The traditional Muslim greeting of Ramadan Mubarak, or Happy Ramadan, will wait one more day after the moon was not sighted on Thursday evening.
This means the holy month will begin on Saturday in South Africa.
Three members of the Crescent Observers Society were authorised to visit the promenade at Three Anchor Bay on Cape Town’s Atlantic Seaboard to search the skies for the moon.
A traditional period of several minutes is taken to scour the darkness for a precious glimpse of the slender-lit moon, which heralds the official start of Ramadan.
Over a 30-day period, Muslims fast from dawn to dusk. During this time, they must abstain from drinking and eating. Charity is also encouraged during this holy month when it is believed the Quran was revealed.
But the holy month of the year 2020 will be no ordinary one due to the global Covid-19 pandemic.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) last week warned: “To mitigate the public health impact, several countries have implemented physical distancing measures aimed at interrupting transmission by reducing interaction between people.
“These measures are fundamental control mechanisms to control the spread of infectious diseases, particularly respiratory infections associated with large gatherings of people.
“Physical distancing measures, including the closing of mosques, monitoring of public gatherings and other restrictions on movement, will have direct implications for the social and religious gatherings central to Ramadan.”
In particular, the pandemic’s strictures are likely to impact on traditional daily gatherings during Ramadan – such as eating before dawn, known as suhour, or breaking the fast once the sun has set, at iftar.
Shortly after the outbreak of the crisis in South Africa, the Muslim Judicial Council said: “We echo the call of the state president that every component of our society must play a role and work together to combat this pandemic.”
In its advisory to Muslims around the world, the WHO advised: “To avoid the crowded gathering associated with iftar banquets, consider using individual pre-packaged boxes/servings of food. These can be organised by centralised entities and institutions, which should adhere to physical distancing throughout the whole cycle [collecting, packaging, storing and distribution].
“No studies of fasting and the risk of Covid-19 infection have been performed. Healthy people should be able to fast during this Ramadaan as in previous years, while Covid-19 patients may consider religious licences regarding breaking the fast in consultation with their doctors, as they would do with any other disease.
“Despite the different execution in practices this year, it is important to reassure the faithful that they can still reflect, improve, pray, share, and care – all from a healthy distance.
“Ensuring that family, friends, and elders are still engaged in light of physical distancing needs to be considered; encouraging alternate and digital platforms for interaction are paramount. Offering special prayers for the sick, alongside messages of hope and comfort, are methods to observe the tenants of Ramadan while maintaining public health,” the WHO said.
The following additional measures should be considered:
- Ensure hand-washing facilities are adequately equipped with soap and water and provide alcohol-based hand rub (at least 70% alcohol) at the entrance to and inside mosques.
- Ensure the availability of disposable tissues and bins with disposable liners and lids, and guarantee the safe disposal of waste.
- Encourage the use of personal prayer rugs to place over carpets.
- Provide visual displays of advice on physical distancing, hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette, and general messages on Covid-19 prevention.
- Enforce routine cleaning of venues where people gather before and after each event, using detergents and disinfectants.
- In mosques, keep the premises and wudu facilities clean, and maintain general hygiene and sanitation.
- Frequently clean often-touched objects such as doorknobs, light switches, and stair railings with detergents and disinfectant.