A Palestinian girl walking in front of Al-Kabir mosque on The first day of Ramadan, in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on Tuesday. Photo by Ismael Mohamad/UPI | License Photo
April 13 (UPI) -- Millions of Muslims around the world Tuesday began observing the holy period of Ramadan amid a COVID-19 pandemic that's still drawing warnings among health officials.
Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, is observed by Muslims worldwide by fasting during daylight hours and observing an additional night of prayer at mosques during the period.
Ramadan this year runs until May 13. A year ago, Ramadan began just a few weeks after the start of the coronavirus outbreak.
Amid thousands of new cases daily in the United States, health experts say it may not be safe to celebrate the Ramadan holiday with friends and family, as normal.
Dr. Hasan Shanawani, president of American Muslim Health Professionals, said only fully vaccinated worshipers should attend mosque prayers.
"If you still feel the vaccine will invalidate your fast, still get the vaccine, and then make up that lost day after Ramadan," Shanawani told CNN.
Health officials also recommend keeping celebrations small when gathering for the first meal of the day (suhoor), first meal after sunset (iftar) and the nightly communal prayers (taraweeh).
"In this pandemic, friends and loved ones cannot yet gather together in celebration and congregation, and far too many families will sit down for iftar (the first meal after sunset) with loved ones missing," U.S. President Joe Biden said in a statement commemorating Ramadan.
Biden said he was proud to end the "shameful" Muslim travel ban pursued by former President Donald Trump and added that he "will continue to stand up for human rights everywhere."
The president noted that Muslim Americans "continue to be targeted by bullying, bigotry, and hate crimes."
"This prejudice and these attacks are wrong. They are unacceptable. And they must stop," he said.
"No one in America should ever live in fear of expressing his or her faith."