Muslims across the world are set to start observing the holy month of Ramadhan, a period of fasting and prayer, this week amid the global Covid-19 pandemic.
In Kenya, the start date is expected to be announced by the Chief Kadhi Sheikh Ahmed Muhdhar but is anticipated to start either on Wednesday or Thursday depending on the sighting of the new crescent moon.
Muslims consider the 9th month of the lunar calendar, known as Ramadhan, to be more than just a time of fasting – it’s a month of restraint for the whole body.
The fasting month is also the time of reaching out to people and giving charity as the faithful are required to reach out to the needy and poor, feed them and give them charity throughout the 30-days fasting period.
During the daily fast, Muslims refrain from eating at dawn till sunset, drinking, smoking and sexual relationships for married couples.
Fasting is compulsory for every Muslim male or female with exemptions of children under the age of puberty, insane people, men and women who are too old to undertake the obligation of fasting among others.
Others include sick people whose health is likely to be severely affected by the observance of the fast, pregnant women and nursing mothers.
During Ramadhan, hundreds of street vendors across Mombasa sell a variety of authentic Swahili homemade delicacies that are irresistible and used in iftar (breaking of the fast meal observed during Ramadhan).
Entire streets are overtaken by the food vendors during the Ramadhan season and transformed into a vibrant food bazaar but Muslims have to wait until dusk to partake in the mouthwatering myriad delicacies.
Throughout the month, people throng the usually crowded Ramadhan food bazaars specially set up for the faithful to buy Swahili cuisine to break the fast.
The mushrooming food bazaars in the streets of Mombasa during the fasting month that have become a sort of an annual phenomenon is likely to suffer this year under the coronavirus restrictions.
Also to be affected are eateries near mosques, which are usually open during the month of Ramadhan throughout the night.
It is usually brisk business and a month of a windfall for Ramadhan food traders as many households and visitors head to the bazaars to buy ready-made meals for breaking of the fast.
Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya (CIPK) Organising Secretary Sheikh Mohamed Khalifa said Ramadhan is a time when religious fervour is high and many Muslims spend many hours in mosques.
“But this Ramadhan promises to be different for Muslims across the world because of the restrictions on gathering and closure of places of worship to curb the spread of the covid-19,” he said on Monday.
The cleric who was accompanied by Mvita MP Abdulswamad Nassir and Mombasa Senator Mohamed Faki has called on the government to adjust the nationwide curfew hours from 7 pm to 10 pm during Ramadhan.
He also wants Muslims to be allowed to go to mosques to offer collective and congregational prayers and feed the less fortunate ‘since mosques receive donations from congregants’.
He said the faithful will miss iftar (breaking of the fast) in groups and offering special taraweeh (evening) prayers in mosques due to the night curfew and the guidelines on social distancing.
He said taraweeh are special prayers performed only during Ramadhan and usually done in large groups at mosques.
“Due to the public health advisories that have suspended congregational prayers in mosques this Ramadhan is going to be like no other religious event,” he said.
The cleric said the faithful should learn the wisdom and lessons to be derived from this month of mercy by changing their bad attitudes and behaviour and fervently pray for the end of the coronavirus pandemic.
He said if the government does not relax the guidelines on Covid-19 ‘we will have no option but to encourage Muslims to observe fasting meaningfully at home’.
“Overall, those observing the fast avoid smoking, sex, food, drinks, evil thoughts and acts,” said Sheikh Khalifa.
Sheikh Khalifa said the blessed month of Ramadhan is also a month of generosity and giving saying the month is meant for Muslims to identify with the less fortunate and their needs and hunger.
Sheikh Khalifar said Ramadhan is a time for renewing faith and purifying ‘heart and soul’ for the millions who share in the Muslim faith around the world.
But the cleric has welcomed the government directive to waive tax on imported date fruits during the fasting Muslim holy month of Ramadhan.
Dates are sweet fruits that grow on a palm-like tree and are mostly found in the Middle East countries including Saudi Arabia, Iran, Jordan, Syria and the United Arab Emirates.
He said the fruit is traditionally the first food Muslims break their daylong fast with during sunset.
Sheikh Khalifa said the move will go a long way in assisting the Muslims since dates are a popular food item mostly consumed during the blessed month of Ramadhan.
On his part Chief Kadhi Sheikh Muhdhar distanced himself from Muslim leaders calling for the reopening of mosques during Ramadhan and said worshipers should not gather in groups and should stay at home as much as possible to curb the spread of the virus.
He said this year Muslims in the country just like their colleagues across the globe have no choice but to offer Ramadhan night and Eid prayers that mark the end of fasting at home.
“Muslims should respect the nationwide efforts to break the spread of covid-19 and I encourage everyone to stay home and be safe,” he said in an interview with KNA.
The cleric cum judicial officer said the holy Ramadhan can be observed in such ways as focusing on core issues of fasting and helping the needy in the society during this global health emergency.
“Generally Ramadhan is a period of intense reflection, spiritual renewal and peace,” he noted.
Mombasa hotelier Mohamed Hersi also dismissed calls for the adjustment of the curfew hours.
“What the clergy should be asking for is quicker faster clearance of dates from the port of Mombasa so that we have enough to go round more so the charity ones for the less fortunate,” he said.
He said what the religious leaders should be doing is to spend time to help the faithful to follow all the preventative measures taken to fight the spread of the coronavirus.