Muslims celebrate Eid al-Fitr amid COVID-19 confinement

Traditional family visits and children’s celebrations curtailed
Saturday 23/05/2020
A boy sells balloons for Eid al-Fitr celebrations, in Sidon, southern Lebanon. (REUTERS)
A boy sells balloons for Eid al-Fitr celebrations, in Sidon, southern Lebanon. (REUTERS)

TUNIS--The majority of Arab countries are celebrating this Sunday Eid al-Fitr, the religious holiday that comes at the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

Ahead of the holiday, Saudi authorities renewed the ban on congregational  prayers, including the Eid prayer usually attended by huge crowds of worshippers.

A total of 18 Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, have announced that the celebration of the Eid begins Sunday while  others, including Mauritania, Sudan and the Sultanate of Oman, feted the holiday Saturday.

The timing of Eid is determined by the position of the moon, in accordance with the Muslim lunar calendar.

The holiday is traditionally celebrated by families getting together and visiting each other.

It is usually the season when families purchase and bake cookies and sweets.

The holiday is also an occasion for children treats.  Families buy their young offsprings new clothes and take them to parks and gift shops.

This year, however, such activities were discouraged or banned in view of the confinement measures, including lockdowns decided by many countries of the region as a precautionary measure against the pandemic.

Most Muslim majority countries around the world have called on their citizens to limit their movement and face-to-face contact during this year’s celebrations, due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Religious communities, including Muslims, welcomed the decision but said it will take time to put the necessary safety measures in place.

Some countries, including Turkey, Iraq and Jordan, imposed round-the-clock curfews for the duration of the holiday.

In Jerusalem, most restrictions were lifted, but the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, the third holiest site in Islam, will remain closed until after the holiday.

In Egypt, authorities extended the nighttime curfew, which now begins at 5pm instead of 9pm, and halted public transportation until May 29. Shopping centres, malls, beaches and parks will be closed.

In Tunisia, movement between cities remained prohibited, with the North African country reinforcing security checks ahead of the weekend.

Tunisian authorities previously announced the reopening of mosques and all places of worship as well as cafes, restaurants and hotels from June 4, after more than two months of closure due to the spread of the pandemic.

However, Minister of Major Projects Lobna Jeribi, Minister of Interior Hichem Mechichi and Minister of Religious Affairs Ahmed Adhoum warned that the decision could be reviewed if the coronavirus pandemic resumes its spread in the country.

In the United Arab Emirates, parks and private beaches are open but groups are limited to five people. Children under 12 and adults over 60 are barred from malls in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and other restrictions limit the number of people allowed inside. Restaurants can only operate at 30% of capacity.

Despite the more relaxed approach aimed at buoying the economy, the government announced a nationwide curfew during Eid al-Fitr lasting from 8pm to 6am.

Ahead of Eid, Emiratis usually share age-old customs and traditions but this year they were compelled by the coronavirus pandemic to limit themselves to virtual celebrations and exchange of greetings.

For the first time, this year, UAE officials largely refrained from holding family council meetings ahead of the Eid al-Fitr holiday as it is customary.

With concerns persisting, many Emiratis connected with each other through social media platforms.

In Iraq, the government has allowed most businesses to reopen in the last few weeks but reinstated a 24-hour curfew over the holiday.

Iraqi women carry cookies for the Muslim Eid al- Fitr celebrations, in Basra, Iraq. (AP)
Iraqi women carry cookies for the Muslim Eid al- Fitr celebrations, in Basra, Iraq. (AP)

In war-ravaged Somalia, authorities urged the cancellation of large gatherings and celebrations.

In Iran, which has endured the deadliest outbreak in the Middle East, authorities have imposed few restrictions ahead of the holiday aside from cancelling mass prayers in Tehran traditionally led by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Iran has faced criticism for not imposing the kind of lockdown seen elsewhere in the region, but authorities have said they had to weigh the effects on an economy eviscerated by US sanctions. Iran has reported nearly 130,000 cases and more than 7,000 deaths, but the rate of new infections has declined in recent weeks.

Elsewhere in Western countries, governments called on their Muslim citizens to limit their movement and face to face contact during this year’s celebrations.

In France, the government allowed religious services to resume after a legal challenge to the government’s ban on such gatherings.

Religious communities, including Muslims, welcomed the decision but said it will take time to put the necessary safety measures in place.

The French government had initially banned religious services until June 2 even though stores and other businesses started reopening last week.

The Council of State, the country’s highest administrative body, struck down the ban, and the government published a decree Saturday allowing services to resume.

Chamseddine Hafiz, chairman of the Paris Mosque’s board, resented what he called  the “exclusion of Muslims”  after French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said  the government was willing to maybe consider allowing religious services to resume starting May 29,” which a few days after Eid al-Fitr is to take place.

Hafiz, a lawyer of Algerian origin, said the French government chose a date that is convenient for many Christian and Jewish celebrations but did not take into account the celebration by French Muslims.

Since France’s nationwide lockdown began on March 17, congregational prayers in mosques and all other places of worship have been prohibited in the country.

In Britain, Muslims across the country are celebrating Eid remotely this weekend, with many mosques hosting virtual prayers amid continued lockdown measures.

Still concerned with the pandemic’s spread, community leaders encouraged people to stay at home and adhere to physical distancing measures.

Shaz Saleem, the secretary of Dudley Central mosque in the West Midlands, said Eid prayers would be held virtually via a WhatsApp group.

“Our only guidance to people has been to stay at home, stay safe,” he said.