The coronavirus pandemic is changing social landscapes around the world not least in Africa where millions of Muslims have been struggling to make the most of restrictions during the holy month of Ramadan.Through the course of Islam’s holiest month which winds to a close this weekend, Africa’s estimated 500 million Muslims have been left largely to their own devices, balancing the urge to worship and the need to observe health safety precautions, two strange bedfellows almost impossible to reconcile.
With the fallout from a pandemic hanging heavily over the African horizon, this year’s Ramadan fasting feels very different on a continent which is home to one-third of the world’s Muslim population.
In Nigeria, although there has been a gradual easing of the lockdown with shoppers allowed to visit markets and other shopping centres, such facilities remain off-limit for the best part of the day in a bid to deepen social distancing which is otherwise not strictly observed by a population given to conspiracy theories about Covid-19.
As of Friday May 22nd, Nigeria has 7, 016 Covid-19 cases,211 deaths and 1, 907 recoveries.
Rendering mosques and other places of worship off-limit means taking restrictions too far for worshippers like Kassim Shehu in the northern city of Kano, where congregational prayers could not take place throughout the Ramadan period.
“This feels like a strange Ramadan when families and friends are prohibited to come together to fulfill some of the main fervent acts of supplication to their Maker” he told APA, a few metres away from the mosque in his immediate neighbourhood.
Although Shehu has the liberty of reciting the quran and worship at home untroubled, it does not prevent feeling the sea change about this Ramadan given what used to obtain in the past.
Although the government in Banjul has been somewhat lax in applying muscle to Covid-19 restrictions, it has not hesitated to crack down on two imams found to have held congregational prayers during the holy month, acts which were against a state of emergency in place since March when the first coronavirus case was confirmed.
A Gambian court has found the imams in the populous town of Brikama, 42km south of the capital Banjul, guilty of going against the prohibition of gathering of more than five people at a given time.
At 24 cases the Covid-19 presence in the African mainland’s smallest nation has been relatively low with a solitary death, restrictive measures have prompted uncomfortable adjustments to people’s social and religious life.
As home to close to two million Muslims, the Rainbow nation has witnessed more cases of the respiratory illness than any other nation on the continent.
South Africa has 19, 137 cases, 369 deaths and 8, 950 recoveries.
Although the police and army deployed to enforce a sometimes brutal lockdown have relaxed their grip, Muslims in the country have been left doing more charity work as an act of worship during the Ramadan.
This is nothing new to South African Muslims but mosques which used to attract hundreds and sometimes thousands of people have shut their doors to worshippers.
At 15, 786 cases and the biggest death toll from the virus (707) Muslim worshippers in the North African country had to contend with a dour month of Ramadan with mosques closed and acts of worship restricted to homes.
This had dampened the mood of many Muslims some of whom have been on edge ever since as it became clear that the campaign against the coronavirus is going to be a long and protracted affair.
Several demonstrations against those restrictions have been held in the lead up to the holy month but the authorities have held firm against the backdrop of a growing number of cases especially in the last few weeks.
With a Ramadan truce by warlord Khalifa Hafter, the Libyan capital Tripoli has been quieter than usual for much of May, giving the authorities a chance to plot a response against the coronavirus.
However, given a curfew already in place before the holy month, Muslims have had to adapt to new Covid-19 circumstances, causing panic buying to beat the hours of restriction which also prevents religious gathering in mosques and social hubs.
But both the conflict and Covid-19 have not dampened the spirit of the residents of Tripoli who make the most of daylight hours when the curfew is temporarily lifted.
Libya has 71 Covid-19 cases, and three deaths.
There were running battles with the police in Cameroon where Muslims in the first few days of Ramadan defied the restrictive measures in place against the further spread of the coronavirus.
The police charged down worshippers in mosques as they held congregational prayers.
Awah Fonka, the governor of Cameroon’s Western region had ordered a police crackdown on Muslims in Bafoussam, Foumban and Foumbot for refusing to observe an order by the state to stay away from mosques in the three towns.
Since then there are regular patrols by the security forces to enforce the ban on group worship.
Cameroon has the Central African region’s highest number of cases of the virus with 4, 288 infections, 156 deaths and 1, 808 recoveries.