After months in lockdown and forfeiting an in-person Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr last May, some Muslim Americans will celebrate an in-person, socially distant Eid al-Adha on Friday.
In states like New Jersey, New York, and Maryland, where government restrictions have loosened, mosques have been able to host Eid prayers under strict guidelines. But others, in Illinois, for example, have decided to forgo a traditional in-person Eid prayer due to the recent rise in COVID-19 cases.
This year, mosques across the country will host Eid prayers under strict guidelines, including taking temperatures at the points of entry, mandating face masks and observing 6 feet of distance between individuals. Muslims in the U.S. and Canada have been split, with some people attending the prayers in hopes of retaining some sort of celebratory normalcy, and others choosing to sit out and observe the holiday at home.
Muslims across the country have been forced to reexamine many traditional practices during the pandemic, particularly when it comes to congregational prayers like Eid and Friday prayers, said Shabana Mir, an associate professor at American Islamic College in Chicago who has been tracking the impact of COVID-19 on Muslim life.
With Ramadan and Eid Al-Fitr suspended entirely back in May and strict protocol implemented during services for Eid Al-Adha on Friday, many Muslims have been challenged to redefine what communal religious practices look like.
“For a lot of people, we pretend that religious practice does not shift,” in circumstances like a pandemic, Mir said, adding that Islamic theology does indeed allow for flexibility. A two-time cancer survivor, Mir will not attend Eid prayers for her and her family’s safety.
In New Jersey, many mosques will host prayers outdoors with a cap on attendees, who will be required to wear masks and abide by social distancing rules at all times. While individuals usually stand shoulder to shoulder during prayers, members will be asked to stand 6 feet apart at all times.
Donna Auston, a 47-year-old anthropologist and New Jersey resident, will attend Eid Prayers at Weequahic Park in Newark, a location where Muslims have prayed since the 1970s. For this Eid, residents will pray 6 feet apart in the outdoor space on their own prayer rugs and wearing masks.
After prayers, Auston plans to meet up with friends and host a small picnic in an attempt to celebrate during uncertain times. More than anything, she says she misses the physical interactions and Eid hugs with those she hasn’t seen in a long time.
This Eid, she hopes to get back some of that human interaction in a “slightly expanded, conscious and safe way,” she said.
“This has been such a hard year for everybody and it’s been a hard year for our communities, in so many ways with the pandemic and the police violence, and, particularly for me as a Black Muslim,” said Auston. “Taking the time in the middle of all of that to create a space for joy and togetherness is extremely critical.”
Registrations And Temperature Checks
In North Carolina, the Muslim Community Center of Charlotte will ask its congregants to preregister to attend one of its two outdoor Eid prayers. Individuals will need to bring their own prayer rugs and wear masks. Additional masks will be distributed to those in need.
“We’re just trying to make the best out of the situation ... you know, sticking with all of the scientific guidelines,” said John Ederer, the center’s imam and religious director. Usually, more than 2,000 people from his mosque participate in the Eid prayers, but this year, the mosque can only accommodate 600 people to be compliant with state regulations.
“People are at a point in their spiritual and mental health, that they need to be together and considering all the discussions we’ve had with medical professionals. It doesn’t look like there’s going to be some grand solution anytime soon,” Ederer told HuffPost. “So let’s find out the most strict and observant way to gain some human interaction without putting ourselves in any real danger.”
“We don’t want to deprive people of the joy that comes with this holiday, which is basically a holiday of happiness for Muslims.”
The Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati, which normally hosts over 5,000 congregants, will host three consecutive prayers to constrain the number of attendees at each one. During all three prayers, individuals will be required to preregister, bring their own rugs and wear a mask at all times. The next day, the mosque will host “drive-thru entertainment” in which children can receive goodie bags and watch circus performers from their families’ cars.
“We don’t want to deprive people of the joy that comes with this holiday, which is basically a holiday of happiness for Muslims,” said Henry Hane, the executive director at the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati.
“We thought it was important for the community to recognize that this is an important moment in their faith and allow them the platform to enjoy it while also being safe.”
Playing It Safe
In Ontario, 44-year-old Samirah Hossenbux will not attend Eid prayers, even though her local mosque is planning a socially distanced service with mask requirements and a limit on attendees. She’s immunocompromised and has been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and a lung condition, and has been hospitalized due to pneumonia. Attending Eid prayers is too risky.
On normal days, Hossenbux relies on her husband to run all her errands and restock groceries. Her family members, who are aware of Hossenbux’s vulnerability to COVID-19, will also practice social distancing on Friday.
“Anyone that enters my home knows that they’re pretty much not in contact with other people in the last 14 days and that they have been pretty much quarantined,” Hossenbux told HuffPost. For this Eid, Hossenbux will be hosting a small family gathering of eight people, all of whom she trusts have been home.
“We discuss with each other every day what we’ve been doing so everyone’s pretty much aware of who’s been out and who’s not and who they’re meeting with and who they’re not meeting with so that we feel comfortable,” she added.
Despite the small number, Hossenbux plans to make the best out of the day, with decorations around the house and a menu that includes samosas, pineapple upside-down cake and biryani.
Back in New Jersey, Auston wants to make sure she is also sensitive about being safe while finding a way to celebrate.
“In whatever way that people can manage, it is important to make these occasions special. Obviously, we should observe the safety protocols but also figure out ways to celebrate, even when it doesn’t look like how it would normally look,” she said. “Carving out some space for joy is how we have to proceed.”