Coronavirus Makes it Hard on the Poor During Ramadan

As the Islamic holy month of Ramadan begins April 23, Muslims are experiencing radical changes in the way it is observed.

Communal charity iftars, such as this on organized by a local mosque in Dubai, have been canceled because of the pandemic.
Communal charity meals, such as this one organized by a local mosque in Dubai, have been canceled because of the pandemic. (photo by Kertu,
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 In an effort to control the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, Muslims in most parts of the world are prohibited from joining large religious gatherings—and the restriction will also impact the ways in which many of them break their dawn-to-dusk fast.

Every day before dawn during Ramadan, Muslims have a single pre-fast meal called Sahour and then fast until the evening meal or iftar, which they share as a community. Iftar is usually consumed immediately after sunset. It is common for mosques to host large iftars, especially for the poor. The COVID-19 pandemic is dramatically changing this cherished tradition.

As pointed out by Aljazeera’s Saba Aziz, “giving charity …which is one of the five pillars of Islam, is encouraged during Ramadan.” In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where a nightly nationwide curfew has been in place since March 26, charities will deliver iftar meals to the poor instead of serving them in Ramadan tents or mosques.

The number of needy this year is likely to increase because many people have been financially impacted by the lockdown ordered by governments to help contain the spread of the coronavirus.

One charity group, Dar Al Ber Society, expects to provide 11,000 meals to people in Dubai, Ajman and Ras Al Khaimah—three of the seven emirates of the UAE.

“We are expecting a lot more [work] since hotels too will have to donate through a charity,” said Hisham Al Zahrany, deputy director of Social Services at the society.

Long-standing traditions will also be reversed in neighboring Egypt, where charity iftar tables full of food have been banned. Egypt’s Ministry of Endowments announced in early April that charitable associations and philanthropists have been advised to give cash and food donations to the needy instead.

Similar restrictions in India have led to Jamia Nizamia, an Islamic seminary in the southern state of Hyderabad, to appeal to Muslims not to host iftar parties or hold them in mosques.

In Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore, the government has banned the month-long popular open-air bazaars where people traditionally break their daily Ramadan fast by feasting on a diverse range of ethnic cuisines. The head of Malaysia-based group Sisters in Islam said this will have a big economic impact on small businesses and single mothers, who rely heavily on this source of income. Many small traders, who usually sell their wares in these bazaars, have moved their businesses online.


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COVID-19 Ramadan