The fasting month of Ramadan has come to a close and the dawn of a new Eid emanates. Yet missing is the surge of renewed excitement and expectations among the town folk.
The Christians have their Christmas, the Jews their Hanukkah. For the Muslims, it is Eid day, and especially the Eid day that follows Ramadan. Eid means a lot of things to a lot of people. In a rapidly changing world, the old traditions that once governed this auspicious day which marked the end of the month of fasting have also been transformed, a somewhat doleful aspect of Eid within our culture. In the era of the coronavirus, all such traditions have been put to rest.
To begin with, the traditional Eid prayers that are obligatory of all Muslims have been banned in Saudi Arabia in an effort to combat the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Additionally, the government has enforced a strict five-day stay at home lockdown to prevent the masses from moving about and conducting traditional family visits and gatherings that could potentially spread the virus. Cases of family gatherings where family members have been afflicted by the virus have been already reported.
In countries where the lockdown is less severe, many Muslims will feel tempted to continue with age-old traditions. But for the sake of themselves and their community, they must exercise all precautions as spelt out by their individual authorities.
Gone too this year and to a greater degree is the frenzied shopping that occurs in the final days of Ramadan for new clothes, shoes, gifts, and sweets to pass about to family and friends. Unless one is living in a large, and I mean large, family compound where multi-families dwell, Eid celebrations this year will be confined primarily to the nuclear family.
In years gone by, a significant part of Eid day was apportioned to a gathering, a pilgrimage if you will, to the family patriarch. Preparations were made early in the day, children dressed in their new clothes and shoes and the entire family then descended upon the residence of their elders. It was there that the children would show off their new livery, while adults would catch up with the new additions in the family.
Visiting the family patriarch
To keep things simple, plans were loosely made a day or two before Eid to coordinate and allocate the task of feeding the whole family gang. Everyone contributed to lessening the load on the elderly hosts. During the visit, greetings and gifts were exchanged and family bonds were revived. The children would play or fight together, and on occasion matchmaking would play its part among the young adults. Afterward, family members would gradually disperse to continue their visits to other extended members of the family.
Perhaps those days will someday return. And even as we moved ever so slowly towards the modern era, certain aspects of Eid had stood strong and steadfast with the passage of time. Although families have moved further from one another, and the practice of visiting the family patriarch has been modified or curtailed, and some have lost real contact with the offspring of their relatives and have become strangers in some instances, Eid brought them all back together.
But not this time around. They will have to contend with the electronic media to bring themselves closer to each other, a task made very cold through the LED screens of monitors and smartphones. As internet quality has improved in the region in recent years, video communication has fast gained popularity in the age of the corona, and this is precisely the medium that many will resort to spreading the cheer among families and friends. There is also the trusted telephone by which one can call and offer greetings or simply send a bulk SMS or social media message to large groups to comply with his obligations.
In countries where the lockdown is less severe, many Muslims will feel tempted to continue with age-old traditions. But for the sake of themselves and their community, they must exercise all precautions as spelt out by their individual authorities. The only protection from this virus is isolation, hygiene, and common sense. These are strange times, and the customary rituals of Eid day have fallen victim to the pandemic.
And while we celebrate Eid day quietly and without the usual bustle, we should also think about those people who are stuck in our countries and unable to fly back to their countries due to flight restrictions, and be with their loved ones on this special day.
Eid Mubarak to all.
— Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena