Worshippers have donned masks and practised social distancing during Eid al-Adha. Image by EPA PHOTO

Health

Virus affects Eid festival, last of hajj

2020-08-01 20:10:20

Small groups of pilgrims have performed one of the final rites of the Islamic hajj as Muslims worldwide marked the start of the Eid al-Adha holiday amid a global pandemic that has affected nearly every aspect of this year’s pilgrimage and celebrations.

The last days of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia coincide with the four-day Eid al-Adha, or “Feast of Sacrifice”, in which Muslims slaughter livestock and distribute the meat to the poor.

The pandemic has pushed millions of people around the world closer to the brink of poverty, making it harder for many to fulfil the religious tradition of purchasing livestock.

In Somalia, the price of meat has slightly increased. Abdishakur Dahir, a civil servant in Mogadishu, said that for the first time he would not be able to afford goat for Eid because of the impact of the virus on work.

“I could hardly buy food for my family,” Dahir said. “We are just surviving for now. Life is getting tougher by the day.”

The hajj pilgrimage has also been drastically impacted by the virus. Last year, about 2.5 million pilgrims took part but this year as few as 1000 pilgrims already residing in Saudi Arabia were allowed to preform the hajj.

The Saudi health ministry said there have been no cases of the COVID-19 illness among this year’s pilgrims. The government took numerous precautions, including testing pilgrims for the virus, monitoring their movement with electronic wristbands and requiring them to quarantine before and after the hajj. Pilgrims were selected after applying through an online portal, and all had to be between the ages of 20 and 50 years old.

Just after dawn on Friday, small groups of pilgrims – masked and physically distancing – made their way toward the massive multi-storey Jamarat Complex in the Saudi valley area of Mina. There, the pilgrims cast pebbles at three large columns. It is here where Muslims believe the devil tried to talk the Prophet Ibrahim, or Abraham, out of submitting to God’s will.

Muslims commemorate the prophet Ibrahim’s test of faith by slaughtering livestock and animals and distributing the meat to the poor.

During the last days of hajj, male pilgrims shave their heads and remove the terry cloth white garments worn during the pilgrimage. Women cut off a small lock of hair in a sign of spiritual rebirth and renewal.

The hajj, both physically and spiritually demanding, intends to bring about greater humility and unity among Muslims. It is required of all Muslims to perform once in a lifetime.

Around the world, Muslims gathered with relatives or remained at home to mark the start of Eid.

In the Iraqi capital Baghdad, streets were largely empty due to a 10-day lockdown imposed by authorities to prevent further spread of the virus. Eid prayers in mosques were cancelled.

Kosovo and the United Arab Emirates have also closed mosques to limit the spread of the virus.

In Lebanon, Muslim worshippers prayed in mosques under tight security, despite a partial lockdown imposed Thursday that will continue through August 10. Worshippers at the Mohammad al-Amin Mosque in the capital, Beirut, spilled onto the street outside to maintain social distancing rules.

In Indonesia, home to the world’s largest population of Muslims, people were allowed to attend Eid prayers in mosques under strict health guidelines, including that they bring their own prayer mats and pray several feet apart from one another. Worshippers must wear masks and are not allowed to shake hands or hug.

Authorities in Indonesia also ordered that meat be delivered door-to-door to the poor to avoid long lines.

“This outbreak has not only changed our tradition entirely, but has also made more and more people fall into poverty,” said Agus Supriatna, an Indonesian factory worker who was laid off this year because of the pandemic.

Muslim leaders in Albania and Kosovo called on people “to be careful” in their festivities to avoid transmission of the virus, including limiting family visits.