Analysis: the coronavirus outbreak is having a substantial impact on the rituals that surround Ramadan for Muslims in Ireland and worldwide

By Stephanie McDermott, Carlow College

Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar! (God is Great, God is Great God is Great!). As Ramadan continues, the Muslim call to prayer will take on a different meaning for the 1.8 billion Muslims throughout the world this year. Ramadan is a period of devout prayer, fasting, offering charity and engagement with the community. During Ramadan, many Muslims abstain from eating and drinking between sunrise and sunset. It is one of the five pillars of Islam where Muslims seek forgiveness for sins and become closer to Allah.

For the Muslim community around the world, the outbreak of Covid-19 will have a substantial impact on the rituals that surround Ramadan. For example, the city of Mecca and the traditional pilgrimage (the Hajj) will not witness the hundreds of thousands of worshippers who usually descend on the Saudi Arabian city, the birthplace of Muhammad, for the final day of the fasting month of Ramadan.   

For the 60,000 Muslims in Ireland, the month of observance will be reconfigured. The restriction on movement means that the traditional weeks of preparation beforehand are curtailed. Just like Christmas for the Christians, purchasing food, preparing special dishes and visiting family and friends are all part of the rituals that surround the holy month. 

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From RTÉ One's Six One News, Muslims prepare for Ramadan

Christians visit churches at Christmastime, kneel at the crib, pray and sing together to celebrate the birth of Christ and the festivities that surround Christmas. Muslims celebrate the verbal revealing of the Quran (Islam's Holy Book) from God to the Prophet Mohammed in 609 CE in a similar way. Christians celebrate the birth of Christ by taking holidays, meeting up with family and friends, exchanging gifts and donating to the less fortunate. At the end of Ramadan, there is the festival of Eid (festival of breaking the fast) when Muslims pray and eat together, share their food with friends and family and exchange gifts.

Visits to a mosque during Ramadan, like visits to a church during Christian festivals, are an essential part of religious rituals. Communal evening prayer (Salat) at the mosque is not only a religious activity but also a social activity.  There is a strong sense of community, solidarity, shared values, a sense of belonging, social bonding and a sense of purpose, all of which raises the collective sense of devotion to a higher authority. As Christians pour out from midnight mass at Christmas in churches across Ireland with a feeling of increased spirituality and a strengthening of family ties, the same can be said for Muslims who leave the mosque after Salat and readings from the Quran.

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From RTÉ Radio 1's Today With Sean O'Rourke, Dr Umar Al-Qadri, Chair Irish Muslim Peace & Integration Council and Chief Imam of the Islamic Centre Ireland, on Ramadan in a time of pandemic

The month of Ramadan is traditionally marked by social gatherings and feasts, but Covid 19 has put a stop to many of these rituals. Social distancing will take its toll on many Muslim families in Ireland who depend on each other for company and support. It is a vital part of social connections and mitigates against much of the isolation that Muslim communities experience living in Ireland. Muslims will be observing Ramadan in private thus adding to more isolation. The vast majority of Muslims will take this as an opportunity to reflect and become more familiar with the Quran in their private domains as mosques remain closed to evening prayers.

The "call to prayer" has been replaced by "pray at home", becoming a more private affair. Private family prayers will be offered to end Covid 19 and for people working on the frontline in hospitals and care settings throughout Ireland (many of whom are migrants). Prayers will also be offered for people who have lost their jobs because of Covid-19, people who are living in isolation who cannot be part of communal prayer and for inner strength to get through this period in history. Many Muslims in Ireland have the added worry and anxiety in relation to their family and friends in their country of origin. There will be more fervent praying for the health and well-being of absent friends and family members.

For Sabri Mohammed Al’Besir’s family in Kilkenny, the month of Ramadan will be a month where all of his family will pray together and fast together in private. "We will really miss praying at the mosque, my wife and children especially, it is usually a time of devout prayer, readings from the Quran and celebration. We meet others from the Muslim community in Kilkenny that we do not see often, it is a time when we reconnect and gain strength from each other in our devotion to Islam and the Prophet Mohammed. It is our identity. All will be well soon, Inshallagh"

Stephanie McDermott is a Lecturer in Community, Equality & Advocacy Studies at Carlow College