As we approach Eid Al Adha – the greater Eid, which follows the completion of the annual Hajj pilgrimage, the outlook for Eid this year looks very unlike any other. For British Muslims, it’s taking part in a socially distanced world, through a global pandemic, which makes it a sorrowing and heart-breaking experience. I recollect on 30 years of Eid’s up to this year: where parents, grandparents, uncles and aunties, siblings, in-laws, nieces and nephews all meet, hug and wish each other Eid Mubarak. To think of celebrating Christmas one year without the whole family, round the table, with a mighty feast with enough to feed a small village is unimaginable. Nonetheless, for the second time in a year, Eid will be celebrated in isolation, where families will look to avoid large congregations and family meals in order to shield and protect one another.
Eid Al Adha is known as the Eid of ‘sacrifice’. This year, Muslims across the globe have been asked to make the ultimate forfeit – to enjoy Eid under the current restrictions whilst being socially distanced and shielding the elderly and vulnerable. The day of Eid typically begins with Muslims enjoying the opportunity to offer Eid prayers in their local mosques and even parks. Europe’s biggest Eid celebration in Small Heath Park in Birmingham where more than 70,000 Muslims gather for their Eid prayers has had to be cancelled. Whether you come from a large Muslim family or recently reverted to Islam, participating in such gathering left one feeling cherished and a part of a bigger collective. Waking and not being able to attend the early morning prayers dampens one’s spirits from the off.
Covid-19 does not discriminate between the rich and the poor or by one’s skin colour or their religion. Coronavirus has affected us and our loved one equally. Whether you are in Europe or the United States of America, every person globally has bared their share of distress in their own way. The United Kingdom is one of the worse hit countries with over 44,000 deaths. It is hard to contemplate what these families are going through and the strength they have, to get them through. Graveyards and cemeteries are frequented throughout the day of Eid. The celebration of Eid is not only for the living but every family will remember those loved ones lost to death. I remember times gone by when visiting the graveyard when there would be tens of people gathered around one grave praying for Gods mercy upon the soul of their loved ones. Whilst walking around the graveyard, despite the sombre mood, there would be hugs and muted greetings. There was a real feel that our loved ones were still with us and although absent, not forgotten.
On the day of Eid, the tastiest of dishes and deserts are crafted in kitchen. These foods are then shared with neighbours, whether they are Muslim or not. We all need to eat and sharing the blessing of the day is commonplace. Families will travel to see one another, embracing each other whilst catching up on the year gone by. They share a variety of flavoursome meals and swap gifts whilst enjoying the company. Times have become so busy, Eid has become one of the few day cousins and extended family get to gather. However, this year, it will be different. There is a hesitation as to whether or to not to give food to the neighbours. There is a nervousness as to whether to visit family and if we do, how many of us can go? Following the government’s advice is key but the fear of being asymptomatic and spreading the virus unwittingly is something that plays on the back of all our minds.
As a father of three children, I see children tolerate the most woe on this day. As parents and adults, we have embraced the ‘new normal’ way of life. However, for children who have lost all sense of normality from not being able to see their friends daily or being able to enjoy the simple luxury of going to school, to be told Eid will be dissimilar to previous years is a tear-jerking experience. If you think of a child waking on Christmas day at 5am with the pure innocence and excitement only a child can express, you can only imagine how it would feel taking some of that pleasure away from them.
The sacrifice of a cow or sheep, for example, on Eid Al Adha is a common practice exercised worldwide. The sharing of the meat between friends and family alongside the poor and needy has become common practice over thousands of years. This year, as delicious meals are prepared, thoughts will be spared for those loved ones lost and those we are trying to protect. Ethnic minorities are some of those hardest hit by this pandemic with data commonly pointing out how much more likely those from ethnic minorities are to die. This Eid, smaller portions will be cooked and tasty food will be eaten but the vibe of the community and communal feel to Eid will have evaporated.
Presents will be shared and opened with glee. Delightful foods and deserts will be plenty. Decorations, paper chains and fairy lights will adorn the home. Hugs will be plenty and excited squeals will fill the air. However, what will be missing is the physical presence of parents, grandparents, siblings, uncles, aunts and in-laws all cramming into every small space and crevice of our homes. As enjoyable as the day will be, it doesn’t have the same buzz and excitement.
Many of us have lost loved ones due to the pandemic or otherwise over the past few months. Many of us have endured physical hardships and some have faced deteriorating mental health. For Muslims, being unable to come together as a family or community will be a sorrowing experience. Nonetheless, we must support our families, colleagues, communities and friends in new ways. They may not get the opportunity to see or hug all their family face to face. Some may have to suffer in silence up to this point. But this is an opportunity for us all, Muslim or not, to reach out to one another. We need to make sure we greet one another kindly and wish another person Eid Mubarak. If you don’t know anyone celebrating Eid, you can wish another person a good day.
Eid may be only one day but we can continue to greet one another kindly every day.