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Here’s how Muslims are embracing Digital Ramadhan during the MCO

KUALA LUMPUR, April 24 — Every year during the holy fasting month of Ramadan, most Muslims would traditionally spend the night at their neighbourhood mosques in a ritual that starts with buka puasa (fast breaking) and ends with congregational tarawih prayers.

This will not happen this year, however, with mass religious gatherings banned amid the movement control order (MCO), which was extended last night until May 12.

How will Muslims and their mosques navigate this year’s Ramadan that starts today?

Mosques turn from prayer halls to social media

A survey by Malay Mail showed that many mosques in the Klang Valley have come up with innovative and new ways to serve their congregations, making this a “digital Ramadan”.

For instance, mosques and suraus that fall under the jurisdiction of the Federal Territories Islamic Religious Department (Jawi) have been instructed to serve their kariah, or parish, through social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook.

At the At-Taqwa Mosque in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, mosque committee member Shaik Zafrul Shaik Abdul Shukkor said many of its usual Ramadan activities will still be held, but within an extremely limited scope.

“Normally, our congregation during Ramadan for tarawih prayers runs in the hundreds. Even for normal daily prayers our congregation can be up to 200 because there are a lot of pensioners in this area.

“Now, only our imam and bilal are allowed to perform prayers in the mosque during Ramadan. We will still perform our tarawih prayers, and it will be streamed live on our Facebook and Instagram page,” said Shaik Zafrul.

Tarawih, or spelled terawih in Malay, is an optional prayer usually performed nightly during Ramadan in mosques, but can also be performed at home — with Muslims urged to take the latter option this year, together with their families.

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However, religious affairs minister Datuk Zulkifli Mohamad was quoted earlier this week as saying that Muslims cannot pray by following an imam through online video streams. Most Muslim scholars believe that a prayer congregation must share the same space.

Imam Ramli Othman (right) and mosque bilal Sharifuddin Sulaiman perform Zuhur prayers at the At-Taqwa Mosque in Petaling Jaya April 21, 2020. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

Similarly, the Salahuddin Al Ayyubi Mosque in Taman Melati, Gombak said authorities have informed them that the broadcast of the azan, or call to prayer, over the loudspeakers should include the announcement reminding Muslims in the neighbourhood to perform their prayers at home.

“Only three people are allowed to perform the tarawih prayers in the mosque. These are the imam, the bilal and one mosque officer. This is the same standard operating procedure given to us by Jawi for the daily prayers,” its chairman Datuk Ruslan Madon said.

“We also observe social distancing during our prayers. I make sure that the ones performing the prayers stand about a metre-and-a-half apart instead of the recommended one metre distance. The imam and the bilal will be performing their duties on rotation.

Both mosques will also stream tazkirah, or brief religious reminders, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday on their social media platforms.

In addition, the mosques will also stream zikir, or supplications, on several dates that have already been pre-determined by Jawi.

Both mosques will also conduct drive-thru counters to collect zakat, or alms, throughout the month — with the receipts emailed to the donors. This initiative has already started in several mosques across the country, even prior to the MCO.

Meanwhile, the Federal Territories Islamic Religious Council has already launched its online zakat collection system, where Muslims can pay alms using their e-wallets.

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Each Muslim household is obliged to pay the zakat al-fitr, or zakat fitrah in Malay, as charity for the less fortunate, before the end of the fasting month.

Mosques as ‘soup kitchens’

A family performs tarawih prayer at home a day before Ramadan during movement control order (MCO) in Puchong April 23, 2020. — Picture by Miera Zulyana

Since the MCO does not allow mass gatherings, Ruslan and his committee members at Salahuddin Al Ayyubi Mosque are delivering food to the asnaf, or those eligible to receive charity, in their neighbourhood through a number of representatives.

“At our mosque we are preparing 600 packets of bubur lambuk a day — that is two large cooking pots. Each packet costs around RM2.50,” he said, referring to the savoury rice porridge that is traditionally served for breaking fast here.

“We are also preparing packets of rice with some dishes such as meat, some vegetables, dates and sambal belacan.

“We will then distribute two packets of bubur lambuk and two rice packets per household. We have appointed community representatives to pick up the food once it is ready to deliver to the surrounding areas,” he said, saying the mosque is part of the “Dapur It’am” charity programme.

Earlier this week, Zulkifli announced an RM2.16 million allocation for 72 mosques in the Federal Territories under the Dapur It’am initiative, to provide breaking fast food for the asnaf, the homeless, and poor households.

Ruslan assured that the six cooks who are allowed to prepare the meals have been given typhoid shots and will observe all social distancing rules.

In total, there are roughly 400 asnaf households being served in 18 neighbourhoods surrounding the Taman Melati mosque.

He said this is about a 100 per cent increase from last year (only around 200 households), and suggested this is mainly due to the MCO which has adversely impacted the small traders and B40 community in the area.

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However, he said the households will not receive the food on a daily basis as a rotation system will be implemented to serve the 4,000-odd families.

At-Taqwa Mosque committee member Shaik Zafrul Shaik Abdul Shukkor speaks to Malay Mail during an interview in Petaling Jaya April 21, 2020. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

Meanwhile, the At-Taqwa Mosque in Taman Tun Dr Ismail will conduct a food drive-thru from 3.30pm every day for 200 individuals.

Shaik Zafrul explained that the needy can come pick up the packaged meals, with social distancing requiring no more than 10 individuals waiting at any one time.

“Our security guard will be managing the traffic. We have set up a long tent for them to come and pick up their food and drive away. If you’ve noticed, our parking lot and driveway are like a roundabout with a different entrance and exit. This will make traffic smooth,” said Shaik Zafrul.

This is in addition to its RM4,000 per day allocation for breaking fast meals.

Similarly, both mosques will be preparing food packages for the upcoming Aidilfitri celebrations, which will be distributed in the last week of Ramadan.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said the nation’s majority Malay-Muslims should forego the thought of celebrating the fasting month of Ramadan, as social distancing measures are likely to stay at least for the next few months.

The prime minister said Muslims must brace for a lifestyle change where they cannot visit Ramadan bazaars to buy food to break their fast, or even attend tarawih prayers normally held congregationally at mosques every night during the month. — Malay Mail