Al-Azhar's Grand Imam Ahmed El-Tayeb (File photo: Reuters)
The grand imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed El-Tayyeb, has urged Muslims to perform the daily prayers and the seasonal Taraweeh prayers at home with family during Ramadan in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
In a televised message on Thursday, the day before the holy month begins, the imam expressed his pain and sorrow at the suspension of prayers in mosques due to the outbreak, saying, "we receive Ramadan this year in a difficult atmosphere."
Egypt's mosques have been closed since 21 March in a move aimed at curbing the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.
El-Tayyeb also called on Muslims to rely on God to lift this "ordeal."
He added that fasting during the holy month is "obligatory" for anyone free of "legitimate justifications" not to fast, including illness.
He criticised what he described as “baseless" calls not to fast because doing so could weaken immunity and lead to contracting the respiratory disease, asking people not to pay attention to them and stick to the legitimate opinions of authorised religious bodies and specialists.
"These calls are groundless [according to] medical experts and specialists and World Health Organization representatives, who had held a special meeting to look into this matter … They concluded that there is no relationship between the coronavirus and fasting," he explained.
The statements come amid debate on social media over whether the pandemic will affect the customary practice of fasting during Ramadan.
He concluded his message by asking observers to pay their zakat, or religious charity, and carry out charitable acts for the poor during Ramadan in order to show solidarity in these hard times.