*Updated on April 23.
With Ramadan scheduled to begin tomorrow, people are worried that the novel coronavirus is going to change the way the holy month is embraced.
For starters, with the rate at which COVID-19 is spreading, countries around the world have been forced to go into complete lockdown. Nations that did not take precautionary measures from the beginning have been hit with incredibly high infection rates as the virus spread undetected. Globally, over 2.6 million people have been infected and 184,280 have died as a result of the virus. So it only makes sense that countries stop operating business as usual in an attempt to flatten the curve.
That means some airports, restaurants, malls, cinemas, and other entertainment venues have been closed. This will most definitely affect the way people spend their time pre or post iftar. The lockdown also means that mosques in many Muslim and non-Muslim countries have been shut down as well, affecting Friday prayer congregations and prayers in mosques in their entirety.
Instead, mosques have advised people to perform their prayers at home. Saudi Arabia, for example, has suspended people from daily and weekly prayers at mosques, except for Masjid al-Haram and Masjid an-Nabawi, in Mecca and Medina respectively.
This has been the case for mosques in several countries. This is going to affect many followers of the Islamic faith during Ramadan because special additional prayers called "taraweeh" are usually conducted after every evening's last daily prayer. They are viewed by many as a form of Islamic meditation and usually take place in mosques in groups. Although they are not compulsory, taraweeh are strongly favored during Ramadan. But with mosques being closed, it seems like taraweeh and prayers, in general, will take place in isolation.
It is also unclear how the coronavirus outbreak will affect Umrah and potentially the annual pilgrimage Hajj. According to Think With Google, searches for Umrah increase by 200 percent in the last two weeks of Ramadan. But if things don't shape up by then, it seems as though people won't have the chance to perform their religious commitments this year.
One thing that won't change and will probably increase during Ramadan is the concept of "giving back." A core principle of Islam is helping others in need; this is heightened during Ramadan as "giving back" lies at the heart of the holy month. It also doesn't require human contact most times.
During the coronavirus outbreak, there are different ways one can help others via donations: through food banks, supporting local businesses, or money donations to mosques. This period has really pushed many organizations to move things online — something some of them hadn't really considered prior to the outbreak. Many mosques should consider moving the donations online this year and maybe even hold sermons online as well. In less advantaged places, mosques could limit the number of people entering the mosque to put in a donation to one person at a time.
Aside from prayers and mosque visits, there are tens of traditions that shape the spirit of Ramadan that will need to be given up this year if the spread of the novel coronavirus is still at an all-time high. These include family iftars, suhoors, massive feasts, and the list goes on and on. Probably the one tradition that is going to eliminate the Ramadan spirit fully is the crowded family iftars.
Social distancing has been key in reducing the spread of the highly contagious infection. There have been warnings against physical contact with big groups of people; people have also been advised to restrict contact with the elderly and people who suffer from health conditions that may put them at a higher risk of complications, and in some cases death, if they contract the virus.
The objective of social distancing is to reduce the probability of contact between persons carrying the infection and others who are not. Minimizing contact will reduce transmission of the virus, morbidity, and, ultimately, mortality.
With social distancing in mind, family gatherings for iftar are not going to take place. Instead, feasts will be composed of a very minimal number of individuals who have been quarantining together. Suhoor gatherings and late-night get-togethers are also not going to take place during Ramadan if things continue at this rate.
Suhoor outings and invitations have been the top post-feast socializing mechanism during the holy month. This means people will probably spend countless hours watching Netflix, Shahid, YouTube (or any other streaming site) till dawn. Say goodbye to tarneeb, jackaroo, 400 ... and say hello to staring at your laptop, TV screen, or the four walls that surround you for hours on end.
Also, say goodbye to Eid travel plans if you had any ideas in mind. It doesn't seem like we're going to be leaving the comfort of our homes anytime soon.