As Ramadan approaches, Muslims in Nigeria are in a dilemma about how congregational prayers and sermons can be conducted in the sacred month as cases of covid-19 continue to rise and social restrictions imposed by the government.
Muslims are known worldwide to be active worshippers during Ramadan believing that rewards for good work are doubled in the month.
Congregational “tarawih” and midnight “tahajjud” prayers are among the main features of the sacred month. “Tafsir” (Quranic exegesis) and religious services are offered in the month with assemblage of believers.
Ramadan, the month for fasting, was nine days away when Kano State, the most populous in Nigeria with a large concentrations of Muslims, recorded its 16th case of covid-19.
The index case of covid-19 was identified by the state governor, Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, as “a 76-year old retired civil servant and ambassador”.
Ganduje started with banning commercial tricycle riders from conveying more than one passenger and followed it a day after by issuing an order for a total lockdown in the state for seven days.
In his words, “Movements will be restricted, wedding ceremonies will be banned, markets will be closed… for seven days.”
Although the seven-day lockdown is expected to end a day before the first day of Ramadan, it will affect many activities that are habitually done in preparation for the month.
Hajiya Hauwa, a mother of five, in an interview with HumAngle, said she could not imagine how Ramadan would be this year.
“I don’t know what will happen. Days before Ramadan are always busy as people prepare for the month. With lockdown and movement restrictions taking us up to the day before the Ramadan no one is sure how markets would be,” she said.
“The entire purpose of the lockdown will be defeated if thousands of people go to markets a day before Ramadan to buy foodstuffs for the month as social distancing will be nearly impossible in congested markets like Sabon Gari and Singa,” Hausa said.
Online Tafsir (Quranic Exegesis)
Many clerics in northern Nigeria are migrating to social media platforms to deliver religious messages.
Sheikh Ibrahim Ahmad Maqari and Sheikh Isah Pantami use Facebook Live to hold online sessions that generate thousands of views.
Dr Abduljabbar Nasir Kabara, a very popular and influential cleric in Kano State, understands the importance of new media in propagating Islam.
With short videos that are frequently uploaded on his Facebook page, there is a likelihood that his Tafsir class will be held online during Ramadan.
“I closed my mosque to control this pandemic,” he said in a trending video.
“I have no words to tell God if my students die after contracting coronavirus in my mosque,” he added.
What About Tarawih Prayers?
Tarawih prayers that are among the main features of Ramadan will likely be affected by movement restrictions, social distancing and the lockdown if it continues during Ramadan.
Authorities in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have already banned five daily congregational prayers in mosques to enforce social distancing measures.
The authorities have extended the ban on Tarawih prayers promising not to lift the two bans until the end of coronavirus pandemic.
In Kano State, Islamic clerics have been responding to the restriction measures even outside Nigeria with mixed reactions.
Mallam Sadi Aikawa, a local cleric with a handful of students, advises people to listen to the experts and conduct their prayers at home.
“There is no problem with performing tarawih prayers at home in the month of Ramadan. It is not obligatory to perform it in congregation.
“By the way, congregational prayer in Islam starts with two persons. You can perform it with your family,” Sadi said.
He added that “banning congregational prayers in mosques is for the benefit of humanity.
“In Islam, protecting people from danger is also an act of worship.”
Dr Abdul-Fatah Makinde, who teaches Islamic studies at Obafemi Awolowo University, agrees with Sadi.
He told HumAngle that while fasting during Ramadan is compulsory for Muslims, it must not be at the expense of lives.
“Fasting is compulsory but tarawih is not,” he added. “Muslims are free to observe it at home. We just have to ensure that we abide by social distancing rules.”
However, an audio recording of someone purported to be Sheikh Yahaya Haifan, an influential Salafi cleric, circulating on WhatsApp is against the ban.
The audio explicitly states that “whoever bans congregational prayer is destroying mosques… Mosques should be open for worshippers … It is a house of God and there is no injustice as to stop people from praying in the House of God.”
Poor Muslims in Ramadan
Poor people largely depend on wealthy ones to feed them in the month of Ramadan. Many of them move from distant places to other areas in the search for what to break their fast with.
With the movement restrictions and social distancing measures, this will likely affect them. Almajirai, the most impoverished among the destitute, move from one house to another in search for what to eat.
Sani Rogo Aikawa believes that people will definitely come out for what to eat. “Even the police will get tired,” he said.
“We are seeing what’s going on in some parts of the country after the lockdown. Hungry people become armed robbers and thieves in broad daylight.
“We should thank God we have people who are ready to give. We should allow the needy to go and collect. If coronavirus didn’t kill you, hunger will do,” he concluded.
Makinde asks Muslims not to stop giving alms because of the pandemic but advised that emphasis be placed on next-door neighbours to avoid large gatherings or movements outdoors.
“You don’t have to go to the mosques before distributing whatever you have. And if you have enough, you can still contribute to government agencies that are in charge so they can distribute to people on your behalf,” he said.
Meanwhile. the Kano State government implements food distribution programmes to poor people every Ramadan. Selected mosques are the centres of distribution.
With the closing of mosques, people are not sure of how the distribution will be if the lockdown continues through the month of Ramadan.
Stoicism in the Sacred Month
According to Mallam Sadi, stoicism is the ultimate philosophy to take in this trying time.
Although the philosophy originated from Greek and Roman philosophers, “it has a position in Islam with little modifications to accommodate it in the ascetic life of Sufism,” Sadi said.
“People should believe they have to be shaken to grow stronger. We can make use of this pandemic to be strong and active worshippers,” he said.
“In this Ramadan, we should all stay at home and reflect our purpose of being here and why the pandemic is not good or evil in itself,” Said added.
He promised to teach stoicism online to ease the depression of Muslims as Ramadan approaches.
Sadi said he would collaborate with social media influencers to share his videos to reach large audiences, adding, “We have to work together to save Muslims from falling to the abyss of despair.”
Additional reporting by Kunle Adebajo