The holy month of Ramadan for India’s 200 million Muslims has turned into a somber affair this year.
Due to the new coronavirus, the country’s Muslims have been asked to avoid congregational prayers during the month of fasting which began April 25.
The lockdown restrictions mean mosques are empty and the community cannot break the fast together known as ‘Iftaar’.
“I have never seen this happening in my entire life,” said Mohammad Ishaaq, 70, who lives in old city of Delhi.
“This is for the first time that there is no festivity anywhere around,” said Ishaaq who owns an Islamic bookshop.
Ishaaq said such unnatural experiences during the holy month are indicators of doomsday.
“When we see mosques being sealed and even the sacred cities of Mecca and Madina deserted, this is nothing but a warning sign from God that the world is at the brink of its collapse,” he said.
For Muslims the importance of Ramadan cannot be overstated. It is a commemoration of the first revelation of the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad.
During the month, late night congregation prayers ‘Tarawih’ are typically held in mosques. A chapter of the Quran is recited each night until it is completed on Ramadan’s 27th night which is called ‘Shab-e-Qadr’ the most sacred of nights for Muslims.
The last 10 days of Ramadan are celebrated with gaiety and includes the sacred day of Jumat ul-Vida.
For many of the Muslim faithful, Ramadan also plays a major part in their ability to make a living.
Imtitaz Ahmad is one among hundreds of roadside vendors selling dates in the otherwise bustling markets of old Delhi. During the holy month dates are consumed in abundance by Muslims breaking their fast. But with the government-imposed lockdown, Ahmad and other street vendors have lost their customers.
“I used to earn no less than 3,000 rupees ($50) every day during this month. It seems like a thing of the past now,” Ahmad said.
“Even if government allows us to operate, people will be too skeptical to even touch the fruit, let alone consume it,” he said.
Riyazud din Shah’s New Delhi based travel company has been heavily impacted by the lockdown. During the month of Ramadan, thousands of India’s Muslims used to book Umrah packages from travel agencies. Umrah is an Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca that can be undertaken at any time of the year, but many prefer to perform the obligation during the holy month.
“I had more than 50 pre-bookings for this Ramadan. Now, I have to return the amount because Saudi Arabia’s government has shut the Umrah services due to virus outbreak,” Shah said.
Mohammad Yaqooq Khan, a garment merchant from Kashmir’s southern region, fears that the festival of Eid, celebrated at the end of Ramadan, will be a subdued affair.
“There will be no bustling of the markets this Eid, which means no business for those who used to sell sweets, garments and toys. It will leave businesses in real distress,” Khan said.
Praying at home
Hafiz Moulana Javaid Ahmad, a Muslim cleric who knows the Quran by heart and used to lead Tarawih prayers during Ramadan in Kashmir, said he was asked by the government to appeal to the people to stay indoors during the current month.
“I had to comply with the government directive. Now only Azaan (call for prayer) and the announcement to break the fast are made on the mosque loudspeakers,” the cleric said. “There are absolutely no prayers held inside the mosque.”
He said there is nothing wrong in offering prayers at home during the threat of a pandemic.
Moulana Javaid said that even during the time of the Prophet Muhammad, whenever there was any fear of any disease to spread, the prophet would ask Muslims to offer prayers at home.
In Kashmir, which is India’s only Muslim majority region, Islamic jurists have issued a unanimous decree or Fatwa for Muslims to pray inside their homes.
Kashmir’s senior Islamic jurist Mufti Nazir Ahmad Qasmi issued a public statement, asking people to strictly follow government guidelines.
“People should not try to come to mosques as it will be against all those precautionary measures prescribed for the prevention of the virus,” Qasmi said.
Mushtaq Qadri, a local Muslim who lives in old city of Kashmir, however, said it pained him that mosques were shut during Ramadan and that he could not hear hymns being chanted.
“Since March 21 we haven’t been allowed to enter the mosques. As Ramadan was approaching, we hoped that things would get better. However, they only got worse,” Qadri said.
As of April 28, India had 29,451 COVID-19 cases and a death toll of 939 due to the disease.