Indonesia greets Ramadan with mass prayer as COVID curbs ease

Indonesian Muslims offer evening mass prayers known as 'Tarawih' during the first eve of holy fasting month of Ramadan at the Great Mosque of Istiqlal in Jakarta, Indonesia, April 2, 2022. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan

JAKARTA (Reuters) - The world's largest Muslim-majority nation of Indonesia welcomed the start of the holy fasting month of Ramadan with a mass prayer at Jakarta's grand mosque on Saturday, with plateauing coronavirus cases allowing for eased restrictions this year.

Thousands gathered after dusk at Istiqlal mosque in the Indonesian capital to join the Tarawih prayer, special prayers performed only during the month of Ramadan, donning masks and using check-in apps to take part in the event.

For the past two years Indonesia has grappled with one of the highest rates of COVID-19 in Asia, but this Ramadan, traditionally a time of community, reflection and prayer, cases have eased enough to allow for mass gatherings.

"I feel grateful that we are finally able to gather for the Tarawih prayer, and there are no strict restrictions this time like before," said Tri Haryono, 28.

"I'm very grateful that we can finally pray here together."

Amid the worst spikes in the coronavirus pandemic, Indonesian Muslims have been prohibited from praying at the mosque, and joining the annual mudik or exodus tradition, when millions travel to visit their families across the sprawling archipelago.

President Joko Widodo announced last week that mudik would be permitted this year after pandemic-related travel bans have prevented the practise for the past two years.

"The improving COVID situation has brought optimism as the Ramadan holy month is upon us," he told a news conference.

The start of Ramadan, during which observers abstain from food and drink from dawn until sunset, can fall on different dates due to differences in sightings of the new moon.

This year fasting month began earlier in much of the Middle East and South Asia than in Southeast Asia, which started fasting on Sunday.

(Writing by Kate Lamb; Editing by Stephen Coates)

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