Muslims across parts of Asia, taking precautions against the novel coronavirus such as wearing face masks and temperature checks, performed prayers on Friday to mark the festival of Eidul Azha in mosques with reduced capacity as well as on the streets.
In Indonesia, worshippers were advised to maintain social distancing during the prayers as the world’s biggest Muslim-majority country struggles to contain the spread of the virus.
Indonesia’s religious ministry also asked mosques to shorten ceremonies this year, while many mosques cancelled the ritual of slaughtering livestock and distributing meat to the community.
Instead the donated sheep, goats and cows will be killed in abattoirs to mark the ‘Feast of the Sacrifice’, celebrated by Muslims around the world to commemorate Prophet Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ismail at God’s command.
“This year’s Eidul Azha is very different from previous years because we need to follow health protocols as we perform prayers, like maintaining social distancing,” said Devita Ilhami, 30, who was at the Sunda Kelapa mosque in Jakarta.
She also noted they had to bring their own prayer mats, with markers on the ground to show where they should be laid.
Elsewhere in Asia, Muslims including in Thailand and Malaysia prayed in or outside mosques wearing masks.
In Malaysia, while some mosques cancelled the ritual of slaughtering livestock, 13 cows were killed in the traditional way by cutting the throat under rules limiting the number of animals and people at the Tengku Abdul Aziz Shah Jamek mosque in Kuala Lumpur.
Meanwhile, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani will attend prayers in Kabul. Taliban militants have announced they will observe a three-day ceasefire for the holiday, offering some respite from weeks of increasing violence in the country.
In India, where Eid will be celebrated mostly from Saturday, several states have eased coronavirus restrictions to allow worshippers to gather in mosques in limited numbers.
“Only small groups of worshippers will be allowed into mosques,” said Shafique Qasim, a senior cleric at the Nakhoda mosque in the eastern city of Kolkata, adding that no prayers would be held on the streets.
Ritual sacrifices would be performed in enclosed areas, away from public view, and the remains carefully collected and disposed, he said.
In southern Karnataka state, authorities are requiring mosques to disinfect their premises, use thermal scanners, provide hand-washing facilities and ensure individuals maintain a distance of six feet between each other.
Health experts have been concerned about the risks of the coronavirus being spread during such religious festivals, when Muslims typically gather in mosques and homes, or travel to their home towns.
Social distancing at stone casting ritual
Pilgrims in Saudi Arabia took part in a symbolic stoning of the devil on Friday, but maintained social distancing in a ritual that usually brings millions of worshippers from all over the world shoulder to shoulder.
The ritual, at which pilgrims must hurl pebbles at a giant wall, has in the past been the scene of several deadly crowd accidents. In 2015, hundreds died in a crush at an intersection leading up to the site.
Clad in white robes denoting a state of purity and face masks, men and women cast their stones, closely monitored by health professionals. The pilgrims stood apart on yellow markers marking a safe social distance.
They will return over the next two days for more stoning before going back to Mecca to pray at the Grand Mosque at the end of Haj.
In previous years, some 3 million white-clad pilgrims from across the world flocked to Islam's holiest sites to attend Haj.
But with large gatherings impossible given the pandemic, only a few thousand pilgrims — Saudis and foreign residents living in the country — are gathering this year.
Although no official figure has been given, local media report there are around 10,000 pilgrims. The Haj minister in June said pilgrims would number 1,000.