ABUJA - For a second year, Nigeria's Muslim population, the largest in West Africa, is celebrating the holy month of Ramadan under the cloud of COVID-19. Nigeria's mosques have resumed communal prayers and daily fast-breaking, which were banned last year, raising concerns among health officials.
Since Ramadan started April 13, Isah Idris joins hundreds of Muslims who observe special evening prayers at Abuja’s NASFAT mosque daily.
And once the prayer has ended, they all proceed for the Iftar, a large meal to break the day's fasting.
Idris said he struggled during Ramadan last year because of the pandemic.
"As of last year, even for food in my house, God bears me witness, I found it difficult. It was my mom that helped me, but fortunately this year, I have food in my house. I do my iftar here, and I also do my Sahur here," he said.
Sahur and Iftar are meals to mark the beginning and end of a day's fasting.
Hundreds of people at the mosque benefit from free meals through Ramadan. But feasting and communal prayers were halted last year as the coronavirus restrictions held firm.
Many like Idris who depended on such meals struggled to get through the fasting.
Muslim clergy and head of the NASFAT mosque, Sharafadeen Abdulsalam, said they found other ways to hold prayers.
"Most of our lectures last year were online. People didn't come to the mosque last year to observe Taraweeh. People didn't come to observe the five daily prayers," he said.
But things are different this year. Nigeria is seeing a lower number of cases, and mosques across the country are once again holding regular meetings and prayers.
But the World Health Organization and Nigeria's CDC are also warning of a possible rise of COVID-19 cases during Ramadan.
Mosque secretary Abimbola Okunola said they’re taking steps to prevent that.
"As you are entering the mosque, there's provision for you to wash your hands. We have a tap, about four or five taps at the gate. So, as you're entering, the first place you'll go to … there's an arrow, and there are some security personnel that will ensure that you wash your hands," he said.
Okunola said everyone entering the mosque must also wear a face mask, in line with WHO recommendations.
Charity banquets and other communal gatherings remain banned in many countries around the world because of an upsurge in cases.
But with safety measures in place, Ramadan this year is easier for Nigerian Muslims like Isah Idris.