Indonesia reports 436 new cases of coronavirus, largest daily leap

JAKARTA: Muslims around the world began Ramadan on Friday with fasting from dawn to dusk, but many will have to give up communal prayers and family reunions that make the holy month special, as authorities maintain blockages aimed at slowing down the coronavirus pandemic.
Ramadan is generally a festive season, with a day’s fasting followed by sumptuous meals and evenings. But this year, many are confined to their homes, travel is severely limited and public places such as parks, shopping malls and even mosques are closed.
Many are also overwhelmed by anxiety over the pandemic and the widespread job losses resulting from global closings.
“It’s too sad to remember in history,” said Belm Febriansyah, a resident of the capital of Indonesia, the most populous Muslim nation in the world.
Jakarta is the epicenter of the epidemic in the country, which has reported more than 8,200 infections and 689 deaths. Passenger flights and rail services have been suspended, and private cars are prohibited from leaving the city.
The mosques in the deeply conservative Indonesian province of Aceh were packed, however, after its main religious body ruled that it was not a “red” area and that prayers could continue. The province is governed by Islamic law under an autonomy agreement.
The virus causes mild to moderate symptoms in most people, which recover within a few weeks. But it is highly contagious and can cause serious illness or death, especially in older patients or those with underlying health conditions.
Muslim-majority countries began to impose widespread restrictions in mid-March, many canceling Friday prayers and closing holy places. Saudi Arabia has largely locked Mecca and Medina and suspended the Umrah pilgrimage all year.
Muslim-majority Malaysia has extended its lockout for another two weeks until May 12, although its daily virus cases have dropped significantly in the past week. The country now has 5,603 cases, including 95 deaths.
Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said in a televised speech on the eve of Ramadan that the “jihad” or holy war against the pandemic has worked, but must continue.
Malaysia, as well as Singapore and Brunei, have banned popular Ramadan bazaars, where food, drink and clothing are sold in congested open-air markets or roadside stalls. Bazaars are an essential source of income for many small traders, some of whom have moved their businesses online.
In Pakistan, Prime Minister Imran Khan gave in to pressure from the country’s powerful clerical establishment and allowed the mosques to remain open, even though the number of new cases has recently doubled from 600 to 700 per day. Some clerics have ordered their supporters to pack their bags in the mosques, saying that their faith would protect them.
Sindh province in southern Pakistan, however, has banned Ramadan prayers after the Pakistani Medical Association pleaded with the authorities to close mosques nationwide.
A key element of Ramadan is charity, the fasting being partly intended to cultivate empathy for the needy. But many countries have imposed bans on joint meals, forcing charities to organize home deliveries.
In Turkey, authorities have banned the tradition of setting up tents and outdoor tables to provide free meals for the poor. He also prohibited drummers from going door-to-door to wake people up for the pre-dawn meal in exchange for advice – another Ramadan tradition.
Last month, Turkey also banned community prayers in mosques. Health Minister Fahrettin Koca tweeted that the month of Ramadan should not be “an excuse to relax the precautions.”
“The month of blessings should not cause illness,” he said.
In Istanbul, Esat Sahin, the chief imam of the Fatih mosque, said it was a “very lonely situation”.
“Our mosques are deprived of their congregation, like a child who has become an orphan,” he said. “Our hearts are very heavy because of this.”
In war-torn Afghanistan, blockages have exacerbated the suffering of the poor.
“The landlord wants rent and the kids are asking for food, and I have no answer for any of them,” said Ahmed Shah, standing in front of a supermarket with a wheeled cart, hoping to earn money by helping people with their errands.
Ismatullah, another Kabul resident, said that he and his family of five had bread and tea before the fast started. “We have nothing for tonight,” he said.
More than 1,300 people tested positive in Afghanistan and 43 died.
Ramadan in India, which begins on Saturday, has been marred by the rise of Islamophobia following accusations that a resurgence of infections was linked to a three-day meeting in New Delhi in March of an Islamic missionary group, the Tablighi Jamaat.
Some leaders of the ruling Hindu nationalist party Bharatiya Janata called the meeting “corona terrorism”. As a result, many Muslims have faced renewed stigma, threats and boycott of vendors who venture into predominantly Hindu neighborhoods.
The lock in India, the most draconian in the world, has multiplied their troubles.
A group of more than two dozen Indian Muslim academics called on their communities to strictly follow the lockout and pray at home. They also asked the Muslims to refrain from holding large parties organized for breaking the fast and the “taraweeh”, the extended evening prayers traditionally held in mosques.
“Families should use this unprecedented situation to be guided and spiritually cleansed,” they said, while asking volunteers and local elders to care for the needy and needy.
India’s 200 million Muslims, 14% of the population, are the largest minority group in the Hindu-majority nation, but they are also the poorest.

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