Turkey’s top religious authority has told worshippers that fasting during Ramadan “protects and strengthens” the immune system amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“Especially in these days when the blessing of health gains a special importance and significance… let us trust in what Allah [God] has gifted us,” Ali Erbas, chief of the Directorate for Religious Affairs, said in a statement on Monday.
He noted that “scientific fact” has established that fasting “protects and strengthens the immune system”.
The directorate for religious affairs, or Diyanet, controls Turkey’s more than 80,000 mosques and issues fatwas, or religious edicts.
In a statement addressing the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Diyanet chief Erbas advised believers to “abandon harmful habits”, especially smoking.
All healthy Muslims are required to fast between sunrise and sunset during the holy month, which is due to start later this week.
The young, elderly, sick and pregnant are exempted from fasting but many believers are questioning whether or not to fast this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei issued a fatwa last week saying that anyone experiencing Covid-19 symptoms could skip the fast.
Muslims with chronic health conditions that pose a particular risk from coronavirus – such as diabetes or a lung condition – generally do not fast due to existing exemptions.
Other religious authorities in the region have issued edicts addressed other aspects of Ramadan, such as communal prayers.
Authorities in Saudi Arabia and the UAE have told worshippers that nightly communal prayers must be prayed at home.
The Emirates Fatwa Council even went as far as to say praying the nightly Tarawih prayers in a mosque would be haram – an Arabic term meaning “forbidden” or “sinful”.
“Congregating to perform the prayer could endanger lives, an act that is strictly forbidden in Islam,” it said in a statement.
Ankara last month suspended communal prayers in mosques, one of a spate of measures implemented to encourage social distancing and prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“Unfortunately we cannot perform Tarawih prayers in mosques this Ramadan. Everyone can perform Tarawih prayers with their family, spouses and children in their homes, because Tarawih prayer is a prayer that can also be performed as an individual,” Erbas said in Monday’s statement.
While it has always been considered permissible to perform the Tarawih prayers at home, many Muslims prefer to do so in large gatherings at mosques.
The Diyanet will also broadcast special Quran-reading programmes on television and radio as part of measures to encourage worshippers to stay at home.
Instead of setting up communal fast-breaking, or Iftar, meals, the religious ministry will distribute food and clothes to the needy, Erbas added.
The Diyanet chief also encouraged believers to give blood before the beginning of the holy month.
Turkey has reported more than 86,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases to date, including 2,017 deaths. It is the worst-affected country in the Middle East region, according to official data.