With the start of Ramadan approaching, people in Oman are preparing for a second time to observe the holy month during the coronavirus pandemic.
The country is under an overnight lockdown brought in on March 28 to counter rising infections.
The night-time movement restrictions, which run between 9pm and 4am, were due to end after April 8. But Omani authorities on Monday said the measures would continue throughout Ramadan.
New case numbers continue to increase and the average number of weekly infections is still above 1,000, compared with a weekly average of 650 at the end of March, data from Johns Hopkins University showed.
The sharp increase in new infections prompted the government to introduce more restrictions for Ramadan.
The country began its vaccination drive in December and in early April the Ministry of Health urged all Omanis and Muslim expatriates to take their coronavirus vaccinations during the month of Ramadan.
The ministry released a statement on Sunday to reassure those Muslims concerned that the vaccine could break their fast.
“Do not listen to the social media that says vaccination annuls your fasting," the ministry said. "Islam says clearly that, under medical grounds and to protect your health, taking medication of any kind does not break your fast."
But religious leaders reiterated said that if people had doubts about taking the vaccination during the holy month, they can stop fasting for one day and make it up at a later date.
"It is permissible in Islam to stop fasting if you take your medication during the day and repay that day after the month of Ramadan – for those people who do not want to continue fasting on the day they get vaccinated," said Sheikh Mohammed Al Kharusi, an imam at a mosque in Al Hail, Muscat.
Oman has so far vaccinated more than 150,000 people, but is targeting three million vaccinations by the end of August.
The country has recorded 171,549 cases since the outbreak of the pandemic, with 1,776 deaths.
Here is everything you need to know about Ramadan 2021 in Oman.
What is Ramadan?
Ramadan is the ninth and holiest month of the Islamic calendar and follows the month of Sha'ban.
Muslims believe that during this month the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Mohammed.
It is a time for Muslims to strengthen their faith through fasting and prayer and through increased recitation of the Quran.
Fasting from sunrise to sunset throughout the holy month is an obligation for every able Muslim who has reached the age of maturity.
When does Ramadan begin?
Ramadan will most likely start on April 13, but the final date will be confirmed closer to the time by the Moon-sighting committee, part of Oman's Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs.
The Moon-sighting committee, made up of astronomers, court officials and advisers from the country's Islamic authority, typically convenes after the maghrib, or sunset prayers, on the 29th day of Sha’ban to, look for the new crescent moon.
What are the Covid-19 rules in Oman during Ramadan?
On April 5, Omani authorities announced that a night-time lockdown from 9pm to 4am would be in place throughout Ramadan.
While Oman's Supreme Committee on Covid-19 extended the closure of shops from April 9, it will allow the movement of people after 8pm until the first day of Ramadan, when the new restrictions on movement begin.
All social, sports and cultural activities will be suspended during Ramadan.
Entering the sultanate will be restricted to Omani citizens and residents during the holy month.
Ramadan working hours will be reduced from seven hours to five hours a day for civil servants.
For the private sector, working hours will be cut down to six from eight hours a day.
Where can people shop for groceries before and during Ramadan?
Muscat’s largest fruit and vegetable market reopened on Tuesday, just a week before the start of the holy month.
The Mawaleh Market, made up of more than 200 shops, was closed on March 20 after security guards struggled to control shoppers who refused to adhere to social distancing rules.
But this week vendors were unloading crates and boxes at the market to fill the shelves for Ramadan shoppers.
The Habta market – a traditional market that typically operates during the last 10 days of Ramadan – will be allowed during daytime but shoppers will be required to stick to social distancing requirements and wear masks.
Thousands of people flock to the Habta markets around the country every year to buy food and gifts for the first day of Eid Al Fitr celebrations, which follow the end of Ramadan.
Are mosques open during Ramadan in Oman?
Mosques will be open every day until the maghrib prayers at sunset, but Friday prayers will not be allowed.
Before the pandemic, large groups gathered for taraweeh every night during the holy month and large iftar meals were offered in mosques throughout Oman so that Muslims could gather and break the day-long fast together.
This year, there will be no taraweeh prayers and mosques will not host iftar meals.
Are group iftars and Ramadan tents allowed in Oman?
Hotels and restaurants will be allowed to organise traditional Ramadan tents and iftar buffets, provided social distancing rules are observed, but they must close by 9pm in accordance with the lockdown rules.
Restaurants will open only between 6pm and 9pm throughout the holy month.
Are charity drives operational this year?
All charity work will continue as usual, including the distribution of food packages up until 9pm.
What etiquette should I follow if I am not fasting this Ramadan?
Non-Muslims are advised to dress conservatively and not to eat in public during the daytime, and refrain from swearing.