Muslims mark Ramadan amid virus surge and new restrictions

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Muslims pray during the first dawn prayers of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, around the Kaaba, the cubic building at the Grand Mosque, as they keep social distancing to help curb the spread of the coronavirus, in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday, April 13, 2021. During Ramadan, the holiest month in Islamic calendar, Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and sex from dawn to dusk. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

JAKARTA – Muslims in many parts of the world marked the start of Ramadan on Tuesday, but a spike in coronavirus cases in several countries has once again put curbs on the holy month's signature feasts and lengthy prayers in mosques.

Still, there were glimmers that Ramadan 2021 could feel less restricted than last year, when Islam’s holiest period coincided with the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Mosques have since reopened and limits on movement have eased as vaccine rollouts continue in Muslim-majority nations. Clerics in such places as Indonesia have issued assurances the vaccine does not break one’s daytime fast.

Ramadan is marked by longer prayers, dawn-to-dusk fasting and nightly feasts with family and friends, though crowded shoulder-to-shoulder gatherings in mosques and large gatherings for meals remain prohibited due to the continued spread of coronavirus globally.

Throughout Ramadan, Muslims abstain from any food or drink — including water — from morning to night. The monthlong practice is aimed at heightening remembrance of God, curbing unhealthy habits and deepening gratitude.

In Mecca, home to the Kaaba — Islam's most sacred site — Muslims performed socially distanced “taraweeh” prayers, marking the start of Ramadan. Observant Muslims around the world pray toward the Kaaba five times a day.

Only limited numbers of worshippers were being allowed inside the Grand Mosque that houses the Kaaba to prevent the spread of the virus. Saudi authorities were only allowing individuals who've been vaccinated or recently recovered from the virus to perform taraweeh prayers at the Kaaba.

In Lebanon, most Muslims began Ramadan on Tuesday amid soaring inflation. The small country is in the grips of the worst economic and financial crisis in its modern history, with the Lebanese currency losing some 80% of its value against the U.S. dollar in past months.

The crisis — a result of decades of endemic corruption and mismanagement — has been compounded by the coronavirus pandemic. Many people were having to scale back their Ramadan preparations.