Final days of hajj and Eid festival impacted by coronavirus

01.08.2020

Small groups of people 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 fulfil 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. "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 it was limited to as few as 1,000 already residing in Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi Health Ministry said there have been no cases of the COVID-19 illness among this year's pilgrims. Government precautions included testing pilgrims for the virus, monitoring their movement with electronic wristbands and requiring them to quarantine before and after. 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 – masked and physically distancing – made their way towards the massive, multi-storey 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 and is required of all Muslims to perform once in a lifetime. (AP)

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