In Baghdad’s new Ramadan rhythm, calls to pray and keep COVID-19 away

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In this file photo taken on May 7, 2020 Sayyed Mozahem (2-R) the "Musaharati" calls for Muslims to have their final meal before a new day of fasting begins with the sunrise, in a small neighbourhood of the Iraqi capital Baghdad. (AFP / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE)
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In this file photo taken on May 7, 2020 Sayyed Mozahem (2-R) the "Musaharati" calls for Muslims to have their final meal before a new day of fasting begins with the sunrise, in a small neighbourhood of the Iraqi capital Baghdad. (AFP / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE)
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Updated 21 May 2020

In Baghdad’s new Ramadan rhythm, calls to pray and keep COVID-19 away

  • Iraqis are adapting their Ramadan routines to fit a curfew from 5 p.m. until 5 am

BAGHDAD, Iraq: Baghdad, a city of nearly ten million residents, is running on an unusual rhythm this Ramadan since Iraq imposed an overnight curfew to curb the spreading coronavirus.
A few hours before dawn, the wailing voice of Sayyed Mozahem rings out across a small neighborhood in old Baghdad, amplified by his portable microphone.
Mozahem is the neighborhood “musaharati,” responsible during Ramadan for reminding Muslims to have their final meal before a new day of fasting begins with the sunrise.
“Fasters, wake up,” he chants, marching through the streets to the beat of his traditional drum as his older brother and father did before him.
But his refrains have a special twist: “May Ramadan keep the coronavirus away,” and “God, spare Iraq from COVID-19.”
Iraqis are adapting their Ramadan routines to fit a curfew from 5 p.m. until 5 am — the hours Baghdad usually comes alive with huge fast-breaking feasts, late-night runs for sweets and midnight mosque visits.
Instead, Iraqis are rushing through checkpoints before the lockdown starts, praying alone at home and baking traditional sweets usually bought in stores.
A somber and isolating mood has settled over the capital, where the response to the novel coronavirus has left its mark from dawn until dusk.
After Mozahem wraps up his pre-drawn call — technically a violation of the nighttime curfew — the sun rises over Baghdad, the second most populous Arab capital.
By noon the heat is bearing down on the streets, sending traffic police in search of slivers of shade. The call to prayer rings out from hundreds of mosques, urging Muslims to worship from home.
Soon after, it’s Moussa Al-Bedeiri’s turn.
Twice a day, the firefighter uses the megaphone on his firetruck to urge people to stay home, avoid gatherings and wash their hands regularly.
His throat and lips are cracked but as a devout Muslim Bedeiri refrains from drinking during the long sweltering days.
“As the coronavirus spread, our work has doubled. We had more sanitization campaigns and broadcasts of official guidelines through loudspeakers on the civil defense vehicles and at our center,” he tells AFP.
The blinding sun dims into a late-afternoon haze as 22-year-old Mortada zips through traffic on his motorcycle.
Strapped to the back are food packages that Mortada needs to deliver before the curfew begins.
Restaurants have been closed to patrons for around two months but as restrictions have eased, they have been permitted to open for home deliveries.
Mortada makes less than a half-dozen deliveries per day now, about a quarter of his usual haul during Ramadan.
The twin shocks of coronavirus restrictions and falling oil prices have hit Iraq hard, and may double the current poverty rate to 40 percent, the World Bank has predicted.
The sun is preparing to set, casting long shadows across the vast esplanade of Baghdad’s Abdelqader Al-Gailani mausoleum, where a revered Sufi figure is buried.
For the first time in his life, 70-year-old sheikh Yalmaz Youssef is seeing the shrine and attached mosque empty.
“Since the ‘70s and until this day, I have never seen the door of the holy shrine of Sheikh Abdelqader closed. But when I did, I cried,” Youssef tells AFP.
As dusk settles, the dainty garlands decorating the mosque light up and the sunset prayer — calling on Muslims to break their fast at home — echoes across the city.
Iraqis bite in to modest dinners at home with family, reminiscing about past elaborate meals where dozens of relatives, neighbors and friends were invited.
Instead of strolls through halogen-lit streets to pick up sweets or toys, they wile away the nighttime hours with card games or television.
On the nightly news broadcast, Iraqi channels announce the new coronavirus numbers: more than 3,600 cases across the country and over 130 deaths.
The numbers are rising faster now, a grim lead-up to the Eid Al-Fitr holiday — usually a joyful occasion for extended family gatherings.
As twilight approaches, a drum echoes through the darkened streets and the musaharati begins calling Muslims to their final pre-fast meal.
Baghdad’s new routine begins all over again.


Yoga can help coronavirus patients breathe easy, says Egyptian expert

Updated 12 min 28 sec ago

Yoga can help coronavirus patients breathe easy, says Egyptian expert

  • "Yoga can actually help to avoid injury and to stay stable in every position"

CAIRO: It is well documented that the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) can have severe effects on the respiratory system, causing difficulty in breathing as well as chest pains.

With no specific cure discovered yet, it has been suggested that yoga techniques can help breathe easy.

According to yoga experts, breathing is the most important part of yoga.

“When it comes to a productive yoga routine, settling your mind, relaxing, centering yourself, and breathing are the most important steps to master," Egyptian yoga instructor Rana Moustafa told Arab News.

Pharmacologist Louis J. Ignarro, Nobel Prize winner in Physiology in 1998, and Professor of Molecular and Medical Pharmacology in the University of California, Los Angeles, wrote an article recently explaining how breathing properly can help to fight COVID-19

"Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. It’s not just something you do in yoga class; breathing this way actually provides a powerful medical benefit that can help the body fight viral infections.

"The reason is that your nasal cavities produce the molecule, nitric oxide, which chemists abbreviate as NO. It increases blood flow through the lungs and boosts oxygen levels in the blood. Breathing in through the nose delivers NO directly into the lungs where it helps fight coronavirus infection by blocking the replication of virus in the lungs. The higher oxygen saturation of the blood can make one feel more refreshed and provide greater endurance," he wrote.

Rana explained that deep breathing "lowers stress levels by decreasing heart rate. When you breathe correctly, it redirects the flow of energy within your body, and also boosts your immunity, and improves both lung function and respiratory endurance."

"The things that happen when you are stressed, such as increasing heart rate, fast breathing, and high blood pressure all decrease as you breathe deeply to relax the whole body," the Egyptian yoga instructor emphasized.

"The most beautiful thing about yoga is that it’s available to anyone and everyone. Yoga is for any age and fitness level. The poses can be easily modified for different skill levels or if someone has an injury or condition. Not only that, but there are several types of yoga to choose from," said Rana.

"Yoga can actually help to avoid injury and to stay stable in every position."