As the coronavirus crisis continues, so do government’s social distancing advisories, and the situation will significantly change how followers of Islam observe the period of Ramadan and its culmination in the festival of Eid-ul-Fitr.
Imam Anas Hajjar of the Islamic Society of Finland said Ramadan will be observed very differently due to the crisis. The society has about 2,000 members and describes itself as the second-oldest Muslim community in Finland.
According to Hajjar, the Muslim community leadership is preparing guidelines on how to celebrate Ramadan in the coronavirus age. The guidelines are similar to ones issued by the Finnish state, which include limiting gatherings to 10 people or less. Unless it is extended, that particular rule remains in effect until 13 May.
Ramadan, a month of fasting, abstinence, prayer and reflection, begins next Thursday evening, 23 April and continues until Saturday evening 23 May. Each day during that period, practitioners of Islam fast from dawn to dusk, eating before the sun rises and breaking the fast after the sun sets.
A three-day celebration and feast, known as Eid al-Fitr, follows the month of daily fasting. Normally, people gather in large groups at the end of the holiday.
Imam Hajjar said that ordinary mass prayers are out of the question because mosques are closed.
"This is a very big change because we’re used to holding prayers together. Night prayers during Ramadan will now be done at home rather than going to the mosque," Hajjar said.
Devotees will also not gather in larger groups for meals during the holiday due to the restrictions.
"This year family-centred Ramadan celebrations are being emphasised," he explained, adding that the coronavirus crisis is being taken seriously in the Muslim communtiy and that the temporary rules are being followed.
"This is an opportunity to do things a little differently. People shouldn’t give in to feelings of fear, but one should be hopeful about the future, because at some point this epidemic will end," Hajjar said, noting that the community is prepared to change their guidelines if authorities adjust the policies and restrictions.
For example, Helsinki Deputy Mayor Nasima Razmyar has appealed to the Muslim community to take the coronavirus guidelines into account during Ramadan, and also said that the holiday would be observed differently this year. Meanwhile the country’ ministry of social affairs and health have not issued special guidelines regarding Ramadan, the ministry confirmed.
Rules to be followed
The Resalat community, which has about 1,000 Shia Islam followers, is also preparing for a different Ramadan this year. According to the community’s Imam Abbas Bahmanpour the ongoing epidemic will greatly affect how Ramadan is celebrated but noted that the members of Resalat community understand the seriousness of the situation. He said the organisation is preparing guidelines for the month-long period.
"If [the crisis] arrived in the middle of Ramadan, the instructions would likely have been harder to change. Now it looks like the situation will continue for a long time to come," Bahmanpour said.
The community’s mosque has also been closed and Ramadan will not be observed on-site, but rather online this year. The community has also recommended against gatherings or group celebrations during the period.
"This is of course a major deviation from the ordinary," the imam said.