Hagia Sophia prayers

Wearing masks to project against the coronavirus, Muslims offer Eid al-Adha prayers backdropped by the Byzantine-era Hagia Sophia, recently converted back to a mosque, in Istanbul on Friday— AP Photo/Mehmet Guzel

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Small groups of pilgrims performed one of the final rites of the Islamic hajj on Friday as Muslims worldwide marked the start of the Eid al-Adha holiday amid a global pandemic that has impacted nearly every aspect of this year’s pilgrimage and celebrations.

The last days of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia coincide with the four-day Eid al-Adha, or “Feast of Sacrifice,” in which Muslims slaughter livestock and distribute the meat to the poor.

The pandemic has pushed millions of people around the world closer to the brink of poverty, making it harder for many to fulfill the religious tradition of purchasing livestock.

In Somalia, the price of meat has slightly increased. Abdishakur Dahir, a civil servant in Mogadishu, said that for the first time he won’t be able to afford goat for Eid because of the impact of the virus on work.

“I could hardly buy food for my family,” Dahir said. “We are just surviving for now. Life is getting tougher by the day.”

In some parts of West Africa, the price for a ram has doubled. Livestock sellers, used to doing brisk business in the days before the holiday, say sales have dwindled and those who are buying can’t afford much.

“The situation is really complicated by the coronavirus, it’s a tough market,” Oumar Maiga, a livestock trader in Ivory Coast said. “We are in a situation we’ve never seen in other years.”

The hajj pilgrimage has also been drastically impacted by the virus. Last year, some 2.5 million pilgrims took part, but this year as few as 1,000 pilgrims already residing in Saudi Arabia were allowed to preform the hajj.

The Saudi Health Ministry said there have been no cases of the COVID-19 illness among this year’s pilgrims. The government took numerous precautions, including testing pilgrims for the virus, monitoring their movement with electronic wristbands and requiring them to quarantine before and after the hajj. Pilgrims were selected after applying through an online portal, and all had to be between 20 and 50 years of age.

Just after dawn on Friday, small groups of pilgrims — masked and physically distancing — made their way toward the massive multi-story Jamarat Complex in the Saudi valley area of Mina. There, the pilgrims cast pebbles at three large columns. It is here where Muslims believe the devil tried to talk the Prophet Ibrahim, or Abraham, out of submitting to God’s will.

Muslims commemorate Ibrahim’s test of faith by slaughtering livestock and animals and distributing the meat to the poor.

During the last days of hajj, male pilgrims shave their heads and remove the terrycloth white garments worn during the pilgrimage. Women cut off a small lock of hair in a sign of spiritual rebirth and renewal.

The hajj, both physically and spiritually demanding, intends to bring about greater humility and unity among Muslims. It is required of all Muslims to perform once in a lifetime.

Sheikh Abdullah al-Manea, member of the Supreme Council of Senior Scholars of Saudi Arabia, used the hajj sermon Friday to praise the kingdom’s leadership for their “wise decision” to limit the number of pilgrims and protect human life.

“We thank the positive role of Muslims around the world that have complied with the regulations of the country to protect them from the spread of this virus, which leads to the protection of Mecca and Medina,” the sheikh said.

Around the world, Muslims gathered with relatives or remained at home to mark the start of Eid.

In the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, streets were largely empty due to a 10-day lockdown imposed by authorities to prevent further spread of the virus. Eid prayers in mosques were canceled.

“We had hoped that the curfew would be lifted during the Eid period. ... We were surprised that the lockdown period included the Eid holiday and more,” said Marwan Madhat, a Baghdad cafe owner. “This will cause losses.”

Kosovo and the United Arab Emirates have also closed mosques to limit the spread of the virus.

In Lebanon, Muslim worshipers prayed in mosques under tight security, despite a partial lockdown imposed Thursday that will continue through Aug. 10. Worshipers at the Mohammad al-Amin Mosque in the capital, Beirut, spilled onto the street outside to maintain social distancing rules.

In Indonesia, home to the world’s largest population of Muslims, people attended Eid prayers in mosques under strict health guidelines, including that they bring their own prayer mats and pray several feet apart from one another. Worshipers had to wear masks and were not allowed to shake hands or hug.

Authorities also ordered that meat be delivered door-to-door to the poor to avoid long lines.

“This outbreak has not only changed our tradition entirely, but has also made more and more people fall into poverty,” said Agus Supriatna, an Indonesian factory worker laid off this year because of the pandemic.

In the United States many Muslims attended prayers under similar distancing rules, in some instances outdoors, while others prayed at home.

In Los Angeles, Arfa Faiz and a small group of friends were planning to take part in a socially distanced picnic at a park — a far cry from previous Eids when large groups would congregate on the beach or at a hall.

“Usually in L.A. the Eid things are really big. They are very social, there’s a lot of stuff going on,” Faiz said.

“Eid is a time to celebrate and be with the community,” she continued. “It does feel a little sad.”

The Associated Press

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