Severity: Warning Alert

Culture: Muslims in Asia to celebrate Ramadan April 23-May 24 amid COVID-19 measures. Security incidents, militant attacks possible in some areas.

The locations affected by this alert are:

  • Afghanistan
  • Bangladesh
  • Brunei Darussalam
  • India
  • Pakistan
  • Singapore
  • Maldives
  • Malaysia
  • Indonesia
  • Philippines
  • Kunming, Yunnan Province
  • Xi'an, Shaanxi Province
  • Urumqi, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region
  • Deep South
  • Yinchuan, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region
  • Lanzhou, Gansu Province
  • Xining, Qinghai Province
  • Turpan, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region
  • Karamay, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region
  • Hami (Kumul), Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region
  • Korla, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region
  • Kashgar (Kashi), Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region
  • Shanshan, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region

This alert began 21 Apr 2020 09:00 GMT and is scheduled to expire 04 May 2020 23:59 GMT.

  • Event: Ramadan
  • Location(s): Muslim-majority countries and areas in East, South, and Southeast Asia (map)
  • Time Frame: Approximately April 23-May 24
  • Impact: Business and transport disruptions; possible security incidents

Summary
Muslims throughout Asia will observe the holy month of Ramadan, April 23-May 24. Ramadan begins with the first sighting of the crescent moon; as such, start and end dates may vary by one to two days in different countries, depending on the findings of local Islamic authorities. The impact of Ramadan on government and business operations is likely to be more pronounced in predominantly Muslim countries such as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, the Maldives, Malaysia, and Pakistan. Measures introduced by countries to halt the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), such as domestic and international travel restrictions, movement controls, business closures, and ban on public gatherings are all likely to impact festivities this year.

Eid al-Fitr (Feast of Breaking the Fast) occurs at the end of Ramadan on or around May 24. Celebrations may last one to seven days. Businesses, government offices, foreign embassies, banks, and schools will likely close for Eid al-Fitr in many countries. Significant air, road, rail, and maritime travel restrictions in place due to COVID-19 are likely to continue through Ramadan to prevent widespread movement of people. Pakistani authorities may partially lift domestic travel restrictions for the festival, prompting overcrowding and high demand for available transportation; some other states may introduce such relaxations if in-country cases fall.

An upsurge in militancy is possible in areas with active insurgencies, including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, southern Thailand, and Muslim-populated areas of the southern Philippines. The holy month coincides with the Taliban's annual spring offensive in Afghanistan; the group, which has continued attacks - mainly on local security forces - despite ongoing peace talks, is unlikely to agree or adhere to a Ramadan ceasefire. Bangladesh also saw its worst terrorist incident in recent years which occurred in Dhaka during the 2016 Ramadan period. Security incidents could transpire in Muslim-majority areas if groups oppose ongoing mosque closures and bans on religious congregations in light of COVID-19. Although Pakistan has allowed congregational prayers with social distancing measures, the rollback of the relaxation in case of violations could cause possibly violent protests. Other high-risk areas include Uighur Muslim-populated areas of western China, states in India with a significant Muslim population, as well as Sri Lanka. While clashes between Hindus and Muslims in India during Ramadan are typically over the illegal slaughter of cows, inter-religious relations remain volatile in Sri Lanka following the series of deadly blasts in April 2019 by the local Islamist militant group National Thowheeth Jama'ath.

Although nonessential business operations are likely to remain closed or limited as part of measures to contain COVID-19 in most countries, partial relaxation for retail outlets is possible around Eid Al-Fitr. Restaurants will probably continue providing takeaway and delivery services; multiple countries like Brunei, Malaysia, and Singapore have banned open-air markets usually set up for Ramadan. Panic buying and bulk purchases could lead to localized shortages of essential items such as food and fuel; skirmishes are also possible at sales outlets and charity distribution points in some areas. Hardline Muslims may try to forcibly close restaurants and other businesses that are perceived to violate Ramadan ordinances and promote activity they deem to be "un-Islamic." These incidents have resulted in violence in the past, primarily in Indonesia, Pakistan, and southern Thailand. Although street crime may decrease in many areas during Ramadan, a spike in theft, burglary, and other crimes of opportunity is possible in commercial districts.

Potential Terrorism and/or Sectarian Problem Areas

 

  • Afghanistan
  • Pakistan
  • Bangladesh
  • India: Jammu and Kashmir, Delhi, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh
  • Thailand: Narathiwat, Pattani, Yala, Songkhla
  • Indonesia: Jakarta, Maluku, Central Sulawesi, Papua
  • Philippines: Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, Zamboanga City
  • China: Ningxia, Gansu, Qinghai, Xi'an, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region



Background and Analysis
Muslims refrain from eating and drinking from dawn to dusk during Ramadan; large meals are consumed after sunset and before sunrise. Typically, many restaurants close during daylight hours in predominantly Muslim countries; eateries in major hotels that cater to non-Muslims are usually open for business. Authorities are likely to enhance monitoring and enforcement of COVID-19 restrictions, resulting in sporadic and localized violence.

Advice
Remain respectful of Islamic traditions; do not eat or drink in the presence of Muslims during the daytime. Consider limiting exposure to possible militant target sites such as marketplaces, government buildings, and places of worship. Do not discuss sensitive political or religious matters in public.

Follow all official instructions; abide by national health and safety measures. Minimize outdoor activity to the extent possible. Expect increased security in public places. Plan for transport delays, especially on arterial routes, before and after Eid al-Fitr. Reconfirm business appointments, deliveries, work, and travel arrangements. Do not check out of accommodation without confirming onward travel. Consider delaying traveling if experiencing symptoms associated with COVID-19, as they may prompt increased scrutiny and delays. Liaise with trusted contacts for further updates and guidance. Maintain contact with your diplomatic representation. Ensure contingency plans account for further disruptive measures or extensions of current restrictions. Reconsider and reconfirm nonemergency health appointments. Ensure access to essential items, plan for queues and delays at available shopping centers. Carry proper identification documents, heed all traffic and security advisories.

Emphasize basic health precautions, especially frequent handwashing with soap and water, or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are unavailable. Practice good coughing/sneezing etiquette (i.e., covering coughs and sneezes with a disposable tissue, maintaining distance from others, and washing hands). There is no evidence that the influenza vaccine, antibiotics, or antiviral medications will prevent this disease, highlighting the importance of diligent basic health precautions.