Sacrificial rites of Eid al-Adha hindered by pandemic, purchasing power

The religious holiday is celebrated Friday throughout the Muslim world.

Thursday 30/07/2020
Men buy sheep at a livestock market ahead of the Eid al-Adha festival in Tunis, Tunisia. (AFP)
Men buy sheep at a livestock market ahead of the Eid al-Adha festival in Tunis, Tunisia. (AFP)

TUNIS- The Muslim celebration of Eid al-Adha will be deeply affected this year by the COVID-19 health restrictions and by the deterioration of the populations’ purchasing power as a result of the pandemic.

Muslims traditionally slaughter sheep cows or goats in a ritual of sacrifice, known as Udhiya, to mark the holiday, which commemorates the account of the prophet Ibrahim, or Abraham, offering to sacrifice his son on God’s command. The meat is usually shared among family and friends and donated to the poor. The holiday is usually an occasion of families to get together.

As the World Health Organisation stressed the importance of adhering to preventive measures during Eid al-Adha to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus, several countries announced that Eid prayers will not be performed at mosques and that travel to some major cities will be banned. Other countries did however allow Eid prayers at mosques provided that social distancing and other precautionay measures are respected.

The global coronavirus pandemic has cast a shadow many aspects of this year’s Eid al-Adha, said Mohamed Al-Arabi, a Tunisian teacher, who talked to the Arab weekly in one of the livestock markets at the Ariana governorate (northeast of Tunisia), while he was looking for a cheap but good Udhiya. He described his task as “a difficult equation”.

A vendor clad in mask due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic browses a phone while sitting inside a sheep pen at a livestock market in Kuwait City on July 28, 2020. (AFP)
A vendor clad in mask due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic browses a phone while sitting inside a sheep pen at a livestock market in Kuwait City on July 28, 2020. (AFP)

Although not a compulsory ritual, sacrifice is carried out by the majority of Muslims.

Lower to middle income families have found it difficult this year to spare the cost of a lamb. The “coronavirus crisis has negatively affected both the buyers and the merchants”, said Al-Arabi.

“I have to buy an Udhiya for the sake of my children, even if it is a little lamb”, he added, while he negotiated the price with a sheep merchant.

The Arab Weekly noticed a scant presence of buyers as sellers complained about the decline in demand this year due to the impact of the coronavirus crisis on the economic situation of families.

Abdelwahab Ayari, a merchant, did not deny that prices are high, but he said that farmers are compelled to hike prices  to cover the rising cost of sheep herding amid the pandemic-caused economic slowdown.

Abderrahman El Hammi, a Tunisian residing in France, says he came to spend Eid al-Adha in Tunisia, as the holiday is better celebrated there than in France despite the measures taken to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

To curtail the spread of the coronavirus, many Arab and Islamic countries have prohibited congregational Eid prayers in mosques and public squares, while others allowed prayers in mosques under severe restrictions.

Countries such as Lebanon, Tunisia, Jordan, Sudan called on worshippers to respect health protocol measures, including commitment to social distancing, use of masks, ablution at home and bringing personal prayer rugs, while countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, Syria, Iraq, the UAE decided that Eid prayers should be performed at home except for specially-designated mosques where stringent restrictions are enforced.

The Emirates’ National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority issued a series of directives for Eid al-Adha, saying the Emirati citizens will hold prayers for Eid al-Adha at homes instead of mosques while calls to prayers will be broadcast on radio and TV.

Also, the World Health Organization (WHO) published a list of guidelines this week including the designation of one household member in any one area to perform the sacrifice, with family members adhering to physical distancing throughout the process.

The WHO noted an increase in the number of coronavirus infections as a result of activities related to Ramadan this year, especially during family visits, group prayers and gatherings. Accordingly, the organisation stressed the importance of adhering to the preventive measures during Eid al-Adha.