The Muslim holy month of Ramadan began on 12th April and is scheduled to end on 12th May when the festival of Eid al-Fitr takes place, translated to “Festival of Breaking the Fast”. Along with faith, prayer, charity and pilgrimage, Ramadan is one of five pillars of Islam. Ramadan commemorates the Quran first being revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, a sacred moment honoured by fasting between sunrise and sunset. Iftar is when Muslims break their fast in the evening at the same time as evening prayer and when the sun goes down. Iftar is a family event, however, as pandemic restrictions remain imposed, this year will be very different for many Muslims across the world. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has launched a large project to offer 80,000 families in India iftar food packages in an effort to encourage families to follow health protocols to reduce further spreading of COVID-19.1
In 2020, Ramadan started almost a month into the UK’s first lockdown. Mosques were closed and people across the country were informed they must stay at home. This year, places of worship are allowed to open with restrictions in place. The largest mosque in the UK is in East London and can accommodate 7,000 worshipers at any one time, however, this year will see that number significantly reduced. The East London Mosque and Muslim Centre will open its doors for prayers only 15 minutes before they begin. Prayers would normally last for two hours but in line with government COVID-19 legislation this period will be substantially shorter. Worshipers will also be asked to leave 10 minutes after prayer, to bring their own prayer mats and to ensure they have bags for their shoes.2
In 2019, 4.2 million people made the pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia during the month of Ramadan. The Kabba in the Grand Mosque in Mecca is Islam’s holiest shrine. In pre-COVID times, up to two million people would gather around the shrine to pray. In 2020, the Grand Mosque was empty with Muslims around the world forced to celebrate Ramadan in isolation. This year, Mecca has reopened to those wishing to take part in the Umrah pilgrimage. Saudi Arabian health authorities are allowing only those who are immunised entry into the country. People who are considered immunised are those who have received two doses of the vaccine, those who have had a single dose at least 14 days prior and those that have fully recovered from the virus. People who are immunised will receive a permit allowing them to make the pilgrimage. Anybody wishing to perform Umrah without a permit will face a fine of SR (Saudi Riyals) 10,000, equivalent to roughly GBP1,900.3
Indonesia has the single largest population of Muslims in the world; 225 million Muslims account for 13% of the number of people globally that follow Islam. On 8th March, Indonesia received its first batch of COVID-19 vaccinations; just over 1.1 million doses of the AstraZeneca jab were obtained via the global Covax programme.4 Indonesia has been the worst-hit country in South East Asia. According to Worldometer, on 17th April, 43,567 deaths had been recorded and a total of 1,609,300 cases. In 2019, 212,730 Indonesian Muslims made the pilgrimage to Mecca, but now entry into Saudi Arabia for those arriving from Indonesia is prohibited.