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Curbs remain as Muslims begin Ramadan

by The Associated Press | April 14, 2021 at 4:30 a.m.
Muslim women perform an evening prayer called 'tarawih' during the first evening of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, at Al Mashun Great Mosque in Medan, North Sumatra, Indonesia, Monday, April 12, 2021. During Ramadan, the holiest month in Islamic calendar, Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and sex from dawn to dusk. (AP Photo/ Binsar Bakkara)

MECCA, Saudi Arabia -- Muslims in many parts of the world marked the start of Ramadan on Tuesday, but a spike in coronavirus cases in several countries has once again put curbs on the holy month's signature feasts and lengthy prayers in mosques.

Still, there were glimmers that Ramadan 2021 could feel less restricted than last year, when Islam's holiest period coincided with the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Mosques have since reopened, and limits on movement have eased as vaccine rollouts continue in Muslim-majority nations. Clerics in such places as Indonesia have issued assurances that the vaccine does not break one's daytime fast.

Ramadan is marked by longer prayers, dawn-to-dusk fasting and nightly feasts with family and friends, though crowded shoulder-to-shoulder gatherings in mosques and large gatherings for meals remain prohibited because of the continued spread of coronavirus globally.

Throughout Ramadan, Muslims abstain from any food or drink -- including water -- from morning to night. The monthlong practice is aimed at heightening remembrance of God, curbing unhealthy habits and deepening gratitude.

In Mecca, home to the Kaaba -- Islam's most sacred site -- Muslims performed socially distanced "taraweeh" prayers, marking the start of Ramadan. Observant Muslims around the world pray toward the Kaaba five times a day.

Only limited numbers of worshippers were being allowed inside the Grand Mosque that houses the Kaaba to prevent the spread of the virus. Saudi authorities were allowing only individuals who've been vaccinated or recently recovered from the virus to perform taraweeh prayers at the Kaaba.

Israel was allowing 10,000 fully vaccinated Palestinian residents of the West Bank to pray in the al-Aqsa mosque on the first Friday of Ramadan. The sacred mosque in Jerusalem is open for prayers during Ramadan amid Israel's rapid vaccination rollout.

In Iraq, a curfew will remain in place from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. throughout Ramadan, with total lockdown on weekends.

Meanwhile, a 10-day lockdown because of increased infections went into effect Tuesday in northeastern areas of Syria that's controlled by U.S.-backed fighters. The region, which borders Iraq and Turkey, is home to 5 million people.

In Indonesia, covid-19 cases are also spiking. Mosques are being allowed to open for Ramadan prayers with strict protocols in place.

The government will allow people to hold "iftar" gatherings during Ramadan in restaurants, malls and cafes, which can open at 50% capacity. Iftar is the sought-after moment when Muslims traditionally break their daylong fast by eating dates and taking a sip of water before feasting with friends and family.

"Easing restrictions is like a breath of fresh air for us who are tired by this covid-19 outbreak," said Anna Mardyastuti, a resident in Indonesia's capital of Jakarta.

Vaccinations pose a challenge for Muslim nations administering shots throughout Ramadan. Officials were working to ease concerns over the Islamic teaching that Muslims should refrain "from anything entering the body" between sunrise and sunset.

Indonesia's top clerical council went so far as to say Muslims eligible for vaccinations are "required" to take the shots during Ramadan.

Governments, meanwhile, were also working to uphold some restrictions.

In India, where infections have peaked in recent days, scholars are appealing to the country's 200 million Muslims to follow anti-virus protocols and refrain from large gatherings. Many Indian cities dealing with virus surges have imposed nighttime curfews.

Information for this article was contributed by Eileen Ng, Aijaz Hussain, Kathy Gannon, Zeina Karam, Fadi Tawil, Barry Hatton, Samy Magdy and Fares Akram of The Associated Press.

Indonesian Muslims pray spaced apart as they practice social distancing to curb the spread of the new coronavirus during an evening prayer called "tarawih" marking the first eve of the holy fasting month of Ramadan at Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta, Indonesia. Monday, April 12, 2021. During Ramadan, the holiest month in Islamic calendar, Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and sex from dawn to dusk. (AP Photo/ Achmad Ibrahim)
Indonesian Muslims pray spaced apart as they practice social distancing to curb the spread of the new coronavirus during an evening prayer called "tarawih" marking the first eve of the holy fasting month of Ramadan at Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta, Indonesia. Monday, April 12, 2021. During Ramadan, the holiest month in Islamic calendar, Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and sex from dawn to dusk. (AP Photo/ Achmad Ibrahim)
Muslims pray during the first dawn prayers of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, around the Kaaba, the cubic building at the Grand Mosque, as they keep social distancing to help curb the spread of the coronavirus, in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday, April 13, 2021. During Ramadan, the holiest month in Islamic calendar, Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and sex from dawn to dusk. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
Muslims pray during the first dawn prayers of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, around the Kaaba, the cubic building at the Grand Mosque, as they keep social distancing to help curb the spread of the coronavirus, in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday, April 13, 2021. During Ramadan, the holiest month in Islamic calendar, Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and sex from dawn to dusk. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
An official is silhouetted as he uses a telescope to scan the horizon for a crescent moon that will determine the beginning of the holy fasting month of Ramadan in Jakarta, Indonesia, Monday, April 12, 2021.(AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim)
An official is silhouetted as he uses a telescope to scan the horizon for a crescent moon that will determine the beginning of the holy fasting month of Ramadan in Jakarta, Indonesia, Monday, April 12, 2021.(AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim)
In this photo taken using slow shutter speed, Muslim women offer an evening prayer called "tarawih" marking the first eve of the holy fasting month of Ramadan at Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta, Indonesia. Monday, April 12, 2021. During Ramadan, the holiest month in Islamic calendar, Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and sex from dawn to dusk. (AP Photo/ Achmad Ibrahim)
In this photo taken using slow shutter speed, Muslim women offer an evening prayer called "tarawih" marking the first eve of the holy fasting month of Ramadan at Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta, Indonesia. Monday, April 12, 2021. During Ramadan, the holiest month in Islamic calendar, Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and sex from dawn to dusk. (AP Photo/ Achmad Ibrahim)
Indonesian Muslims pray spaced apart as they practice social distancing to curb the spread of the new coronavirus during an evening prayer called "tarawih" marking the first eve of the holy fasting month of Ramadan at Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta, Indonesia. Monday, April 12, 2021. During Ramadan, the holiest month in Islamic calendar, Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and sex from dawn to dusk. (AP Photo/ Achmad Ibrahim)
Indonesian Muslims pray spaced apart as they practice social distancing to curb the spread of the new coronavirus during an evening prayer called "tarawih" marking the first eve of the holy fasting month of Ramadan at Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta, Indonesia. Monday, April 12, 2021. During Ramadan, the holiest month in Islamic calendar, Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and sex from dawn to dusk. (AP Photo/ Achmad Ibrahim)
Indonesian Muslims pray spaced apart as they practice social distancing to curb the spread of the new coronavirus during an evening prayer called "tarawih" marking the first eve of the holy fasting month of Ramadan at Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta, Indonesia. Monday, April 12, 2021. During Ramadan, the holiest month in Islamic calendar, Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and sex from dawn to dusk. (AP Photo/ Achmad Ibrahim)
Indonesian Muslims pray spaced apart as they practice social distancing to curb the spread of the new coronavirus during an evening prayer called "tarawih" marking the first eve of the holy fasting month of Ramadan at Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta, Indonesia. Monday, April 12, 2021. During Ramadan, the holiest month in Islamic calendar, Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and sex from dawn to dusk. (AP Photo/ Achmad Ibrahim)
A Palestinian man holds a ladder for another man stringing colored lights on the eve of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in the Old City of Jerusalem, Monday, April 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)
A Palestinian man holds a ladder for another man stringing colored lights on the eve of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in the Old City of Jerusalem, Monday, April 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)
Muslims pray during the first dawn prayers of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, at the Grand Mosque, in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday, April 13, 2021. During Ramadan, the holiest month in Islamic calendar, Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and sex from dawn to dusk.(AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
Muslims pray during the first dawn prayers of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, at the Grand Mosque, in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday, April 13, 2021. During Ramadan, the holiest month in Islamic calendar, Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and sex from dawn to dusk.(AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
Footwear are left outside as people perform perform an evening prayer called 'tarawih' during the first evening of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, at a mosque in Jakarta, Indonesia, Monday, April 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)
Footwear are left outside as people perform perform an evening prayer called 'tarawih' during the first evening of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, at a mosque in Jakarta, Indonesia, Monday, April 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)
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