours after days of dawn-to-dusk fasting.
But the coronavirus has forced Muslims around the world – from Indonesia, India and Gaza City to Seattle and South Africa – to alter the way in which they are marking the holiest month on the Islamic calendar.
This year, many are confined to their homes, travel is heavily restricted and public venues including parks, malls and even mosques are shuttered.
Ahmad Kamel, his wife, Nadia Chaouch, and their two-year-old son Yusuf are staying at home in Seattle. An AP photographer recently captured them in front of a computer in their living room watching the nightly Tarawikh prayer livestreamed from a nearly empty mosque.
If it weren’t for COVID-19, they would be at the mosque, then sharing festive, fast-ending meals with friends and neighbours.
Outside the Imam Ahmed Raza Jaame Masjid mosque in Springs, southwest of Johannesburg, three women waiting to receive Ramadhan candies recently sat in socially distanced chairs, the correct spacing marked by painted white lines. South Africa is under a strict five-week lockdown in an effort to fight the pandemic.
In New Delhi, a small, solitary group of Muslims could be seen quietly breaking the fast inside the Jama Masjid, one of India’s largest mosques that in a non-pandemic year would be packed with thousands of devotees.
Men wearing masks practised social distancing during prayer at the Tahara Mosque in Marseille, France, last week, while a solitary man fired a vintage cannon from behind a stone wall on a hill in Sarajevo, Bosnia, to signal the breaking of the fast shortly after sunset.
Muslim-majority countries began imposing widespread restrictions in mid-March, with many cancelling Friday prayers and shuttering holy sites. Saudi Arabia has largely locked down Mecca and Medina and halted the year-round Umrah pilgrimage.
In Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, the capital of Jakarta suspended passenger flights and rail services and private cars have been banned from leaving the city.
But while many are weighed down by anxiety about the pandemic, others have decided to cast those fears aside in favour of honouring religious traditions.
In Indonesia’s deeply conservative Aceh province, which is governed by Islamic law under an autonomy agreement, many mosques were packed on Friday after the top clerical body ruled that prayers could continue.
One AP image showed hundreds of men, a few with masks but most without, standing shoulder to shoulder at a mosque in the province, despite warnings from global health officials to avoid large gatherings that could spur a rapid spread of COVID-19.
The virus causes mild to moderate symptoms in most people, who recover within a few weeks. But it is highly contagious and can cause severe illness or death, particularly in older patients or those with underlying health problems.