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Socially-distanced Ramadan: Worshippers pray in Mecca after last year saw places of worship closed


Muslims began marking Ramadan with communal prayers on Tuesday in a socially distanced contrast to the empty mosques of a year ago when Islam’s holiest month coincided with the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Last year, the central courtyard of the Great Mosque of Mecca was deserted as Muslims were forced to celebrate Ramadan in isolation amid unprecedented lockdown measures.

The courtyard is usually at its busiest during Hajj but remains open all year round for other pilgrimages meaning it is almost never empty. 

This year, the courtyard has been marked so Muslims can pray in a socially-distanced manner in front of the Kaaba – the holiest site in Islam – during Ramadan, in a partial return to the crowds of worshippers seen in 2019.

Muslims began marking Ramadan with communal prayers on Tuesday in a socially distanced contrast to the empty mosques of a year ago when Islam's holiest month coincided with the start of the coronavirus pandemic

Muslims began marking Ramadan with communal prayers on Tuesday in a socially distanced contrast to the empty mosques of a year ago when Islam’s holiest month coincided with the start of the coronavirus pandemic

Pictures from 2019 showed the central courtyard of the Great Mosque of Mecca filled with worshippers praying during Ramadan. After a year of unprecedented lockdown measures which left the holy sites deserted, worshippers have been allowed to return in a socially distanced manner

The holy month sees them fast for 30 days during daylight hours to mark the month the Quran was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. 

Every evening after the sun sets, families usually gather to eat together, and many go to the mosque to pray, but these activities, which were impossible under last year’s Covid-19 restrictions, will have to be adapted to changing restrictions. 

People across the Muslim world are grappling with Covid-19 restrictions as they try to find a hybridised way to celebrate the Islamic holy month.  

2019: The courtyard of the Great Mosque in Mecca is usually at its busiest during Hajj but remains open all year round for other pilgrimages meaning it is almost never empty

2019: The courtyard of the Great Mosque in Mecca is usually at its busiest during Hajj but remains open all year round for other pilgrimages meaning it is almost never empty

The holy month sees Muslism fast for 30 days during daylight hours to mark the month the Quran was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. Every evening after the sun sets, families usually gather to eat together, and many go to the mosque to pray, but these activities, which were impossible under last year’s Covid-19 restrictions, have been adapted to changing restrictions in 2021

In Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, Covid-9 cases are spiking, but vaccines are being administered and the government is loosening restrictions.

Mosques were allowed to open for Ramadan prayers with strict health protocols in place, and with malls and cafes open, passers-by could again see curtains shielding the sight of food from people fasting.

Neighbouring Muslim-majority Malaysia also eased its restrictions, including last year’s ban on ‘taraweeh’ nighttime prayers and allowing popular open-air bazaars selling food, drinks and clothes to open.

Indonesia’s Religious Affairs Minister Yaqut Cholil Qoumas announced in a televised address Monday evening that the new Ramadan moon had been spotted. 

The holy month is marked by intense prayer, dawn-to-dusk fasting and nightly feasts. 

Last year, authorities shuttered all mosques and clerics issued a fatwa, or edict, urging Muslims to pray at home over the holy month rather than congregate in crowded spaces and risk spreading the virus.

Muslims this year are expecting a virus resurgence but all mosques will be continuing to adhere to social distancing and other precautions, which will significantly reduce crowds, said Nasaruddin Umar, imam of Jakarta’s Istiqlal grand mosque.

‘I miss everything of Ramadan already,’ Umar said, ‘The heart of faithful Muslims is tied to the mosque… the longing for Ramadan lovers has finally been relieved today although the pandemic has not yet ended.’

Istiqlal Mosque, Indonesia is pictured full of worshippers on the first night of Ramadan in 2019. The mosque  was empty last year because of the Covid-19 pandemic but has seen Muslims return in a socially distanced manner for Ramadan in 2021

2021: Palestinians, some wearing face masks, perform the Tarwih prayer at a mosque in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, after the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and Palestine, Mohammad Hussein, declared the start of Ramadan

2021: Palestinians, some wearing face masks, perform the Tarwih prayer at a mosque in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, after the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and Palestine, Mohammad Hussein, declared the start of Ramadan

2021: Mosques re-open, in spite of Covid-19 restrictions, for the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, allowing Muslims to return after they were forced to celebrate in isolation last year

2021: Mosques re-open, in spite of Covid-19 restrictions, for the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, allowing Muslims to return after they were forced to celebrate in isolation last year

2021: Palestinian Muslims wearing masks attend prayer on the first night of Ramadan. The holy month sees Muslims fast for 30 days during daylight hours to mark the month the Quran was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad

2021: Palestinian Muslims wearing masks attend prayer on the first night of Ramadan. The holy month sees Muslims fast for 30 days during daylight hours to mark the month the Quran was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad

2021: Muslims gather to pray in Cologne Central Mosque for the first Tarawih prayer of the holy month of Ramadan, which started on April 12

2021: Muslims gather to pray in Cologne Central Mosque for the first Tarawih prayer of the holy month of Ramadan, which started on April 12

2021: Women in Indonesia frequent Al Makmur mosque in Banda Aceh on April 13. Many Muslims will read the entire Quran during the holy month of Ramadan

2021: Women in Indonesia frequent Al Makmur mosque in Banda Aceh on April 13. Many Muslims will read the entire Quran during the holy month of Ramadan

2021: Two men rest on the floor of Al Makmur mosque in Banda Aceh after prayer during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan

2021: Two men rest on the floor of Al Makmur mosque in Banda Aceh after prayer during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan

In the capital, Jakarta, authorities disinfected 317 mosques on Sunday in preparation for Ramadan, said Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan. 

Social distancing markers have been installed and soap and hand sanitisers have been prepared.

The government also will allow people to hold ‘iftar’ gatherings during Ramadan in restaurants, malls and cafes, which can serve customers up to 50 per cent of their capacity and follow strict health guidelines.

Iftar occurs at sunset, the time Muslims break their fast and usually the prime time for people to have dinner together with friends and family members before the night prayer.

‘Easing restrictions is like a breath of fresh air for us who are tired by this COVID-19 outbreak,’ said Anna Mardyastuti, a resident in Jakarta. 

‘Yes, they should act to stop the virus, but not block the door to worship or to change our tradition of Ramadan entirely,’ she said.

In Malaysia, Wan Noradriana Balqis, 21, welcomed the return of community prayers in mosques but said she will avoid Ramadan bazaars that are often packed with people.

‘I don’t think it’s a good idea to reopen the bazaars. The rules are there but many people don’t follow them,’ the database administrative officer said.

2021: A Muslim reads the Quran before the Tarawih prayer during the first evening of the holy month of Ramadan in Chicago's Muslim Community Centre

2021: A Muslim reads the Quran before the Tarawih prayer during the first evening of the holy month of Ramadan in Chicago’s Muslim Community Centre

2021: Muslims perform the Tarawih prayer while practicing social distancing on the first evening of Ramadan on April 12, in Chicago

2021: Muslims perform the Tarawih prayer while practicing social distancing on the first evening of Ramadan on April 12, in Chicago

2021: Muslims pray on the first night of Ramadan on April 12. The Islamic holy month usually lasts for 29 or 30 days depending on the position of the moon

2021: Muslims pray on the first night of Ramadan on April 12. The Islamic holy month usually lasts for 29 or 30 days depending on the position of the moon

2021: Yusuf Omar, coordinator of Chicago's Muslim Community Center, performs the Adhan, or call to prayer, as Muslims are welcomed back to mosques after a year of Covid-19 restrictions, for Ramadan

2021: Yusuf Omar, coordinator of Chicago’s Muslim Community Center, performs the Adhan, or call to prayer, as Muslims are welcomed back to mosques after a year of Covid-19 restrictions, for Ramadan

2021: Muslims in Chicago pray on the first evening of Ramadan. The Islamic holy month is marked by intense prayer, dawn-to-dusk fasting and nightly feasts

2021: Muslims in Chicago pray on the first evening of Ramadan. The Islamic holy month is marked by intense prayer, dawn-to-dusk fasting and nightly feasts

2021: Indonesian muslims participate in Tarawih prayer while socially distanced on the first day of Ramadan amid a spike of cases in Jakarta

2021: Indonesian muslims participate in Tarawih prayer while socially distanced on the first day of Ramadan amid a spike of cases in Jakarta

2021: Muslim women, who pray separately from men in mosques, are pictured praying in a socially distanced manner on the first night of Ramadan

2021: Muslim women, who pray separately from men in mosques, are pictured praying in a socially distanced manner on the first night of Ramadan

2021: Muslim women in Indonesia are seen participating in the first Tarawih prayer at Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta, Indonesia, while following Covid-19 regulations

2021: Muslim women in Indonesia are seen participating in the first Tarawih prayer at Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta, Indonesia, while following Covid-19 regulations

2021: Indonesia will maintain its vaccine rollout through Ramadan as officials try to tackle a spike in Covid-19 cases in the country

2021: Indonesia will maintain its vaccine rollout through Ramadan as officials try to tackle a spike in Covid-19 cases in the country

2021: A group of teenagers in Indonesia read and memorise the Quran at a mosque in Banda Aceh during the holy month of Ramadan

2021: A group of teenagers in Indonesia read and memorise the Quran at a mosque in Banda Aceh during the holy month of Ramadan

2021: Muslims in Indonesia take part in the traditional ritual of Padusan, a Javanese tradition to purify oneself ahead of the holy month of Ramadan

2021: Muslims in Indonesia take part in the traditional ritual of Padusan, a Javanese tradition to purify oneself ahead of the holy month of Ramadan

2021: Indonesia's top Muslim clerical body said Muslims eligible for Covid-19 vaccinations are not only allowed but 'required' to get them during Ramadan, in an effort to tackle the spike in virus cases

2021: Indonesia’s top Muslim clerical body said Muslims eligible for Covid-19 vaccinations are not only allowed but ‘required’ to get them during Ramadan, in an effort to tackle the spike in virus cases

2021: Not all worshippers have followed social distancing guidelines, however. Pictured here, Muslims in Indonesia perform the Tarawih prayer

2021: Not all worshippers have followed social distancing guidelines, however. Pictured here, Muslims in Indonesia perform the Tarawih prayer

Malaysia’s coronavirus cases have more than tripled since January to more than 362,000, with daily increases exceeding 1,000. Indonesia is the worst-hit country in Southeast Asia with over 1.5 million infections as of Monday and more than 42,600 deaths.

Indonesia will maintain its vaccine rollout through Ramadan as officials tried to ease worries over the Islamic teaching that Muslims should refrain ‘from anything entering the body’ between sunrise and sunset.

Indonesia’s top Muslim clerical body said Muslims eligible for vaccinations are not only allowed but ‘required’ to get them during Ramadan.

Although Muslims abstain from all food and drink in daylight hours during Ramadan, the vaccine enters muscle rather than the bloodstream and is not nutrition, so it does not invalidate fasting, said Asrorun Niam Sholeh, the head of fatwas for the Indonesian Ulema Council.

‘If we carry on taking our vaccines, we can ensure that next Ramadan we do return to some normality,’ Sholeh said.

Some vaccine sites in Jakarta are extending their opening hours so Muslims can come after they have broken their fast.

2021: A stall in the northern Cairo suburb of Shubra sells Ramadan lanterns on a busy street at the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan

2021: A stall in the northern Cairo suburb of Shubra sells Ramadan lanterns on a busy street at the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan

2021: Children in the Iraqi city of Mosul gather along outside on a street to play as part of a celebration for the start of Ramadan hosted by a local cultural NGO

2021: Children in the Iraqi city of Mosul gather along outside on a street to play as part of a celebration for the start of Ramadan hosted by a local cultural NGO

2021: Turkey's Camlica Mosque is lit up with 'mahya', illuminated messages hung between two minarets, in preparation for Ramadan

2021: Turkey’s Camlica Mosque is lit up with ‘mahya’, illuminated messages hung between two minarets, in preparation for Ramadan

2021: Turkey illuminates the Camlica Mosque in Istanbul to usher in the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan on April 12

2021: Turkey illuminates the Camlica Mosque in Istanbul to usher in the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan on April 12

Turkey has allowed worshippers into mosques for the holy month of Ramadan despite seeing a spike in Covid-19 cases that forced Erdogan to impose weekend lockdowns

Turkey has allowed worshippers into mosques for the holy month of Ramadan despite seeing a spike in Covid-19 cases that forced Erdogan to impose weekend lockdowns

2021: Muslims in Istanbul, Turkey, are preparing to return to mosques for the Islamic holy month of Ramadan after being forced to spend it in isolation last year because of the Covid-19 pandemic

2021: Muslims in Istanbul, Turkey, are preparing to return to mosques for the Islamic holy month of Ramadan after being forced to spend it in isolation last year because of the Covid-19 pandemic

2021: Muslims in Washington, US, perform the Tarawih prayer on the first night of Ramadan while following Covid-19 measures at the Diyanet Center of America

2021: Muslims in Washington, US, perform the Tarawih prayer on the first night of Ramadan while following Covid-19 measures at the Diyanet Center of America

2021: Worshippers in Washington wore face masks while they prayed as part of efforts to prevent the spread of Covid-19

2021: Worshippers in Washington wore face masks while they prayed as part of efforts to prevent the spread of Covid-19

Indonesia plans to vaccinate two-thirds of its population of about 270 million people – or just over 180 million people by the end of next year. 

The current priorities are health care workers, elderly and other at-risk populations, and the two-dose vaccine will be free for all Indonesians.

In India, which is experiencing an explosive spread of the virus, Muslim scholars are appealing to their communities to strictly follow anti-virus protocols and refrain from organising large gatherings. 

Ramadan prayers begin Tuesday night and fasting begins Wednesday in the country with 200 million Muslims.

2021: A Palestinian boy waves fireworks as people celebrate the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah

2021: A Palestinian boy waves fireworks as people celebrate the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah

2021: Gazan youths perform fire spinning as they usher in the start of the holy month of Ramadan in Gaza City, the Gaza Strip

2021: Gazan youths perform fire spinning as they usher in the start of the holy month of Ramadan in Gaza City, the Gaza Strip

2021: Kazakhstan has banned all mass prayers during Ramadan this year as a result of the pandemic, leaving mosques deserted

2021: Kazakhstan has banned all mass prayers during Ramadan this year as a result of the pandemic, leaving mosques deserted 

Many Indian cities dealing with major virus surges have imposed night curfews, and it remains unclear whether the faithful will be allowed to offer Taraweeh, the long post-Iftar congregational prayers in mosques that sometimes stretch late into the night.

Muslims in Indian-controlled Kashmir are still suffering from the two back-to-back lockdowns that left tens of thousands without any means to earn their livelihoods.

The disputed region, the only part of the Hindu-dominated country that is majority Muslim, was under an unprecedented military lockdown in 2019 for months before the months-long coronavirus lockdown last year. 

Local charities, like last year, have planned to distribute Ramadan ration kits for needy and destitute families. 

2019: An aerial view shows the Great Mosque filled with hoards of people celebrating the holy fasting month of Ramadan in the Saudi Arabian city of Mecca

2019: An aerial view shows the Great Mosque filled with hoards of people celebrating the holy fasting month of Ramadan in the Saudi Arabian city of Mecca

2021: An aerial shot shows socially distanced worshippers at the Great Mosque in Mecca during the first dawn prayers of the holy Islamic month of Ramadan

2021: An aerial shot shows socially distanced worshippers at the Great Mosque in Mecca during the first dawn prayers of the holy Islamic month of Ramadan



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