On Sunday, more than a thousand Muslims wearing face masks congregated at Taipei Main Station to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan.

Five prayer sessions were held at Taipei Travel Plaza, an outdoor space near Taipei Main Station. Organizers checked worshipers’ temperatures upon entry and asked them to follow social distancing regulations.

Covid-19 has upended the holy month of Ramadan for 1.6 billion Muslims across the world. Yet in Taiwan, where there is not a total lockdown and strict curfews, around 210,000 Muslims are able to have some degree of social gatherings and communal prayers during Ramadan. Public venues, Halal restaurants, and supermarkets still operate in Taiwan.

Muslims traditionally practice Ramadan by fasting during daylight hours, gathering for prayers in a mosque, and meeting with fellow Muslims in the evening. But this year, many of Ramadan’s traditions have been curtailed.

Jusuf Hendra, a 37-year-old Indonesian engineer who has been working in Taiwan for seven years, organized Eid prayers at Treasure Hill with friends and family. Around 40 people mostly from Indonesia and Malaysia, including a few children, prayed peacefully in nature.

“I can’t go to the mosque like before due to the Covid-19. I feel something is missing… but we still have some senses of gatherings here,” said Hendra.


Photo Credit: Naomi Goddard

Jusuf Hendra organized Eid prayers at Taipei's Treasure Hill with friends and family on May 24, 2020.

To date, Taiwan has had no locally transmitted infections for over a month. The government has begun easing coronavirus restrictions, allowing indoor and outdoor gatherings of up to 250 and 1,000 people respectively, with advice to stay at least 1.5 meters apart.

Compared to most of the Muslim countries in the world, Taiwan has more flexibility in practicing this year’s Ramadan, said Osman Cubuk, a Turkish scholar and a director of the Taiwan Association of Islamic Studies. Muslims in Taiwan can still have family gatherings and “Tarawih,” communal prayers with 10 to 20 people.

However, the government’s cancellation of all Eid al-Fitr activities and the closure of mosques has significantly changed Ramadan celebrations in Taiwan.

“It is the first time in 60 years our mosque is not open during Ramadan and on Eid’s celebration. Every day during Ramadan we received quite many messages and phone calls from followers, who asked when we would open the mosque,” said Ismail Wang, Director General of Taipei Grand Mosque.

Wang said some worshippers have pointed out that the government allowed 1,000 spectators to watch baseball games but prevented Muslims from celebrating their most important festival in a mosque.

“It is practically hard to keep 1.5 meters social distancing in the mosque while praying,” Wang said.

開齋節 穆斯林保持距離禮拜(1)

Photo Credit: CNA

Muslims in Taipei attend Eid prayers at the outdoor space near Taipei Main Station while adhering to social distancing guidelines on May 24, 2020.

Domestic workers confront lockdown-like restrictions

“Ramadan is not fun this year, but it is better than the situation in Indonesia. My family there is too afraid to go outside,” said Ratinah, 39, an Indonesian migrant worker told The News Lens.

Indonesia, which has the world’s largest Muslim population, has banned travel between provinces. Some major cities have imposed partial lockdown or similar restrictions, including a ban on gatherings of more than five people during Ramadan.

Meanwhile, Ratinah has still been able to hang out with friends on the weekends in Taiwan. She and her friends broke fast on a Saturday after evening prayer during Ramadan and went to a night market.

“We were chatting at the riverside until midnight. It didn’t rain. It was very relaxing. At that moment, I felt blessed,” Ratinah said.

However, Ratinah’s sister who works as a caregiver in Taiwan did not enjoy the same freedoms. She only has one day off per year for the Eid holiday, but she was required to stay home this year.

“I feel hurt seeing her being trapped at her employer’s place with almost no rest. It’s not healthy at all,” Ratinah said.

While Taiwan is praised for having avoided a nationwide lockdown, particularly after the first undocumented Indonesian caregiver tested positive for Covid-19 in February.

Migrant workers in Taiwan do not have a weekly mandatory rest day. Covid-19 only became a new excuse to further limit foreign caregivers’ right to basic rest.

Kevin Chen, co-founder of non-profit organization One-Forty, which provides classes for migrant workers in Taiwan, said Indonesian students found it hard to request a day off during Ramadan, and even on Eid al-Fitr this year.

Other countries that also have a large Muslim population, such as Singapore and the United Kingdom, have released guidelines to advise Muslims on how to make the most of the Ramadan, and provided advice for employers and managers to assist them to adapt to the pandemic. Taiwan’s government did not issue similar guidance.


Photo Credit: Naomi Goddard

Hundreds gather at Taipei Main Station to celebrate Eid al-Fitr on May 24, 2020.

Ramadan continued with adaptions

The Muslim community in Taiwan has sought alternative ways to carry on the rituals and traditions of Ramadan despite Covid-19 restrictions.

Cubuk has attended weekly religious speeches online to deepen his spirituality. Hendra broke fast and enjoyed a lavish meal at Da’an Park with his family and friends. One-Forty organized a pop-up event outside of Taipei Main Station to give Indonesian migrant workers a Chinese language learning package as an Eid gift.

Drawing on his experience as a Muslim living in Taiwan for 18 years, Cubuk said, “Nobody is isolated from a potent problem. This is a time to share data, and to collaborate to find solutions. This is a time to realize our interdependence as communities of a global ecosystem.”

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TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee, Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)

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