There is no doubt that Ramadan this year is different from previous years. The usual sense of communal spirituality is absent and its joy is lost amid the artificial panic surrounding the coronavirus Covid-19. Social distancing has imposed the closure of mosques including, most importantly, Al-Masjid Al-Haram in Makkah. Muslims cannot perform Umrah — the minor pilgrimage — for which many wait eagerly every year. Even those who have not had the honour of visiting Al-Haram looked forward to watching the nightly tarawih prayers on their televisions, broadcast live from the holy mosque to compensate them somewhat for being unable to visit themselves. It allowed them to experience its spiritual atmosphere, enjoy the recitation of the whole Qur'an live on air, as if they were reciting along with the sheikhs.
The mosques are closed in all Arab countries, under the pretext of Covid-19, but are open in some Muslim countries, such as Indonesia, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Some mosques in Western countries are also open, with prayers organised so that worshippers are kept apart, thus preserving the precautionary "social distancing" measures and invalidating the blanket virus excuse for closure. The rest of the Muslim countries could have done the same, but they did not want to. It is as if they found a means to achieve their goal in Covid-19.
The Egyptian Minister of Religious Endowments, for example, said that whoever gathers people for Friday prayers or group prayer should be tried for treason. He seems to be the keenest to close mosques. Even when the Egyptians demanded that the mosques remain open and for the Qur'an to be recited from them, without worshippers, he was adamant that it would not happen.
Although the curfew hours have been reduced in all the Arab countries and the ban has been lifted from places such as clubs, parks and malls, it remains imposed on the mosques. The inflexibility towards places of worship is surprising; why do Arab governments resort to such an unjustified approach? They claim that people gathering in mosques helps to spread the virus, but they turn a blind eye to them gathering in markets and public transportation. Does Covid-19 only invade mosques and affect worshippers? How many crimes are being committed in the name of coronavirus, while the virus has nothing to do with them?
The fact is that they want to change the Islamic identity of their countries. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman has abolished lashing as a punishment and is applying French law, while his country's constitution is the Qur'an and its provisions. That's the basis of the law upon which the Saud family established their state. "They want to extinguish the light of Allah with their mouths, but Allah refuses except to perfect His light, although the disbelievers dislike it."
So, yes, Ramadan in the time of coronavirus is different from its predecessors. Every Muslim feels a bit of sadness inside them given the absence of the main manifestations of joy and generosity, a month during which they rushed to do good and grow closer to God. Such manifestations include the collective-breaking of the daily fast, and now the poor and passers-by have nowhere to eat.
One thing hasn't changed, though, and that's television. The usual dramas, entertainment and game shows continue to be aired like every other year, and the complete absence of religious and historical programmes is again noticeable. This policy was adopted in the Arab countries with the launch of Arab satellite channels in the 1990s in order to distract people from worship in this holy month. The coronavirus further strengthened this policy and found those who justify it under the pretext of entertainment during the lockdown to encourage people to stay at home. An actress even described herself as a mujahida — holy warrior — because she is forced to go out despite the dangers of Covid-19 to film her programme and is sacrificing herself for the sake of entertaining the people who stay at home.
Everyone is using the coronavirus as an excuse to justify their actions, while the virus is being wronged by the actions of humans. It came as a warning for the people, but they remain unaware.
Covid-19 is a means to bring people closer to their God, not to move further away from Him. This tiny microscopic virus which no one can yet defeat, should make people contemplate their situation and remind them of their weakness and fragility. No matter how much knowledge and power they have, this is derived from the strength and knowledge of God, the Almighty, not from themselves. This should push them closer to the Creator and push them towards following to His wishes, leading to certainty and faith in their behaviour and actions. Coronavirus Covid-19 is actually a blessing from God for those who understand.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.