WASHINGTON: Muslim organisations in the United States issued guidelines on Sunday for Ramazan advising against congregational prayers and community iftars, hours after President Donald Trump asked local authorities not to relax coronavirus restrictions during the month.

“I would say that there could be a difference,” Mr Trump said at a news conference.

“And we’ll have to see what will happen. Because I have seen a great disparity in this country,” he complained, echoing far-right sentiments.

But when asked if he thought Muslim religious leaders would not follow social distancing guidelines during Ramazan, Mr Trump said: “No I don’t think that at all.”

He said it was a fact that “the Christian faith (in America) is treated much differently, and I think it’s treated very unfairly”.

A few hours after Mr Trump’s press conference, the Fiqh Council of North America said in a statement: “If the current circumstances remain the same, the Fiqh Council encourages people to pray Taraweeh with their family in their homes.”

Ramazan is expected to begin in North America on April 23. Most Muslims here prefer community iftars at mosques, which are filled to capacity during Taraweeh as well. But this year, most Muslim organisations have been urging people to pray at home, maintain social distancing and follow government restrictions.

The council, which includes Muslim scholars from across the world, including Pakistan, also published instructions on how Muslims can protect themselves from the coronavirus while observing fast and performing other religious obligations during Ramazan.

President Trump’s remarks stirred fears that the pandemic could be used to whip up anti-Muslim sentiments.

The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) described the comments as “divisive” and reminded him that mosques in the United States had already announced plans to avoid congregational prayers.

“At a time when Trump needs to be getting more tests and ventilators, he’s riling up anti-Muslim bigotry,” said an organisation, The Muslim Advocates. “We’re supporting (Muslim) leaders (in America) looking to science.”

The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) recalled that Muslim scholars were already supporting the suspension of congregational prayers.

President Trump also bemoaned that some US lawmakers were too lenient to Muslims.

“They go after Christian churches, but they don’t seem to go after mosques. I do not want them to go after mosques. But I do want to see what their bent is,” he tweeted.

The edict by the Fiqh Council addressed some of the issues being raised by groups which fear that Muslims may not follow the restrictions aimed at curbing the pandemic.

It explained that while Muslims will observe Ramazan, there will be no community iftars at mosques or other places. Encouraging people to pray Taraweeh at home, the council said: “Those who do not know the Quran by heart, are allowed to hold it in hand and read from the Mushaf in Taraweeh prayer.”

For Eid, the council advised mosque imams to give a Khutbah that can be streamed live, but urged people to pray the two Raka’at in their homes.

Published in Dawn, April 20th, 2020