Muslims in Europe started observing the holy month of Ramadan on April 2, 2022. Given that Ramadan is based on the lunar calendar, its beginning depends on the sighting of the crescent moon, which may vary in different locations. European countries follow the European Council for Fatwa and Research, which set this date, and several national councils confirmed it .
Ramadan involves fasting – one of the five pillars of Islam –, meeting family and friends to break fast after sunset – an evening meal that is known as iftar – and praying in mosques. However, during the last two years, celebrations of the Muslim holy month have been restricted due to COVID-19 concerns , like many other social gatherings.
Back to a normal Ramadan?
For the first time since the outbreak of the pandemic, Ramadan celebrations are back to “normal” . Although the pandemic has not ended yet, Muslims will be able to pray in the mosques and celebrate in-person iftars this year. The Secretary General of the Islamic Commission of Spain (CIE, in Spanish), Mohamed Ajana, told Europa Press that “the Muslim community is thrilled and happy for the possibility of praying together in the mosques and living Ramadan with some degree of normality, after two years of restrictions” .
In Italy, which was the first European country to be hard hit by COVID-19 infections two years ago, the government lifted emergency measures on April 1, 2022, one day before the beginning of Ramadan, allowing Muslims to gather in mosques to pray. Some have described this year’s holy month as a “Ramadan of rebirth and freedom”, given that Muslims will be able “to experience the true meaning of this month which is solidarity and community”, some people told Arab News .
As celebrations and social gatherings go back to normal, however, it is paramount to keep being careful and following safety measures to avoid the spread of COVID-19.
“Stay healthy during Ramadan”
Under this slogan, the World Health Organization (WHO) has issued some guidelines for the safe observance of the holy month of Ramadan in 2022.
Among other measures, the UN agency has vehemently reinforced the importance of getting COVID-19 vaccines, or booster doses, for protection against serious illness and death due to the virus. It has presented the month of Ramadan as an opportunity to get the vaccination and to help “loved ones” and others in the community get vaccinated, stating that “Ramadan is the time when the smallest act of kindness matters” . It has incentivized believers stating: “Do your part in helping to protect yourself and others during the holy month of Ramadan,” adding that “you could be the reason someone is spared from severe disease or death from COVID-19. Imagine the reward of that!”.
The WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean (WHO EMRO), Ahmed Al-Mandhari, also issued a statement ahead of the beginning of Ramadan stating that people should not ignore “how serious the situation remains; people are still getting infected and dying” . “One of the teachings of Ramadan is to raise the awareness of our Islamic duty to protect ourselves and others from any kind of harm,” he claimed, adding that “vaccines are the most effective shields against severe disease and death, especially when coupled with other preventative measures like hand hygiene, mask use and physical distancing”. The WHO EMRO Director, invoking the social responsibility as human beings to “work together and stop the virus,” concluded: “Let us remember the saying in the Holy Qur’an that states: ‘whoever saves a life is as though he had saved all mankind’”.
In order to dissipate any possible religious concerns, WHO made clear that the “Islamic Shariah permits intramuscular injections while fasting – including COVID-19 vaccines”, assuring that they do not break fast as “as they do not supply any nourishment or reach the stomach” . In fact, prominent fatwa bodies, such as Al Azhar Al Sharif in Egypt, have ruled that getting vaccinated for COVID-19 during the day does not invalidate the fast , as the vaccine is delivered through the skin by an injection and not from a natural opening such as the mouth or nose – and hence it does not constitute eating nor drinking . Turkey’s Presidency of Religious Affairs had also issued a fatwa (Islamic degree) stating that vaccines that do not contain nutritious or intoxicating substances do not invalidate fast . Therefore, COVID-19 vaccines, even during Ramadan, are considered to be halal.
Moreover, WHO has issued several tips to keep safe during Ramadan, in addition to the general precautionary measures in place to avoid the spread of the pandemic – such as wearing a mask over the nose and mouth, staying at least 1 meter from others, frequently sanitizing or washing hands with soap, opening windows when indoors, and not attending events when people are feeling unwell or with symptoms. The UN agency suggests choosing a mosque where people can pray outdoors or one that is well ventilated, using own prayer mats brought from home, avoiding crowds when entering and exiting mosques, holding events outdoors when possible, distributing individual pre-packaged boxes instead of holding mass meal events, and connecting virtually with family and friends whenever possible .
The UN agency has also reassured Muslims that “evidence has shown that fasting does not increase the risk of COVID-19 infection” and that, in fact, “fasting can have positive effects on your health as well as boost your mental health and well-being, improve mood, help relieve stress, anxiety and depression” . However, WHO pointed out that “a well-balanced diet and a wholesome lifestyle” – which includes eating healthy and staying away from junk food, minimizing sweets with high sugar content, drinking plenty of water, avoid smoking, staying active and sleeping well – can help boost immunity against viruses, including COVID-19 . It also suggested considering the religious license to break fast if people feel sick or experience COVID-19 symptoms such as fever, cough, headache, sore throat or tiredness.
By Ada Mullol