As the coronavirus pandemic continues to force changes to daily activities and rituals around the world, Muslim families are finding new ways to celebrate Eid al-Adha.
One of Islam’s two main festivals, Eid al-Adha traditionally begins in the morning with the Eid prayer at the nearest mosque or an open field and continues with feasts, visits and an exchanging of gifts among relatives and friends. But widespread coronavirus lockdowns mean that those kinds of gatherings aren’t feasible in many communities.
Afshan Malik, a development director with the nonprofit educational organization Rabata, is still including gifts, decorations and special treats typically reserved for this day, even if they are not able to enjoy time with their community in Houston. She is encouraging her five children, ages 3, 5, 7, 9 and 11, to learn how to pray the Eid prayer at home: “We want to make sure our family stays connected to the sacredness and historical significance.”
Eid al-Adha, also known as the Festival of Sacrifice, commemorates Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his first-born son, Ismael, as an act of obedience to God. Muslims believe that as Ibrahim was about to fulfill God’s command, God offered an animal to be slaughtered in place of Ismael. The revered holiday takes place after the completion of the pilgrimage known as the hajj.
As part of their observances, Malik and her family will use Rabata’s worship program called Pilgrims at Home, an alternative for those who cannot complete the hajj this year because of the coronavirus.
“Being quarantined at home does have its drawbacks, but it is a time where we can be more self-reflective and reach out in different ways,” she said. “We aim to pay tribute to the spirit of Eid by spending time calling relatives or members of the community who may not have family around, distributing food to neighbors, and fulfilling the spiritual components of the day despite not being in a community space.”
Lail Hossain of Dallas normally hosts an open house brunch for more than 125 guests. Hossain and her husband prepare for three weeks for a feast that includes traditional Bangladeshi food like paya (beef leg soup, a Bangladeshi delicacy), eggs, mixed vegetables, saffron semolina halwa, chicken puff pastry, and Mughlai paratha, a crispy pastry filled with ground beef, eggs, sliced onion, cilantro and spices.
To commemorate the story of Ibrahim’s sacrifice, Hossain typically takes her 9-year-old daughter, Rida, to a local meat shop where a third of the meat she buys is distributed to the less fortunate, as Islamic law outlines, with the rest of the meat used for their brunch.
But with coronavirus cases rising in Texas, Hossain, the founder of an Islamic décor and gift business, decided instead to bake Eid al-Adha-themed cookies in the shapes of a masjid, camel and lamb and plans to share them with firefighters and other essential service providers in the community. She’s decorating her home with Eid garlands, masjid-shaped lights and festive lanterns.
“We want to instill the love of Islam in my daughter and make the Islamic festivals a real part of her life,” Hossain said. “We want to create memories, and Covid-19 isn’t going to stop us from doing that.”
Hossain is also making a Kaaba and decorating a tent in her home’s game room to teach Rida about the tent city in Mina, one of the spots that Muslims visit while in hajj.
Dr. Fariha Rub, a hospitalist and mother of two from Naperville, Ill., plans to re-enact her pilgrimage from two years ago, when she decided not to take her then 3-year-old son.
“Setting up a makeshift Kaaba and creating the various stations of hajj will help to explain how the rites are performed,” Dr. Rub said. “We have also built a play mosque,” for our son, who is now 5, and 1-year-old daughter. “This helps them still feel connected to the place we frequently visited.”
Dr. Rub said the hajj reignited her faith and led her to start a Muslim sisterhood initiative, which is hosting a drive-through parade, complete with goodie bags for kids, to capture the essence of Eid.
In spite of the pandemic, the eagerness to make Eid special for children and their families echoes throughout the Muslim community.
“At its core, Eid al-Adha commemorates Ibrahim’s willingness to put his love for God before all else,” said Dr. Mohammad Hussaini, a pathologist and founder of Pureway.org, an Islamic spirituality website. He is also a father of four kids, ages 19, 17, 14 and 1 month, from Tampa.
Dr. Hussaini and his family are wearing masks and staying physically distant from neighbors and friends, while still honoring traditions such as special meals and gift exchanges. With many in the community avoiding the typical large gatherings of the holiday, it has left more time to focus on worship and spirituality. “It is our connection to God that uplifts the soul above all else, above the tempest doldrums of life,” he said. “This is Ibrahim’s gift and his legacy.”
Tasmiha Khan is a journalist based in Illinois. Follow her @CraftOurStory.