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Muslims open Ramadan with social distancing prayers, vaccines

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) – Muslims in Indonesia on Tuesday began marking Ramadan with community prayers in a socially distant contrast to the empty mosques of a year ago when Islam’s holiest month hit coincided with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

COVID-19 cases are on the rise in the world’s most populous Muslim nation, but vaccines are being administered and the government is easing restrictions. Mosques were allowed to open for Ramadan prayers with strict health protocols in place, and with malls and cafes open, passers-by could again see curtains protecting the sight of food from people who were fasting.

Indonesian Minister of Religious Affairs Yaqut Cholil Qoumas announced in a televised speech Monday evening that the new moon had been spotted. The holy month is marked by intense prayer, a fast from dawn to dusk and nocturnal feasts.

Authorities closed all mosques last year and clerics issued a fatwa, or edict, urging Muslims to pray in their homes during the holy month rather than congregating in crowded spaces and risking spreading the virus. .

Muslims expect a resurgence of the virus this year, but all mosques will continue to adhere to social distancing and other precautions, which will significantly reduce crowds, said Nasaruddin Umar, imam of the Istiqlal Grand Mosque in Jakarta. .

“I already miss all of Ramadan,” said Umar, “The hearts of Muslim worshipers are tied to the mosque … the desire of Ramadan lovers has finally been relieved today even though the pandemic is not over yet .

In the capital, Jakarta, authorities disinfected 317 mosques on Sunday in preparation for Ramadan, Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan said. Social distancing markers were installed and soap and hand sanitizers were prepared.

The government will also allow people to hold “iftar” gatherings during Ramadan in restaurants, malls and cafes, which can serve customers up to 50% of their capacity and follow strict health guidelines.

Iftar takes place at sunset, the time when Muslims break their fast and usually the perfect time for people to have dinner with friends and family before evening prayers.

“The easing of restrictions is like a breath of fresh air for us who are weary of this COVID-19 outbreak,” said Anna Mardyastuti, a resident of Jakarta. “Yes, they should act to stop the virus, but not to block the door to worship or to completely change our Ramadan tradition,” she said.

Indonesia is the worst-affected country in Southeast Asia with more than 1.5 million infections on Monday and more than 42,600 deaths.

The Health Ministry will continue to roll out the vaccine during Ramadan as officials attempt to allay concerns over Islamic teaching that Muslims should refrain from “anything that goes into the body” between getting up and going. sunset.

Indonesia’s main Muslim religious body has said Muslims eligible for vaccination are not only allowed but “required” to get them during Ramadan.

Although Muslims refrain from all food and drink during the day during Ramadan, the vaccine enters the muscles rather than the bloodstream and is not nutritional, so does not invalidate the fast, Asrorun Niam said. Sholeh, Fatwas Officer for the Indonesian Ulema Council.

“If we keep taking our vaccines, we can make sure that next Ramadan we will return to some normalcy,” Sholeh said.

Some vaccination sites in Jakarta are extending their opening hours so that Muslims can come after breaking the fast.

Indonesia plans to immunize two-thirds of its population of around 270 million people – just over 180 million people by the end of next year. Current priorities are health workers, the elderly and other populations at risk, and the two-dose vaccine will be free for all Indonesians.

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