AKAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) – Muslims began celebrating Ramadan in community prayers on Tuesday, in contrast to the social difference of empty mosques a year ago, when the holiest month of Islam coincided with the start of the coronavirus epidemic.
COVID-19 cases are on the rise in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, but vaccines are being implemented, and the government is easing restrictions. Mosques were allowed to open for Ramadan prayers with healthy health records, and through open-air cafes, passers-by again saw curtains protecting the food of fasting people.
Neighboring Muslim Malaysia has also eased its restrictions, including last year’s ban on night prayers, opening popular outdoor markets selling food, beverages and clothing.
Indonesian Religious Affairs Minister Yakut Cholil Kumas said in a televised address on Monday evening that a new Ramadan moon had been discovered. The holy month is marked by fervent prayer, fasting from dawn to dusk, and night festivities.
Authorities closed all mosques last year, and clerics issued fatwas or decrees urging Muslims to pray at home during the holy month, not to gather in crowded places and endanger the spread of the virus.
Muslims expect a resurgence of the virus this year, but all mosques will continue to maintain social distance and other precautions, which will significantly reduce the number of people.
“I already miss everything in Ramadan,” said Umar. “The hearts of devout Muslims are tied to the mosque…
Authorities in the capital, Akarta, on Sunday dismantled 317 mosques in preparation for Ramadan, said Jakarta Governor Anies Basvedan. Signs of social distance have been posted, soap has been made, hand cleanser has been made.
The government will also allow people to hold iftar gatherings during Ramadan in restaurants, shops and cafes, which can serve customers up to 50% of their capacity and maintain strict health guidelines.
Iftar takes place at sunset, when Muslims break their fast – usually the main time of dinner for people before the night prayer.
“For those of us who are tired of the COVID-19 outbreak, the restrictions on relaxation are fresh air,” said Anna Mardyastut, a resident of Anna Akarta. “Yes, they should act to stop the virus, but not close the door on worship or completely change our Ramadan tradition,” he said.
In Malaysia, 21-year-old Van Noradriana Balkis welcomed the return of community prayers in mosques, but said he would avoid Ramadan markets, which are often crowded.
“I do not think it is a good idea to reopen the markets. There are rules, but many people do not follow them, ”said the database administrator.
Malaysia coronavirus cases have more than tripled since January to more than 362,000, with daily increases of more than 1,000. Indonesia is the worst-hit country in Southeast Asia, with more than 1.5 million infections and more than 42,600 deaths as of Monday.
Indonesia will keep the vaccines out during Ramadan as officials try to allay concerns about Islamic teachings that Muslims should refrain from “entering everything in the body” between dawn and dusk.
Indonesia’s top Muslim body has said that Muslims entitled to vaccinations are not only allowed but “required” to be vaccinated during Ramadan.
Although Muslims abstain from food and drink during Ramadan during the day, the vaccine does not enter the muscle, not the blood, and is not nourished, so it does not invalidate the fast, says Niam Sholeh, head of the fatwa of the Ulema Council in Indonesia.
“If we continue to take our vaccines, we can be sure that next Ramadan we will return to some normalcy,” said Sholeh.
Some vaccine sites in Akarta extend their working hours so that Muslims can come after fasting.
Indonesia plans to vaccinate two-thirds of its population, about 270 million people, or more than 180 million by the end of next year. The current priorities are health care workers, the elderly, other at-risk populations, and two doses of the vaccine will be free for all Indonesians.
Associated Press reporter Eileen Ng participated in the report in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.