For Muslims, an unusual Eid al-Fitr amid pandemic to follow a highly subdued Ramadan

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Some countries, including Turkey, Iraq and Jordan, will impose round-the-clock curfews for the duration of the holiday.

A yemeni man carries his son who holds a balloon outside a shopping mall ahead of Eid al-Fitr holiday, in Sanaa, Yemen. (Reuters)

TUNIS –Muslims worldwide will celebrate one of their biggest holidays under the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic, with millions confined to their homes and others gripped by economic concerns during what is usually a festive time of shopping and celebration.

The three-day Eid al-Fitr marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan for the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims. People usually celebrate by travelling, visiting family and gathering for lavish meals, all of which will be largely prohibited as authorities try to prevent new virus outbreaks.

 The holiday will begin on Saturday or Sunday, depending on the sighting of the new moon, and the dawn-to-dusk fasting of Ramadan will come to an end.

Some countries, including Turkey, Iraq and Jordan, will impose round-the-clock curfews for the duration of the holiday. In Saudi Arabia, home to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, people will only be allowed to leave their homes to buy food and medicine.

But even in countries that have largely reopened, the holiday won’t be the same.

Algerian volunteers prepare parcels of clothing to be distributed to needy families, ahead of Eid al-Fitr . (AFP)
Algerian volunteers prepare parcels of clothing to be distributed to needy families, ahead of Eid al-Fitr .(AFP)

Most restrictions have been lifted in Jerusalem, but the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, the third holiest site in Islam, will remain closed until after the holiday. Shopkeepers in the Old City, which has been emptied of tourists and pilgrims since March, are reeling from the effects of six weeks of lockdown. 

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

The virus causes mild to moderate symptoms in most people, who recover within a few weeks. But it is highly contagious and can cause severe illness or death, particularly in older patients or those with underlying health problems.

In Tunisia, movement between cities will remain 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 will be open but groups will be limited to five people. Children under 12 and adults over 60 are barred from malls in 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 are 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 are planning on connecting with each other through social media platforms.

On the eve of the holiday, streets are normally crowded with shoppers buying sweets and new clothes, but this year the streets and the stores are almost empty, and their doors are closed by 10pm due to the general curfew.

But stores, shopping centres and supermarkets have launched  online marketing  campaigns showcasing products that suit Ramadan and Eid, such as clothes, shoes, gifts, kits and sweets, through their websites, inviting consumers to order and pay for their purchases via banking cards.

 In Iraq, the government has allowed most businesses to reopen in the last few weeks but plans to reinstate a 24-hour curfew over the holiday. The streets were busy in the days leading up to Eid as people shopped for clothes, toys and home appliances.

Men sell traditional sweets at a bakery in the town of Dana, in the northwestern Idlib province, as Muslims prepare for Eid al-Fitr. (AFP)
Men sell traditional sweets at a bakery in the town of Dana, in the northwestern Idlib province, as Muslims prepare for Eid al-Fitr. (AFP)

 In war-ravaged Somalia, authorities have urged the cancellation of large gatherings and celebrations, but it’s unclear whether that will be enforced. Shoppers have packed into markets and shopping centres in the capital, Mogadishu, in recent days.

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.

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