In Baghdad’s new Ramadan rhythm, calls to pray and keep COVID-19 away

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In this file photo taken on May 7, 2020 Sayyed Mozahem (2-R) the "Musaharati" calls for Muslims to have their final meal before a new day of fasting begins with the sunrise, in a small neighbourhood of the Iraqi capital Baghdad. (AFP / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE)
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In this file photo taken on May 7, 2020 Sayyed Mozahem (2-R) the "Musaharati" calls for Muslims to have their final meal before a new day of fasting begins with the sunrise, in a small neighbourhood of the Iraqi capital Baghdad. (AFP / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE)
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Updated 21 May 2020

In Baghdad’s new Ramadan rhythm, calls to pray and keep COVID-19 away

  • Iraqis are adapting their Ramadan routines to fit a curfew from 5 p.m. until 5 am

BAGHDAD, Iraq: Baghdad, a city of nearly ten million residents, is running on an unusual rhythm this Ramadan since Iraq imposed an overnight curfew to curb the spreading coronavirus.
A few hours before dawn, the wailing voice of Sayyed Mozahem rings out across a small neighborhood in old Baghdad, amplified by his portable microphone.
Mozahem is the neighborhood “musaharati,” responsible during Ramadan for reminding Muslims to have their final meal before a new day of fasting begins with the sunrise.
“Fasters, wake up,” he chants, marching through the streets to the beat of his traditional drum as his older brother and father did before him.
But his refrains have a special twist: “May Ramadan keep the coronavirus away,” and “God, spare Iraq from COVID-19.”
Iraqis are adapting their Ramadan routines to fit a curfew from 5 p.m. until 5 am — the hours Baghdad usually comes alive with huge fast-breaking feasts, late-night runs for sweets and midnight mosque visits.
Instead, Iraqis are rushing through checkpoints before the lockdown starts, praying alone at home and baking traditional sweets usually bought in stores.
A somber and isolating mood has settled over the capital, where the response to the novel coronavirus has left its mark from dawn until dusk.
After Mozahem wraps up his pre-drawn call — technically a violation of the nighttime curfew — the sun rises over Baghdad, the second most populous Arab capital.
By noon the heat is bearing down on the streets, sending traffic police in search of slivers of shade. The call to prayer rings out from hundreds of mosques, urging Muslims to worship from home.
Soon after, it’s Moussa Al-Bedeiri’s turn.
Twice a day, the firefighter uses the megaphone on his firetruck to urge people to stay home, avoid gatherings and wash their hands regularly.
His throat and lips are cracked but as a devout Muslim Bedeiri refrains from drinking during the long sweltering days.
“As the coronavirus spread, our work has doubled. We had more sanitization campaigns and broadcasts of official guidelines through loudspeakers on the civil defense vehicles and at our center,” he tells AFP.
The blinding sun dims into a late-afternoon haze as 22-year-old Mortada zips through traffic on his motorcycle.
Strapped to the back are food packages that Mortada needs to deliver before the curfew begins.
Restaurants have been closed to patrons for around two months but as restrictions have eased, they have been permitted to open for home deliveries.
Mortada makes less than a half-dozen deliveries per day now, about a quarter of his usual haul during Ramadan.
The twin shocks of coronavirus restrictions and falling oil prices have hit Iraq hard, and may double the current poverty rate to 40 percent, the World Bank has predicted.
The sun is preparing to set, casting long shadows across the vast esplanade of Baghdad’s Abdelqader Al-Gailani mausoleum, where a revered Sufi figure is buried.
For the first time in his life, 70-year-old sheikh Yalmaz Youssef is seeing the shrine and attached mosque empty.
“Since the ‘70s and until this day, I have never seen the door of the holy shrine of Sheikh Abdelqader closed. But when I did, I cried,” Youssef tells AFP.
As dusk settles, the dainty garlands decorating the mosque light up and the sunset prayer — calling on Muslims to break their fast at home — echoes across the city.
Iraqis bite in to modest dinners at home with family, reminiscing about past elaborate meals where dozens of relatives, neighbors and friends were invited.
Instead of strolls through halogen-lit streets to pick up sweets or toys, they wile away the nighttime hours with card games or television.
On the nightly news broadcast, Iraqi channels announce the new coronavirus numbers: more than 3,600 cases across the country and over 130 deaths.
The numbers are rising faster now, a grim lead-up to the Eid Al-Fitr holiday — usually a joyful occasion for extended family gatherings.
As twilight approaches, a drum echoes through the darkened streets and the musaharati begins calling Muslims to their final pre-fast meal.
Baghdad’s new routine begins all over again.


LIVE: Middle East returns to normal life amid strict COVID-19 measures 

Updated 43 min 28 sec ago

LIVE: Middle East returns to normal life amid strict COVID-19 measures 

DUBAI: Efforts to return life gradually back to some kind of normality in parts of the Middle East continue, as governments get ready to reopen borders and airlines take bookings for flights. 
Tunisia said it will open its sea, land and air borders on June 27 in the hope of rescuing its tourism industry as the coronavirus pandemic comes under control.
Emirates airline also announced that it was taking bookings for flights from Dubai to 12 Arab countries from the start of July. Emirates began operating scheduled flight services to nine destinations around the world from May 21, including London Heathrow, Frankfurt, Paris, Milan, Madrid, Chicago, Toronto, Sydney and Melbourne.
Meanwhile, Lebanon’s commercial complexes, hotels, cafes and museums reopened their doors to customers on Monday after closing for two-and-a-half months. 

June 2, Tuesday (GMT Times)

10:24 - Kuwait has confirmed 887 coronavirus cases and the recovery of 50 percent of total infected people.

10:22 - UAE has recorded 596 coronavirus cases and 388 recoveries.

09:43 - New reported cases of coronavirus are steadily declining in Western Europe, but not in Russia and Eastern Europe: World Health Organization spokeswoman said.

09:34 - Formula One has unveiled an eight-race schedule in Europe from July 5 amid the coronavirus pandemic.

09:32 - Iran has reported 64 coronavirus deaths, 3,117 cases, raising total infected people to 157,562 with 7,942 fatalities.

09:20 - The number of coronavirus deaths in Britain is close to 50,000, Reuters reported.

09:07 – Hong Kong will extend restrictions on foreign visitors by another three months and an eight-person limit on group gatherings by two weeks, Health Secretary Sophia Chan said on Tuesday.
Both measures were due to expire later in June.
Travellers to Hong Kong need to undergo a mandatory 14 day quarantine period.

08:45 – 12,739 people died from coronavirus in England and Wales as of May 22, the Office for National Statistics said.

08:16 – Senegal has postponed the restart of schools until further notice after several teachers tested positive for the new coronavirus, the education ministry said late on Monday.

07:51 – Russia has confirmed 8,863 coronavirus cases and 182 deaths in the past 24 hours.

07:02 – A Wuhan doctor who worked with coronavirus whistleblower Li Wenliang died of the virus last week, state media reported Tuesday, becoming China's first COVID-19 fatality in weeks.
07:00 Paris gets some of its pre-lockdown life back as cafes and restaurants partially reopen Tuesday.
06:51 – The global coronavirus death toll has topped 375,000, according to AFP tally.

06:45 – The first Rohingya refugee died from coronavirus in Bangladesh, an official said.

05:59Egypt has sanitized prisons and carried out tests on prisoners across the country after banning visits to help curb the spread of coronavirus, local daily Egypt Today reported.

05:50 – A cluster of nine coronavirus cases raised concerns in Hong Kong over renewed local transmission in a city that has been one of the most successful in keeping the pandemic under control. 

05:18 – The United States on Monday recorded 743 new coronavirus deaths in 24 hours, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker, bringing its total to 105,099 since the global pandemic began.