Is there an appropriate greeting for Ramadan - Dialogue with the Islamic World

At the beginning of the week, Abdul Latif al-Sheikh, Saudi Arabia's Minister for Religious Affairs, announced that all Muslims in his country will be allowed to continue on 23/24. At the beginning of April, Ramadan should only be prayed at home. Any gathering or common prayers in the country's mosques are prohibited during the month of fasting.

With this, Al-Sheikh continues to rely on the strict measures to contain the coronavirus that the country, which traditionally sees itself as a "servant" or "guardian of the holy places of Islam", had already taken weeks ago: Since March 19, there are collectives Prayers in the mosques there are banned indefinitely. At the beginning of March, Saudi Arabia stopped issuing visas for the umrah, the so-called "little pilgrimage" possible all year round.

The kingdom initially prohibited all pilgrimages to the pilgrimage sites of Mecca and Medina and closed the mosques and other places there completely. Muslims who intended to take part in this year's "great pilgrimage", the Hajj, were called on to put their travel plans on hold for the time being. In fact, this also amounts to a rejection.

Egypt: Imam cancels Friday prayers

Egypt had already decided at the beginning of April: All public religious gatherings during Ramadan are forbidden. The imam of Al-Azhar University, which is highly regarded in the Muslim world, Ahmed al-Tayeb, had already suspended Friday and other congregational prayers in the famous university mosque in Cairo in March. For this he had issued a fatwa, a religious legal opinion that relates to the current health crisis.

Admittedly, such measures do not appeal to everyone: For example, the Egyptian authorities had also closed the Sayeda Zainab Mosque, one of the most important historical places of worship in the old town of Cairo, after serious disputes.

There, after Friday prayers, numerous believers clashed with other citizens who angrily accused them of contributing to the spread of the virus through mass prayers without any distance between the participants. Elsewhere in the country there were initially even religiously charged "demonstrations" by many people "against" the coronavirus, against which the authorities soon intervened.

Theological discussions

Theological discussions have long since begun in large parts of the Islamic world as to whether believers could perhaps be completely exempted from the obligation to fast this year in view of the corona pandemic. Traditionally, such exceptions only apply to a few groups of people, such as the sick, pregnant women, travelers, very old or frail people.

Doctors in various countries publicly stated that fasting basically allows the pharynx to dry out, which increases the risk of infection. That is why the compulsory fast should be lifted. Instead, the faithful should donate more to the poor than in previous years. Food parcels for people in need - for this purpose, believers can also order donations online, i.e. contact-free.

Muslims will fast in #Ramadan again this year, as they have done for more than 1400 years. If someone is unable to do so, they will not fast as they have done for over 1,400 years. That says everything there is to say about Ramadan in the times of #Corona. #coronavirus

- Ali Mete (@ AliMete82) April 8, 2020

The research committee of Al-Azhar University, which specializes in religious law, has so far adhered to the principle of fasting: The committee sees fasting as a religious duty as long as it has not been medically proven that it has a harmful effect in connection with corona.

Moroccan Theologian: Diagnosis Crucial

The Moroccan Islamic scholar Abdel-Wahab al-Rafiqi sees the question of abolishing the compulsory fasting already settled: "The fulfillment of religious duties is a prerequisite for the salvation of the soul," Al-Rafiqi told DW. "But since sick people cannot adequately fulfill their religious duties, they are exempt from the obligation to fast, as are all others who fear illness."

The Moroccan theologian regards the individual medical diagnosis as crucial here: "If, on the basis of a medical examination, one has to assume an increased risk of illness from fasting, then it is also permissible to suspend it." Basically, this is even a duty, said al-Rafiqi, because the most important effort for Muslims is currently the fight against the epidemic. "That has priority over everything else."

Al-Rafiqi said that the month of fasting will have to do without the otherwise important community rituals this year and will have to be limited to rites of faith in the domestic family circle. He also sees advantages in this: "Even if this means the loss of our wonderful rituals, it seems to me to be a special and thoroughly useful experience."

"We're turning our living rooms into mosques"

Muslim associations in Europe argue similarly. Aiman ​​Mazyek, the chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, believes that the current situation gives Muslims the opportunity to become more aware of the holy month of Ramadan than before.

We're excited to launch #MyOpenIftar - our solution to keeping the #Ramadan spirit alive this year!

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- Ramadan Tent Project (@RamadanTent) April 9, 2020

It is not the renunciation of food and drink itself that plays the main role, but its deeper spiritual meaning: "Fasting should point to the spiritual treasure of Ramadan, the holy month on which the Koran was revealed, the month of mercy, of forgiveness, the month of prayer, reading the Koran and intimate conversation with God, "said Mazyek on the Central Council's website. Of course, the Muslims wanted to pray in the mosque, he continues. "But in Corona times we turn our living rooms into mosques within our families after we have broken the fast with them together."

Discussions on social media

This year's Ramadan has been discussed in the social media of Arab and other Islamic countries for weeks. Many users are also more pragmatic here.

Should the religious rites be banned during Ramadan, this tweet asks. No, replies one user, but the believers should keep their distance from one another during prayer, as this was already done during an epidemic in the early days of Islam, the user said. Many believers also express themselves on the subject in German.

Virtual forms of fasting - for example via the live function of Facebook, Skype or various forms of video conferencing - are likely to experience a breakthrough this year, not only in the Islamic world. In Great Britain, for example, the "Ramadan Tent Project" (RTP) aims to bring Muslims together digitally every evening while they are breaking the fast.

It is important that people can share the feeling of belonging, said Omar Salha, head of the RTP, the English-language newspaper "The National" in the United Arab Emirates. "Our virtual breaking the fast offers a platform on which people can safely unite, share their experiences and feel that they belong together - at a time when we need it most."

Siham Ouchtou and Kersten Knipp

© Deutsche Welle 2020