Coronavirus or no Coronavirus, the religious come cultural festivities of Eid al-Adha, a three-day festival suffused with the aesthetic of Muslim gregariousness, will roll this week, though clearly checked by the rules of social distancing and other tiresome constraints.
Under normal circumstances, after the conclusion of the rituals of Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca that draws nearly 2.5 million Muslims annually from virtually every country around the world, the Eid begins, honouring Abraham, who, according to the Holy Texts, was prepared to sacrifice his son Ishmael, in order to show his obedience to God, before almighty intervened and sent a ram in his place.
Not only Muslims, of course, but just about every human being in the world has been affected by this nasty, resilient virus. People everywhere have had their lives, their routines, their manners of ceremonial exchange, upended
During the feast, worshippers sacrifice sheep, goats or cows and share the meat among family, friends and the needy. It is a time when people, imbued by collective effervescence, get together in each others’ homes, in carnivallike town-squares and in decorated neighbourhood streets to celebrate.
It is a time in which the collective consciousness finds both expression and consolidation.
But this year, alas, the festivities will not be taking place under normal circumstances.
Not only Muslims, of course, but just about every human being in the world has been affected by this nasty, resilient virus. People everywhere have had their lives, their routines, their manners of ceremonial exchange, upended.
One of five incumbent pillars
With few exception throughout history, Muslims celebrated the Eid after the conclusion of the Hajj, that is, since the year 631, after the Ka’ba had been cleansed of pagan idols and Abu Bakr, the Prophet’s companion and father-in-law, led 300 believers to the first pilgrimage in Mecca — and henceforth all Muslims able to make or could afford the journey, travelled to the holiest city in Islam to perform what in effect is one of the five incumbent pillars of Islam.
Here’s a recollection of the lyric élan of the Festival of Sacrifice from my days as a child growing up in one of the Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut.
You start the first day of the three-day festival by getting up early. Of course you get up early. Real early. You try your new clothes on and wait for the first batch of visitors to arrive. Visitors you hope with deep pockets. Visitors always bearing gifts, who slip you the odd Lira or two.
Adult visitors whose hands you then respectfully kiss. Then off to the carnival grounds to show off your new outfit, ride the merry-go-round with your buddies, splurge on a cold drink from a lemonade peddler and watch one magician swallow a sword and another make a handkerchief disappear.
Eid al-Adha is unlike Eid al-Fitr, the festival that follows the monthlong, dawn-to-sundown Ramadan fast. If the two are at all alike, they are so only to the extent that they cannot escape their close association to religion.
To sever either from that association you empty both of their deep, organic connection to the teleological in our lives.
But whereas Eid al-Fitr is a relatively subdued affair that calls for reflection on a month of piety and soul searching, Eid al-Adha is an unrestrained sensory experience, an exultation that transcends quotidian life and its rules.
From Delphi in Ancient Greece to Woodstock in Bethel, New York, and from Holi, celebrated by Hindus around the world to Semana Santa, celebrated throughout Spain — most boisterously in Andalusia, where massive crowds, dressed in their Sunday best, gather in the streets to gaze upon the penance — festivals have always acted as a connecting thread in the social, cultural and spiritual fabric of human beings, and reinforced their sense of communal reference.
The Coronavirus is a dreadful beast wreaking havoc on our lives, wherever we live in the world. Our own Festival of Sacrifice this year may — indeed, will — lack the zest it had traditionally had in the past, but the beast will without a doubt soon be tamed.
Meanwhile, to you all, I say Eid Mubarak, or in this column’s vernacular, blessed be your festival.
— Fawaz Turki is a journalist, lecturer and author based in Washington. He is the author of The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile.