JAKARTA - Muslims around the world began marking Ramazan under coronavirus lockdown on Friday with unprecedented bans on family gatherings and mass prayers.  This year, the holy daytime fasting month will be a sombre affair for many across Asia, the Middle East and North Africa. Widespread rules have been imposed banning praying in mosques or meeting relatives and friends for large “iftar” meals at dusk -- a centrepiece of the month-long fast.

The restrictions have put a damper on spirits in Indonesia, the world’s biggest Muslim majority nation, where national religious organisations have called on the faithful to stay at home.

“This Ramadan is very different -- it’s just not festive,” said Indonesian housewife Fitria Famela.                  “I’m disappointed that I can’t go to the mosque, but what can we do? The world is different now.” And the World Health Organization has called for a stop to some Ramadan activities to limit exposure.

- ‘We must

accept it’ -

Mohamad Shukri Mohamad, the top Islamic cleric in the conservative Malaysian state of Kelantan, planned to skip public prayers and family meals -- even if it meant not seeing his six children and 18 grandchildren.

“This is the first time in my life that I’ve been unable to go the mosque,” he said. “But we must accept it and obey the rules of social distancing to protect our lives.” Muslim-majorityMalaysia has extended a strict lockdown until mid-May with mosques, schools and most businesses closed -- and police checkpoints set up to catch rulebreakers.

Even popular Ramadan bazaars, where Muslims buy local delicacies before breaking their fast, have been banned.  Instead, Malaysians can only order from so-called “e-bazaars”, where people order goods online and have them delivered to their homes.

In neighbouring Indonesia, fears of a spike in coronavirus cases when millions travel to hometowns and ancestral villages at the end of Ramadan has forced the country of some 260 million to issue a ban on the annual exodus. The government has also announced a clampdown on all air and sea travel across the 17,000-island archipelago.

Jakarta resident Erik Febrian said he was relying on a computer to allow him to keep in touch with his out-of-town parents until he can see them in person at the end of Ramadan.

“Thanks to technology I can video-call my parents every day during Ramadan,” he said. “And keep an eye on their health.”