The Muslim holy month of Ramadan this year will be like no other. Muslims all over the world have embarked on a period of self-reflection, fasting and prayer, however under the shadow of the coronavirus (COVID-19).
Public health measures that require social distancing are at odds with Iftar, the nightly breaking of the fast and the usual mosque gatherings with the community. Prayers will have to take place in people’s homes as public safety and protecting people’s health needs to be prioritised.
Nigeria with the largest Muslim population in West Africa has begun Ramadan in lockdown. Unprecedented times have necessitated unprecedented measures to stem the spread of a virus that has continued to spread. Easter this year was also celebrated behind closed doors for many Catholics when the Pope faced an empty St Peter’s Square as he celebrated Easter mass, live streamed to millions of Catholics all over the world.
The Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), led by Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III, the President-General of the Council and Sultan of Sokoto ordered the closure of mosques in Abuja in March 2020. This has been repeated across different states in Nigeria. Prayers in mosques have been suspended and followers advised to perform their prayers at home. At this time, followers may be feeling separated from their communities, however this need not be the case. Even though people have to remain physically separated from one another, social interaction is still very much encouraged by making use of available technology, which has proven to be a very valuable tool to bridge the communication and social gaps.
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) issued an advisory for Ramadan in line with World Health Organisation guidelines. These especially call upon religious leaders to support their followers and community members during this month of prayer, encouraging them to;
• Adhere to national and state directives requesting the cancellation and avoidance of large gatherings, including places of worship.
• Arrange to hold sermons via broadcast through television and radio
• Worship using video or audio-taping worship services, phone calls or video chat platforms, using virtual meeting platforms or teleconference facilities for interactive prayer sessions
• Encourage washing of the hands with soap and water before ablution
• Ensure that food items meant for charity (sadaqa) are pre-packaged
and distributed without allowing crowd convergence
• Enjoin all Muslims to adhere to guidelines put in place by the
authorities in order to protect themselves and their loved ones in order to help bring an end to the COVID-19 outbreak in Nigeria
Where access to technology is not available, followers can still stay in contact with each other through phone calls, maintaining their connectedness also through paired-prayer sessions. Other ways to remain connected include the collection of prayer intentions from different community members, and circulating these with other followers.
The lockdown was put in place for an initial 14 days from the 30th March by President Buhari and then further extended on the 13th April for a further 14 days. Following the speech from President Buhari on the 27th April, he declared that the lockdown would stay in place until the gradual easing of the lockdown measures from the 4th May. However, mosques and other places of worship are to remain closed until further directed. It is important for people to understand the purpose of the lockdown. This was put in place to limit the spread of the highly contagious virus, by keeping people physically apart and so to keep the number of confirmed cases below the country’s healthcare capacity for treatment.
With the planned easing of the lockdown measures, many restrictions will remain in place, as the country pushes to get ahead of the virus. All communities need to take responsibility in ensuring that they adhere to the public health measures put in place.
Abubakar – Public Health Journalist at Nigeria Health Watch