CAIRO: Muslims around the world observed on Tuesday yet another major holiday in the shadow of the pandemic and amid growing concerns about the highly infectious delta variant of the coronavirus.

Eidul Azha is typically marked by communal prayers, large social gatherings, slaughtering of livestock and giving meat to the needy. This year, the holiday came as many countries battled the delta variant first identified in India, prompting some to impose new restrictions or appeal for people to avoid congregating and follow safety protocols.

The pandemic has already taken a toll for the second year on the Haj. Once drawing some 2.5 million Muslims from across the globe to the holy city of Makkah, the pilgrimage has been dramatically scaled back due to the virus.

This year’s Haj has been limited to 60,000 vaccinated Saudi citizens or residents of Saudi Arabia.

Indonesia marked a grim Eidul Azha amid a devastating new wave of coronavirus cases in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation. Vice President Maruf Amin, also an influential Islamic cleric, appealed to people to perform holiday prayers at home with their families.

“Don’t do crowds,” Amin said in televised remarks ahead of the start of the holiday. “Protecting oneself from the Covid-19 pandemic is obligatory.” The surge is believed to have been fuelled by travel during another holiday, the Eidul Fitr festival in May, and by the rapid spread of the delta variant.

In Malaysia, measures were tightened after a sharp spike in infections despite a national lockdown since June 1. People were banned from travelling back to their hometowns or crossing districts to celebrate. House visits and customary trips to graveyards were also banned.

Healthy worshippers were allowed to gather for prayers in mosques, with strict social distancing and no physical contact. Ritual animal sacrifice was limited to mosques and other approved areas.

Health Director-General Noor Hisham Abdullah urged Malaysians not to repeat irresponsible behaviour, adding that travel and celebrations during Eidul Fitr and another festival on the island of Borneo led to new clusters of cases.

“Let us not, in the excitement of celebrating the Feast of Sacrifice, cause us all to perish because of Covid-19,” he said in a statement.

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin urged people to stay home. “I appeal to you all to be patient and abide by the rules because your sacrifice is a great jihad in Allah’s sight and in our effort to save lives,” he said in a televised speech on the eve of the festival.

In India, where Eidul Azha starts on Wednesday, Tahir Qureshi would always go with his father for prayers and then to visit family and friends. His father died in June after contracting the virus during a surge that devastated the country, and the thought of having to spend the holiday without him is heartbreaking.

India’s Muslim scholars have been urging people to exercise restraint and adhere to health protocols. Some states have restricted large gatherings and are asking people to observe the holiday at home.

Iran on Monday imposed a weeklong lockdown on the capital, Tehran, and the surrounding region as the country struggles with another surge in the coronavirus pandemic, state media reported. The lockdown began on Tuesday.

Published in Dawn, July 21st, 2021

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