How to adjust to Ramadan under lockdown

Sunday April 26 2020

Eid prayers at Kansanga mosque last year. Photo

Eid prayers at Kansanga mosque last year. Photo by Rachel Mabala 

By Abdul-Nasser Ssemugabi

Ramadan, the Islamic equivalent of September, is already underway. Muslims across the globe are observing mandatory fasting, the fourth pillar of their faith. But many still wonder how to observe this prized tradition in these abnormal covid-19 times when almost everything in life is upside down.

All concerns are genuine: should I fast under the threat of catching the coronavirus? How should I miss the congregational prayer when mosques are locked? How do I help the needy, who used to break their fast at the mosques without defying social distance?

No new exemptions
First, the science. Fasting during Ramadan is obligatory for all sane adult Muslims except pregnant or breastfeeding women and those in their periods; the ill and those travelling. Of course those with severe Covid-19 symptoms can be allowed to abstain too.

But the other serious question is whether people should fast (dawn-to-dusk) when they are advised to consume fluids regularly to keep mucus membranes moist, as a precautionary measure against coronavirus.

Sheikh Kassim Kiyingi of Bilal Islamic Institute, says there are no new exemptions to fasting due to coronavirus.

“You can’t quit fasting because of fear of catching covid-19,” the cleric told Sunday Life on phone, “because there’s no medical proof that taking fluids guarantees your safety against the virus. Besides, scientists proved fasting as one of the ways to boost immunity.”

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The latest scientific answer came from Al Azhar Al Sharif, the Muslim world’s top Sunni Islamic institution, based in Egypt, which issued a decree after consulting with the World Health Organisation: “We have asked WHO if drinking water or gargling with water would protect people from being infected with coronavirus. The answer was: Although water is important for the moisture of human body, it does not protect against the virus and it has not been proven that gargling with water can protect anyone from catching the virus,” the university said through a statement quoted by Gulf News last week.

“However,” Sheikh Kiyingi, adds, “when doctors confirm that fasting exposes one to Covid-19, then Sharia prefers prevention to cure.”

Adjustments are a must
Now that scientists still concur with clerics on existing fasting exceptions, despite Covid-19, adjusting within our restricted lifestyles becomes compulsory.

After breaking Ramadan fast every evening, Ali-Hassan Kiwanuka, a resident of Bukasa in Makindye, parked his boda-boda to join others in the long Taraweh prayers at the mosque.
“We’ve done these prayers at the mosque since childhood. But now I must perform them at home with my small family,” he says with obvious dejection.

Taraweh is an old Ramadan tradition, where Muslims, young and old, fill mosques, behind a man who recites the holy Quran in sweet, melodic voices with great intonation. Great rewards are attached.

Sheikh Kiyingi’s advice is to perform Taraweh from home. This prayer is best performed between 3-4am.

“Foremost it’s an optional prayer (though highly recommended). Performing it from the mosque is also optional and the reasons (the pandemic) for which mosques are closed corroborate the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him).”

The Prophet also assured us that Allah will equally reward whoever used to practice a good deed, but can no longer do for genuine reasons.

So Kiwanuka and others, pray from home, stay safe, with assurance that Allah will still reward you..

The same applies to men, whose five daily mandatory prayers must be done from mosques. After all, they have been praying from home since March 18, when the mosques were suspended, and Ramadan is no master key.

Ironically, these worship-from-home adjustments could be easier for practicing Muslims than for seasonal Muslims, those who only rise to the occasion during Ramadan.

For instance, Kassim Jamal, an IT student at the Islamic University in Uganda, says, to a seasonal Muslim, leading prayer at home might be harder than following from the mosque, like watching a movie might be easier than reading the Quran from one’s sitting room. Shafik Kayondo, a businessman, can’t agree more. “The seasonal practitioners are the ones at a loss.”

Those in predominantly Muslim residences, like Kibuli, have been used to waking up to loud drumbeats: “daku, daku…” to catch suhoor, the traditional pre-dawn meal, popularly called daku in Uganda. Now under the curfew, you won’t hear the drums on main and tributary roads, because the band of teenage volunteers will stay in their homes. So use your alarm clock.

Ramathan is also known for darasas, the informal lectures where Muslims enrich their religious knowledge and attain spiritual revival.

With mosques locked, Thurayya Islam Media Uganda, offers an answer. Shafik Yawe, the public relations officer of the charity that has been propagating religious content on mainstream and social media for eight years, saw this coming: “We shot as many videos as we could before the lockdown,” Yawe told us on phone. “We predicted most Ramadan programmes might be antagonized yet the Muslim locked up at home will be very hungry for religious content especially during Ramadan.”

They are considering live streaming Juma sermons on Fridays, but as clerics still discuss the matter, every Friday, the group dedicated three hours to a question-and-answer session live on Facebook, where Sheikhs answer followers’ questions between 10am to 1pm.

Movement is hard. But still the team occasionally accesses the clerics for fresh and short recordings. Every day they upload two videos.

One help another
Prices of essential foods like rice, beans, maize and wheat flour usually rise in Ramadan. But now most people’s incomes are falling. Last week, Sheikh Mahmood Kibaate, the chief executive officer House of Zakat and Waqf Uganda, requested for government’s permission to distribute food to the needy Muslims during Ramadan.

But the longer people are locked down in their homes, the more likely it becomes that even the able ones descend into poverty as they deplete their meagre savings.

“Yet lack of food is no excuse for not fasting,” says Sheikh Kiyingi. He also strongly requests those who are able, to help the less fortunate, especially during Ramadan.

Muslim Kiwanuka, the founder of Corporate Muslims Association, a charity that offers food to prisoners and orphanages in Ramadan, advises members to look close to home. “This time let’s help those close to us. That struggling family member, neighbour or village mate.”

Any silver lining? Imam Ahmad Kyeyune, a revered preacher in town, always advises Muslims to adjust their work schedules to reach home before dusk to prepare for a night of worship. Now with most people at home, everything is set.

Ramadan and Covid-19
Islamic holy sites, including Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia and Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, will be empty during Ramadan after authorities advised worshipers to pray at home.

The Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem -- Islam’s third holiest place -- will also remain closed during Ramadan, the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf Council said Thursday.

For Muslims, a big part of the holy month consists of special night prayers called “taraweeh,” which are held daily at the mosque and performed by the imam, the mosque’s prayer leader.

During this time, when people are self quarantining at home to avoid spreading the coronavirus, Muslims are encouraged to focus on individual prayer habits and turn isolation into inner peace.

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