Guidance: How media can support their audience during Ramadan

Ramadan is a period of prayer, fasting, charity, and self-reflection for Muslims. All adult Muslims in good health are expected to fast from dawn to dusk for 29 or 30 days as part of a self-cleansing ritual. In the interest of public service journalism, journalists can help facilitate togetherness among communities, at a time when people feel isolated due to COVID-19.

Social and religious gatherings play a big role in the holy month of Ramadan. As the
transmission of COVID-19 is facilitated by close contact between people, what advice should journalists give their readers and viewers for being safe from COVID-19 during Ramadan?

Focus on what people can do

This is a difficult time for many people, with their everyday activities being limited. This can lead your audience to feel depressed or helpless in their situation. To combat this, ensure your reporting balances the need to keep your community informed of government restrictions (i.e. what they can’t do) with providing practical advice for what they can do for themselves.

  • Get creative – promote and encourage creative and interactive solutions that allow your community to stay spiritually and socially connected during Ramadan. For example you can ask your audience  to share with other readers and viewers simple questions like food ideas, general information about Ramadan, health and wellness, entertainment, and gifting ideas. Encourage grandparents to record Ramadan stories to share with grandkids or host your own digital iftar to connect with your audience.
  • Continue to promote practical protective measuresyour audience can take to keep themselves and their family safe.
  • Reality check – what challenges are your audience having in meeting COVID-19 protection guidelines and what local solutions are there to these issues (for example, access to facemasks and other protective equipment, hand-sanitizers, soap, and even clean water).
  • Diversity – Many of us live in communities that are a mix of faiths, cultural beliefs, and practices. Are there things your non-Muslim audience members can do to support their Muslim neighbours in this time? Is there something your media organisation can do to recognize this diversity and encourage unity?

Facebook has launched a Ramadan microsite that brings together data, stock imagery and many story ideas from around the world to inspire you.

Physical distancing during Ramadan does not mean social distancing

Connecting with your community is a key feature of Ramadan activities and there are many ways you can encourage your audience to stay connected. Many Muslims attend longer prayers in mosques known as Tarawih and Qiyam and it is the time when Muslim families and friends unite to break their fast together.

But COVID-19 means this is not possible for many Muslims this Ramadan. The WHO has the following advice for ways people can connect with their community without putting themselves at risk:

  • Stay virtually connected with your family and loved ones by phone or virtual calls this Ramadan;
  • Talk to your family, especially the elderly, who can be depressed or angry by being isolated;
  • Lift the spirit of children, grandparents, and other family members by having virtual iftars.

Engage religious leaders in the discussion

Religious leaders are often trusted information sources for religious audience members and during Ramadan ad likely to have even more connection, with more followers (even if might be online or over the phone). Find ways to engage these leaders in discussions about safe practices during Ramadan, and to ensure they have the most up to date information they need to combat COVID-19 rumours and misinformation during this holy month.

Think carefully about the risk of attending social or religious gatherings

The World Health Organization recommends that any decision by religious leaders to restrict, modify, postpone, cancel, or proceed with holding a mass gathering should be based on a risk assessment of people getting sick from COVID-19.

Many governments have banned religious gatherings to prevent the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. The most important Saudi religious body appealed to Muslims all over the world not to gather in groups to pray and instead observe Tarawih, special evening Ramadan prayers normally performed in mosques, at home. Muhammadiyah, the largest Islamic group in Indonesia issued a fatwah, or edict, stating that to struggle against the pandemic is a religious obligation. The fatwah also suspended the normally obligatory Friday noon prayers and advised Muslims to perform the suhor prayers at home instead.

If you are asked to cover religious gatherings during Ramadan, make sure the following hygiene measures are in place for your personal safety:

  • Advise the organizers to consider holding the gathering outdoors. If this is not possible, ensure that the indoor venue has adequate ventilation.
  • Seating or standing of participants at the gatherings should be at least 1 metre (3 feet) apart.
  • There must be handwashing facilities for members before and after the service; feet washing facilities for places where worshippers enter barefoot; hand-sanitizers at the entrance and in the worship space.
  • Disposable facial tissues must be within easy reach and closed bins for used tissues.
  • Worshipers must bring their own personal prayer rugs to place over the carpet for prayers.

But if physical prayer meetings are not possible, TV and Radio stations and online news sites can play a big role in ensuring your community can access the events  important to them. Consider broadcasting the call to prayer, or alternatively partnering with religious leaders to broadcast full services for your audience.

The following safety guidelines are for TV and radio journalists offering live coverage of religious gatherings:

  • Wash your hands regularly for at least 20 seconds and carry hand-sanitizers
  • Conduct in-person interviews only if necessary
  • Keep a distance of at least 1-metre from interviewees
  • Use two microphones and sanitize them with alcohol and disposable towels. One microphone is for yourself and the other for the interviewee
  • Clean all equipment with alcohol before and after the assignment
  • Teams should be of no more than two people which reduces the likelihood of widespread infection
  • Opt for places with low foot traffic
  • Wear a surgical mask and after using it, discard it safely

Does fasting increase the risk of COVID-19 infection?

No study is available on fasting and the risk of COVID-19 infection. The World Health Organization said that fasting was fine for healthy individuals, as it has been in the past.

COVID-19 patients are not obligated to fast because in Islam, people who are sick, old or pregnant are exempt from the practice. Although fasting during Ramadan is safe for all healthy individuals, those with illnesses such as diabetes, gastrointestinal disorders and renal (kidney) disease should consult their physicians and follow their recommendations.

How can you provide charity to the poor?

Giving charity and zakat, which is one of the five pillars of Islam, is encouraged during Ramadan. As physical distancing remains in place during the pandemic, wandering out of homes and handing cash to the needy is not recommended to fulfill this Islamic obligation.

For many Muslims, breaking fast during iftar at sunset, is an opportunity to fulfill their Ramadan obligations by distributing food to the poor in mosques. However, under the present circumstances this would mean the coming together of large numbers of people which will facilitate the transmission of the virus.

Muslims have been urged to approach the many NGOs and food banks distributing food packets to the poor and unemployed. The WHO in its Ramadan guidelines points out that iftar banquets for the poor can attract large crowds and organizers should consider using individual pre-packaged boxes/servings of food which can be distributed by charities and NGOs.

Remember those with low bandwidth

Not everyone is connected to the internet or is an active user. Even so, you can help your audience connect through the use of telephone “chat” services for joint prayer sessions. You can also help communicate times when there are calls to prayers, to encourage people to pray together despite being physically apart.

Apps such as Meetupcall allow you to call individuals or groups without an internet connection, all you need is a phone signal. You’ll find many more low bandwidth journalism tools in our blog here.

Downloadable versions:

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