ANKARA: The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Turkey has scuppered traditional daily social routines for Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan.
With the country’s death toll from the virus on Thursday having reached 3,081, Turkey’s top religious body the Directorate of Religious Affairs was taking no unnecessary risks over the fasting period.
In a statement, it said: “Iftar gatherings should be avoided with relatives, neighbors, and friends.”
And the country’s tourism sector was also expected to see a huge slump in trade over the Ramadan with travel restrictions forcing many Gulf visitors to cancel trips.
This year, Turkish Muslims will experience big changes to their Ramadan rituals. The breaking of the fast, for instance, usually involving gatherings at home or in large public spaces will for some worshippers be reduced to solitary affairs and iftar street events being planned by municipalities will have to be shelved.
For Istanbul’s newly elected secular mayor, Ekrem Imamoglu, who has strong religious credentials, dealing with Ramadan amid the COVID-19 crisis will be a significant challenge.
Prof. Halil Aydinalp, an expert of sociology of religion from Istanbul’s Marmara University, said Turkish people were likely to experience some sociological changes during Ramadan due to social distancing measures introduced to stop the spread of COVID-19.
“The rituals of Ramadan are generally held in common. This year, it cannot accomplish its function of uniting people as in past years. But our religion provides room to maneuver for such imperatives that are out of human control because Islam is a rational religion that considers changing social dynamics such as pandemics,” he told Arab News.
Aydinalp pointed out that social isolation for Muslims during the holy month of fasting was likely to push them toward new individual experiences, becoming reflective with a strong feeling of devoutness, rather than engaging in the community spirit that normally comes with common rituals such as extended prayers made in congregation.
“In terms of social solidarity, Muslims in Turkey who can afford it are likely to help the needy through bank transfers during Ramadan time,” he said.
Amid curfews, reduced shop opening hours, and shortages of food items such as rice and pasta in some districts, experts noted that needy members of society would require help in stocking up for Ramadan.
With fundraising events being canceled due to restrictions on movement, online donation websites could offer an alternative way to reach out to fellow Muslims.
However, Aydinalp warned that some Turks might still be tempted to break social distancing rules during the Ramadan period.
“Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs should play a guiding role for these people. But there are also some excited religious groups living in Turkey’s remote villages who themselves compete with this top religious body.
“At this point, media can have a complementary role by providing people with thematic religious programs for boosting their religious feelings and sense of belonging to a community,” he said.
Turkey’s tourism trade has also been hit by the COVID-19 outbreak, with many restaurants, especially in Istanbul and Cappadocia, having seen a dramatic slump in takings.
Bulut Bagci, head of the World Tourism Forum Institute, said Turkey would be unable to host Arab tourists during and possibly after Ramadan due to travel restrictions.
“The touristic food and beverage sector will be halted because it will have no foreign clientele for a long time. Turkey was hosting about 2 million tourists from the Gulf region under normal circumstances. Even luxury restaurants in the touristic hotels where large iftar gatherings were being held are closed to diminish the risk of the virus contagion,” he told Arab News.
Turkey’s tourist industry employs around 1 million people, but flight and holiday cancelations during Ramadan are already predicted to shrink the sector by up to 80 percent.