Amid the COVID-19 outbreak, Muslims around the world are preparing for the holy month of Ramadan. Craig Considine, a lecturer in sociology at Rice and a scholar of Islam, is available to discuss how the faithful will observe while social distancing and dealing with the pandemic.
Considine has written extensively about Islam and recently authored an opinion piece for Newsweek.
Ramadan is a time in which Muslims engage in fasting and abstain from what are considered impurities of the body and mind. The Quran stresses compassion and mercy, especially during the holy month, when charitable giving among Muslims typically increases.
"The Quran tells Muslims to be of service to humanity through acts of kindness in both the private and public sphere," Considine said. "Although these acts usually increase during Ramadan, Muslims this year are limited by the ramifications of COVID-19."
During Ramadan, mosques often hold an iftar, or the breaking of the daily fast. Muslims also open their mosques to their neighbors and other guests so that all members of a community can interact and join in the celebration.
"These are activities that will be impossible this year due to self-isolation and quarantine," Considine said. "As a result, Ramadan events will be taking place virtually via Zoom, Skype, Cisco, Facebook Live and other platforms currently being used for the purpose of livestreaming."
Considine said many mosques have made plans to livestream or prerecord the khutbah, the Friday sermon at a mosque — Friday is the most important day of the week for Muslims — for sharing on social media. And other typical mosque events, such as Quran recitations and Arabic courses, are also being posted on social media or YouTube, he said.
"Social media pages of mosques, Islamic centers and Muslim-led organizations will certainly see an increase in traffic during Ramadan," he said.
Considine said social distancing and other measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 are very much in keeping with the Prophet Muhammad's beliefs.
"He provided concrete measures to prevent and control an outbreak of an infectious disease like the coronavirus," Considine said. "In Prophet Muhammad's writings, he said, 'If you hear of an outbreak of plague in a land, do not enter it; but if the plague breaks out in a place while you are in it, do not leave the place,' and 'those with contagious diseases should be kept away from those who are healthy.'"
Considine said Muslims could face food shortages during Ramadan.
"Food consumption is typically high during the Islamic holy month," he said. "Some community members have raised the concern of panic-buying and supplies running low."
Considine noted that quarantining has forced all people of faith to pray and worship at home instead of their communal places of worship.
"For many believers this is an unfortunate development, because the intimacy of interacting with fellow believers in a sacred space is an important part of 'living the faith,'" Considine said.
Thankfully, he said, religious leaders around the country are providing other ways for people to connect, whether through livestreaming or even drive-in services. Furthermore, Considine said quarantining is providing opportunities that "normal times" typically do not.
"Online interfaith prayer sessions and global conferences are common occurrences during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic," he said.