Cairo – Muslims around the world were celebrating another major Islamic holiday on Tuesday in the shadow of the pandemic and amid growing concerns about the highly contagious Delta version of the coronavirus.
Eid al-Adha, or “Feast of the Sacrifice”, is typically marked by communal prayers, large social gatherings, the killing of livestock and the giving of meat to the needy. This year, the holiday comes as several countries battle the delta variant first identified in India, prompting some to avoid imposing new restrictions or appealing to people to follow safety protocols.
The pandemic has already taken a toll on Hajj, a sacred mainstay of Islam, for the second year running, the last day of which coincides with Eid al-Adha. The pilgrimage has been dramatically scaled back due to the virus, once drawing nearly 2.5 million Muslims from around the world to Saudi Arabia’s holy city of Mecca.
This year’s Hajj has been limited to 60,000 vaccinated Saudi citizens or residents of Saudi Arabia. On Tuesday, pilgrims wearing masks and maintaining social distance, performed symbolic stone pelting of the devil in the valley area of Mina – using sterilized pebbles they received ahead of time.
“It is (a) very, very, very big moment for us, especially for me,” said Arya Vidyawan Yanto, an Indonesian pilgrim living in Saudi Arabia. He said he was happy that he got the opportunity to undertake the pilgrimage. “Everything was conducted under very strict precautions.”
Yanto said he hoped the pandemic would be over and all Muslims would be able to make the pilgrimage safely.
Indonesia marked a solemn Eid al-Adha amid a devastating new wave of coronavirus cases in the world’s most Muslim-majority country. Vice President Maruf Amin, who is also an influential Islamic cleric, appealed to people to offer holiday prayers at home with their families.
“Don’t rush,” Amin said in remarks on television before the start of the holiday. “It is imperative to protect yourself from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
It is believed to have increased from travel during another holiday – the Eid al-Fitr festival in May – and from the rapid spread of the delta variant.
In Malaysia, the measures have been tightened after a sharp rise in infections despite a national lockdown since June 1 – banning people from going back to their hometowns or crossing districts to celebrate. Home visits and customary visits to the cemetery have also been banned.
Healthy worshipers are allowed to assemble for prayers in mosques with strict social distancing and without any physical contact. Ritual animal sacrifice is limited to mosques and other approved areas.
Director-General of Health Noor Hisham Abdullah has urged Malaysians to “not repeat irresponsible behaviour”, saying travel and gatherings during Eid-ul-Fitr and another festival on the island of Borneo have led to new clusters of cases. led.
“Let us not let all of us be destroyed by COVID-19 in the fervor of celebrating the Feast of Sacrifice,” he said in a statement.
Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yasin urged Muslims to stay home. “I appeal to all of you to be patient and follow the rules as your sacrifice is a great jihad in the sight of Allah and in our effort to save lives,” he said in a televised speech on the eve of the festival.
The World Health Organization has reported that globally, a period of decline was followed by an increase in COVID-19 deaths. The reversal has been attributed to low vaccination rates, relaxed mask rules and other precautions, and the delta variant.
The lockdown will severely curtail Eid al-Adha celebrations in Australia’s two largest cities, Sydney and Melbourne.
Sydney resident Jihad Dib, MP for the New South Wales state government, said the city’s Muslims were sad but understood why they would be confined to their homes without any visitors.
“This is the first time in my life I’d be going to not hug and kiss my mom and dad,” Dib told Australian Broadcasting Corp.
Iran on Monday extended a week-long lockdown of the capital Tehran and the surrounding region, as the country grapples with another surge in the coronavirus pandemic, state media reported. The lockdown is starting from Tuesday.
Not everyone is imposing new restrictions. In Bangladesh, authorities have allowed an eight-day pause in the country’s strict lockdown for the holiday, which health experts say could be dangerous.
In Egypt, Essam Shaban traveled to the southern province of Sohag to spend Eid al-Adha with his family. He said before the start of the holiday that he planned to offer prayers at a mosque there on Tuesday, while taking precautions like bringing his own prayer rug and wearing a mask.
“We want this Eid to pass peacefully without any infection,” he said. “We must follow the instructions.”
Shaban was looking forward to buying a buffalo for slaughter with his brothers, going door to door to give some meat to the poor, and proceeding to the traditional festive meal of the day with his extended family.
“It’s usually boisterous with kids laughing and pranks,” he said. “It’s great.”
But others would be without loved ones.
In India, where Eid al-Adha begins on a Wednesday, Tahir Qureshi would always accompany his father to pray and then visit family and friends. His father had died in June, which devastated the country, and the thought of spending a vacation without him was heartbreaking.
“It would be difficult without him,” he said.
Muslim scholars of India have been urging people to exercise restraint and follow health protocols. Some states have banned large gatherings and are asking people to take the holiday at home.
Meanwhile, the economic fallout of the pandemic, which has left millions of Indians in dire straits, has led many to say they cannot afford to buy sacrificial animals.
In India-controlled Kashmir, a disputed, Muslim-majority region, businessman Ghulam Hassan Wani is among the retreaters.
“I used to sacrifice three or four sheep, but this year we can hardly afford one sheep,” said Wani.