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Ramadan

In photos: Muslims in Kyrgyzstan observe Ramadan amid pandemic, economic stress

By Maksat Osmonaliyev

Mosque workers cook plov, a traditional Central Asian rice dish, in the courtyard of the Kelechek mosque in Bishkek on April 27. This year, because of the pandemic, they are delivering iftar meals to the needy at their homes. [Maksat Osmonaliyev/Caravanserai]

Workers at the Kelechek mosque in Bishkek pack plov and other food into containers on April 27. The food is to be handed out to Muslims who are fasting and to the needy. [Maksat Osmonaliyev/Caravanserai]

Visitors to the Kelechek mosque in Bishkek on April 27 must apply hand sanitiser before entering. [Maksat Osmonaliyev/Caravanserai]

Worshippers await the start of prayer at the Kelechek mosque in Bishkek on April 27. [Maksat Osmonaliyev/Caravanserai]

The Alamedin Bazaar mosque in Bishkek is pictured April 28. Because of COVID-19, far fewer worshippers than usual are attending the mosque during Ramadan. [Maksat Osmonaliyev/Caravanserai]

The Murataliyev family of Bishkek makes purchases at the Osh Bazaar on April 27. Demand for dates, a staple of iftar, becomes three to four times higher than usual during the holy month of Ramadan, says Kubanych, a dried-fruit vendor. [Maksat Osmonaliyev/Caravanserai]

Syrga Maraimova of Bishkek purchases borsok for iftar at the Osh Bazaar in Bishkek on April 27. For her, no holiday feast is complete without the traditional fried bread. [Maksat Osmonaliyev/Caravanserai]

Workers lay out parcels of food meant for fasting Muslims and for the needy during the holy month of Ramadan, paid for by donors, at the Kelechek mosque in Bishkek on April 27. [Maksat Osmonaliyev/Caravanserai]

Worshippers break their fast at the Kelechek mosque in Bishkek on April 27. Dates and water are set out on the table at the mosque's entrance. [Maksat Osmonaliyev/Caravanserai]

Erkinbek Talgatbek-uulu, imam of the Kelechek mosque, hands out food purchased with donations on April 27. Every day during Ramadan, the mosque distributes between 60 and 70 packages of plov and other food. [Maksat Osmonaliyev/Caravanserai]

A Bishkek resident places money in a box for donations outside the Alamedin Bazaar mosque in Bishkek on April 28. [Maksat Osmonaliyev/Caravanserai]

Alina Moldokeyeva, a volunteer, uses her car to deliver food to the needy in Bishkek on April 29. [Maksat Osmonaliyev/Caravanserai]

Alina Moldokeyeva (left), a volunteer, helps a woman carry donated food and other items on April 29 in Bishkek. [Maksat Osmonaliyev/Caravanserai]

An elderly woman in Bishkek examines her share of donated food during the holy month of Ramadan, on April 29. [Maksat Osmonaliyev/Caravanserai]

BISHKEK -- This year, Muslims in Kyrgyzstan are observing the month of Ramadan a little differently, following guidance from religious leaders to abide by specific rules and restrictions designed to stem the spread of COVID-19.

Mosques now have special markings to help worshippers socially distance, and mosque workers require visitors to wear masks and apply hand sanitiser before entering.

In addition, the Spiritual Administration of Muslims in Kyrgyzstan (DUMK) is urging Muslims to perform Friday prayers at home rather than at the mosques.

Central Asian states have had to fight considerable poverty on top of the deadly coronavirus over the past year.

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Makhkhabat Kurmanova, an employee at Ummah magazine, organises the distribution of aid on April 29 along designated routes in Bishkek. During Ramadan this year, Ummah's editorial board organised a collection of food and other items to distribute to the needy at their homes. [Maksat Osmonaliyev/Caravanserai]

Neighbouring powers Russia and China, which could have helped during one of the most difficult times for the region, instead made things worse, observers say, particularly for Kyrgyzstan.

Despite declaring their "friendship and brotherhood" with Central Asian countries, Russia and China made decisions that exacerbated problems in the region.

Last spring, the mass return of migrant workers from Russia intensified unemployment in Kyrgyzstan. The migrants had been unable to stay in Russia after lockdowns forced by the pandemic cost thousands of them their jobs. Many also lost money after Russian airlines cancelled flights and refused to refund tickets.

China, meanwhile, responded in a less than friendly manner when Kyrgyzstan requested deferred repayment of a Chinese loan as its economy weakened.

The deteriorating economic conditions are especially palpable this Ramadan, with some mosques and private donors launching local initiatives to help the needy in their homes amid the coronavirus restrictions.

Such aid can be instrumental in preventing the desperate and impoverished from turning to extremism.

Every day during Ramadan, the Kelechek mosque in Bishkek distributes between 60 and 70 packages of plov and other iftar foods to Muslims who are fasting and to the needy.

"This effort costs an average of 15,000-25,000 KGS (about $200–$350) per day," said Erkinbek Talgatbek-uulu, the mosque's imam.

Before the pandemic, donors funded iftar meals held at the mosque, he said.

The editorial board of Ummah, Kyrgyzstan's monthly Muslim affairs magazine, has also organised the collection and distribution of food and other items to the needy in their homes.

Ummah employees have volunteered to deliver the aid parcels along designated routes in Bishkek during the holy month.

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