RAMADAN will be "very different this year" and a leading doctor has encouraged Muslims to take advantage of technology to stay connected.

The coronavirus outbreak has halted hundreds of events and seen mosques across the country close.

When does Ramadan 2020 begin?

The holy month of Ramadan is rapidly approaching, with it set to begin on Thursday, April 23, subject to the sighting of the crescent moon - which marks its beginning.

A major part of Ramadan is fasting between sunrise and sunset, but the month also focuses on prayer, reflection and the community.

'Use video conferencing tools to stay connected during Ramadan'

Given the unprecedented circumstances, and the uncertainty surrounding when the UK lockdown may come to an end, the community element of Ramadan has become problematic.

Dr Sohail Abbas, deputy clinical chair at Bradford District and Craven Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) reiterated that the guidelines from the Government must remain a priority.

But he believes people and families will be able to utilise free video conferencing tools to stay connected.

He told one of our sister titles, the Bradford Telegraph & Argus: "To help fight coronavirus, the single most important action we can all take is to stay at home in order to protect the NHS and save lives.

"When we reduce our day-to-day contact with other people, we will reduce the spread of the infection.

"Everyone must follow the Government advice and stay at home.

"Following the social distancing guidance will mean that Ramadan is very different this year for Muslims living in Bradford district and Craven.

"Ramadan is a really important time of the year for Muslims.

"It is a time of intensive worship, reading of the Holy Quran, giving to charity, purifying behaviour and doing good deeds.

"Muslims will pray together for their loved ones, people who are unwell and people who have died and will support everyone from every religious and cultural background in our communities in dealing with this pandemic.

"Muslims eat together and break bread with family and friends each day.

"With the Mosques being closed and the restrictions on gatherings of more than two people – this will impact on the way people observe Ramadan and their daily rituals.

"We would like to encourage people to look at how they can still follow national guidance during Ramadan and use some of the free video conferencing tools to stay connected - perhaps to pray with others or break the fast virtually."

'Stay at home during Ramadan'

Tell MAMA, an organisation that supports victims of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate, also reiterated the "stay at home message".

Director of Tell MAMA, Iman Atta OBE, said: "As Ramadan approaches, our advice to families is that it is a time of reflection and self-rejuvenation and connection with God.

"This makes it a personal affair for each and every person within the context of family.

"The ethos of Islam, is about protecting life and this means ensuring the well being of the individual before thinking about the well-being of others, since if someone is sick, they cannot help themselves, let alone others.

"We therefore urge people to stay at home, fast where they can if able to, and if they have medical issues, Islam allows for dispensations in fasting.

"We also stress the fact that COVID-19 has affected people of all ages, some of whom have lost their lives.

"Finally, we wanted to re-iterate that if anyone is targeted for Islamophobic hate, we are here to assist and they are not alone.

"There are systems and processes in this country to help such as Tell MAMA."

'Fast safely'

Dr Abbas has also reminded those with diabetes to "fast safely" during Ramadan.

He said: "Ramadan will see Muslims fasting between sunrise to sunset which could potentially mean that people will not eat or drink for up to 17 hours.

"This could pose a risk to the health of those who have diabetes and other long-term health conditions.

"Most people with diabetes can fast without any issue as long as they ensure they follow a few key pieces of advice."

What is the advice for those with diabetes?

This advice includes: eating smaller portions when breaking your fast, choosing slow burning foods such as basmati rice, fruit or veg and avoid fatty or sugary foods.

Diabetic patients are also at a higher risk of hypoglycaemias (a "hypo") during Ramadan, so it is important you monitor your blood sugar levels more often than you usually would and seek urgent medical attention, if you notice signs of a "hypo".