DAR ES SALAAM - While many countries with Muslim populations have imposed coronavirus restrictions during the holy month of Ramadan, Tanzania, which is more than a third Muslim, has not. Despite President Samia Suluhu Hassan's shift away from her predecessor's COVID-19 denial, the new leader has yet to take up measures recommended by global health authorities.
Mariam Kiringo usually observes the holy month of fasting every year.
She is now preparing an evening meal known in Arabic as Iftar for her family and friends to break the day’s fast.
Kiringo believes that being able to get together during this period, despite the coronavirus pandemic, is lucky.
"Honestly, we thank God we get an opportunity to join together with relatives in eating Iftar," She said. It is different in other countries, Kiringo added, where we hear that the coronavirus has restricted them, and they don’t get the opportunity to join together during Ramadan. She said that in Tanzania, we hear that the coronavirus is present, but it has not become a big threat to a point that it prohibits us from getting together during Ramadan.
The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted social and economic life across the globe. But in Tanzania, everything seems as normal as it used to be, with few people observing social distancing or wearing face masks.
Despite the presence of the virus, Muslim leaders say they are continuing to hold prayers and teachings at mosques. Mursalina Ally is an imam at Kichangani Mosque in the city.
He said we have directed all our issues to God, and he helps and protects us against this coronavirus disaster. Ally said that regarding religious teachings, they are also going well. There are many people coming in because they fear God, and they need blessings and favors from God.
Tanzania stopped counting COVID-19 cases in May of last year, with then-President John Magufuli declaring the country free from the coronavirus.
Now, worshipers have different perceptions about the infections.
For Mwanahamis Mohamed, when you put everything to God, there is nothing to worry about.
He said, I’m not afraid, because I depend on God. Even if I say I’m wearing a face mask the virus can infect me because it is brought by God.
For Salma James, fears still prevail.
We really fear. We fear a lot, but we thank God. We can join together like this Ramadan, she said.
Magufuli died last month. Two weeks ago, Hassan announced the government would form a committee to fight COVID-19.
Opposition politicians say Hassan has to fast-track her proposal to form a scientific committee to research the disease but say her acceptance of the problem is a promising sign.
Boniface Jacob is a former mayor of Ubungo.
He urged people to take precautions against the disease. He said, to me, these are indicators that we are headed in a good direction. He added that this is contrary to the previous times of deceiving each other that the problem was not there, and it disappeared by prayers as if God was there for Tanzania only.
In the meantime, many Muslims, including Kiringo, are joining together for prayers and evening meals, unaware of the danger from the coronavirus that remains around them.