Quran recital, call to prayer contest broadcast on the first day of Ramadan

JEDDAH: Two years ago, at the height of the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, Muslims around the world were forced to observe the holy month of Ramadan under lockdown.

They were deprived of the opportunity to spend time with their extended families and enjoy the tradition of breaking the fast together, not to mention the opportunity to make the pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina.

Now, thanks to the protections offered by mass vaccinations, many precautions have been relaxed, including social distancing rules, travel bans have been lifted and a semblance of normality is beginning to return to everyday life. As a result, many Muslims around the world will, for the first time since 2019, once again be free to observe Ramadan as they used to.

The holiest month in the Islamic calendar is due to begin this year on April 1. As usual, the exact date won’t be known for sure until a committee of astronomers and advisers observe the crescent moon. Once the sighting is confirmed, Muslims will begin a month of daytime fasting.

No one suspected on the last day of Ramadan 2019, June 3, that the pilgrims who had gathered at the Grand Mosque in Mecca and the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina to perform the Tarawih prayers would be the last to do so during Ramadan for a while. time.

Muslims around the world hope that the social restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic, which have prevented so many from observing the fundamental tenets of their faith, will never be seen again in their lifetime. (AFP)

Nine months later, on March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared that the novel coronavirus outbreak that initially emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan had become a full-fledged global pandemic. Governments around the world quickly began to respond by imposing strict controls on freedom of movement and social interaction.

The Saudi Ministry of Health announced the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the Kingdom on March 2 this year. The Saudi patient, who had traveled from Iran via Bahrain on the King Fahd Causeway, was immediately quarantined.

The ministry sent infection control teams to trace and test anyone it had come into contact with. Two days later, a second Saudi man tested positive for the virus and soon COVID-19 cases began to rise rapidly across the Kingdom, as in many other countries.

On March 6, a photograph of the circular courtyard of the Grand Mosque in Makkah went viral on social media. Normally filled with devotees in white robes surrounding the Kaaba, the flat, as the courtyard is also known, was empty, lifeless and motionless – completely deserted save for a few security guards.

The depressing image seemed to sum up the severity of the rapidly worsening health emergency.

“The sight of this empty courtyard was a reality check,” Sanaa Abdulhakeem, 72, a retired Saudi educator, told Arab News.

An ominous void has shrouded the holy Kaaba in Mecca’s Grand Mosque in 2020, where attendance at Friday prayers has been hit by protective measures against the deadly coronavirus. (AFP/file photo)

“Never in my life have I seen the mosque empty. I was born right in front of the mosque in Makkah and have lived close to it all my life. It is a place that is always buzzing. A silence falls over it only when the faithful pray in unison with the imam.

Pandemic restrictions have forced Abdulhakeem and his relatives to break with a cherished family tradition of welcoming and feeding visiting pilgrims. She is delighted to resume this charitable activity this year.

“Every year, my sons and grandsons go to the outer courtyards of the mosque to distribute hot meals, dates, water and laban,” she said. “We all pitch together, and their dad and I oversee the packing process.

“It’s a family story that we weren’t allowed to live with for two years and it was difficult. How can you cut a 35-year-old habit that has become a family affair?

INNUMBERS

* 750,589 COVID-19 infections in Saudi Arabia since the start of the pandemic

* 9,042 disease-related deaths reported in the Kingdom

* 62 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines administered in the country

Source: Reuters COVID-19 Tracker

On March 6 this year, Saudi authorities announced the lifting of most COVID-19 related restrictions and that social distancing is no longer required in public places, including the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque.

The following day, hundreds of pilgrims gathered to perform morning prayers together at the Grand Mosque, standing side by side for the first time in many months.

“That’s what we expected; we can continue our rituals and traditions this Ramadan and hopefully this will be the last we hear of COVID-19,” Abdulhakeem said.

“Overall, the timing couldn’t be better, with Ramadan upon us. I see my grandchildren for the first time in over two years. The house will be full again, with everyone under one roof on the first day of Ramadan. This could be the end of COVID as we know it.

Saudi authorities also recently announced the lifting of the ban on flights to and from 17 countries previously considered high-risk locations due to domestic instability and high rates of COVID-19 infection. Additionally, travelers are no longer required to show proof of vaccination, self-quarantine after arrival, or take a PCR test prior to departure or arrival at any of the Kingdom’s entry points.

Saudis shop for food as Muslims around the world prepare for the upcoming holy fasting month of Ramadan, at a market in Medina. (AFP/file photo)

As part of its efforts to control crowd sizes and ensure a smooth pilgrimage, the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah said that Muslims wishing to perform Umrah or pray in Rawdah at the Prophet’s Mosque will still need to apply for permits through the Eatmarna or Tawakkalna apps. Face masks will remain mandatory.

For observant Muslims, Ramadan is a month of fasting and prayer but also an opportunity to spend more time with extended family. Homes are often decorated with garlands of twinkling garlands, doorways are adorned with lanterns, and bright red and blue oriental-themed banners hang from the ceilings in the living room and dining room. Some families are giving their homes a complete makeover for Ramadan, including traditional patterned red fabrics, in preparation for guests.

“This year, Ramadan will be very special because not only will my mother be visiting, but my uncles and cousins ​​will also be arriving from Egypt to perform Umrah and stay at my house for a few days,” 29-year-old Najia Jamal. -an elderly Saudi-Egyptian mother of two who lives in Jeddah, told Arab News.

“My mother is pulling the strings this year; the decorations were delivered early, with instructions. I bought all their favorite dishes and prepared a large menu filled with the most delicious Saudi dishes.

“The most unusual item I received from my mother’s care package is a traditional jar of foul (beans) bought specially in one of Cairo’s old quarters where all sorts of Ramadan products can be found.

With Ramadan now here, the Kingdom and its people can look forward to a holy month observed in the way they cherish – surrounded by family and friends. (AFP/file photo)

“It’s a celebration in itself. I don’t know a single household that doesn’t go to the trouble of decorating and giving each other Ramadan gifts, like lanterns or dates or decorating kits for the kids.

“The good news made us forget that COVID-19 is still a threat. It’s become a minor concern now. It’s time to embrace the month fearlessly and share the love with family.

Jamal’s aunt, Gawdat Hafez, a retired employee of Saudia Airlines in Cairo, said she hoped to surprise her niece with a personalized lantern from a famous vendor in Cairo’s Sayyida Zainab district.

“It will be good to see my niece again and bring her a taste of home,” she told Arab News. “It’s the month of giving, unity and family bonding and a time to put the last two years behind us.”

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