JAKARTA, April 25: Millions of Muslims in Asia on Friday started the holiest month on the Islamic calendar under the coronavirus lockdown or strict social restrictions, deepening their anxiety over the disease.
For many, Ramzan is a time to get closer to God, family and community, but the pandemic has upended those traditions.
Many face unemployment, travel plans to visit relatives have been canceled and places where they usually break the daytime fast with families such as malls, parks and mosques are locked.
"This is too sad to be remembered in history," said Belm Febriansyah, a resident in the capital of Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation.
Social restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus have been extended in Jakarta, the epicentre of the outbreak in Indonesia, which has recorded more COVID-19 fatalities than any other Asian country except China.
Indonesia counted 8,211 infections and 689 deaths.
Passenger flights and rail services have been suspended, preventing people from traveling to their hometowns in an annual exodus to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, the end of Ramzan.
Authorities also banned private cars from leaving Jakarta.
The government of Muslim-majority Malaysia also extended the lockdown by two more weeks to May 12, although its daily virus cases have dropped significantly to double-digits in the past week. The country now has 5,603 cases, including 95 deaths.
Malaysia's Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said in a televised speech late Thursday on the eve of Ramzan that people's jihad against the COVID-19 pandemic has shown results but needed to be prolonged.
Malaysia, along with neighboring Singapore and Brunei, has banned popular Ramzan bazaars where food, drinks and clothing are sold in congested open-air markets or roadside stalls. The bazaars are a source of key income for many small traders. Some have shifted their businesses online.
Pakistan's southern Sindh province has banned Ramzan prayers after the Pakistan Medical Association pleaded with Prime Minister Imran Khan and the country's religious leaders to rethink their refusal to close mosques countrywide.
Even as Pakistan's confirmed cases of COVID-19 have begun to increase by 600 and 700 a day, compared to earlier daily jumps of about 300, Khan has refused to order mosques closed. Instead he left it to clerics -- some of whom have called for adherents to pack mosques and trust their faith to protect them.
Pakistan recorded 642 new cases in the last 24 hours, bringing the total number of known infections to 11,155 with 237 deaths.
Khan has criticised Sindh's Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah of being too zealous in his restrictions. Shah's Pakistan People's Party is politically opposed to Khan's Justice Party.
Sindh province, of which Karachi is the capital and the country's financial hub, has the second largest number of cases in Pakistan.
Communal sharing meals have been banned in Turkey during Ramzan.
The Interior Ministry also barred iftar tents providing food to break the fast, and Ramzan drummers, who mark fasting times by going door-to-door to collect tips.
Health Minister Fahrettin Koca tweeted that the month of Ramzan should not be an excuse to relax precautions. The month of blessings should not result in illness, he said.
Ramzan in India begins on Saturday.
A group of over two dozen Indian Muslim scholars, in a recent joint message, appealed to their communities to strictly follow the ongoing lockdown and offer all prayers at their homes.
They also asked Muslims to refrain from organizing large parties held for breaking the fast and taraweeh, the long post-iftar congregational prayer offered in mosques.
Families should use this unprecedented situation for spiritual guidance and purification, they said, while asking local volunteers and elders to look after the needy and destitute. - AP