Muslims in Nigeria on Friday joined other faithful around the world to observe the 2020 Eid El Kabir celebrations.
Eid El Kabir or Eid Al-Adha is an Islamic festival marked annually on July 31, to commemorate the willingness of Ibrahim to follow Allah’s command to sacrifice his son Ismail but after his faith was tested, a ram was provided and slaughtered instead.
In Nigeria, the day is usually declared as a public holiday and the public enjoys off days while schools and most businesses are closed.
However, the celebrations that usually accompany the festivities in many parts of the globe will not be felt this year owing to the COVID-19 pandemic just as the Federal Government has resolved to curtail its spread in Nigeria by advising people to observe all safety protocols especially physical distancing.
But despite the restrictions, preparation for the event appeared to be in top gear between Wednesday and Thursday as people were seen travelling and livestock markets were buzzing with sales.
Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari has wished all Muslims a happy and safe Eid.
In a statement early on Friday, the President announced that he observed the Eid El-Kabir prayers at home with his family, in keeping with the advisories from the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 and the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs.
He also urged all Muslims to put into practice the noble teachings of the Islamic religion and put the fear of God in their daily activities in order to make our society better.
Chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Ahmed Tinubu, also wished Muslims a happy Eid.
In an interview, he asked them to pray for those who have contracted the COVID-19 as well as those who have lost their lives to the virus.
He appealed to them not to fret about not being able to gather to pray but rather, reflect on the lessons of Eid-El Kabir and practice it in their daily activities.
“Not gathering for the Eid for this Sallah celebration is due to the circumstance and the environment and it’s for the safety of all of us and that is crucial.
“The essence of today in our religion is about sacrifice. So, demonstrate it, to be able to pray for our health, those who have lost their lives, pray for forgiveness for them,” he said.
Mask-clad Muslims began the hajj on Wednesday, circling Islam’s holiest site along socially distanced paths in the smallest pilgrimage in modern history as the Saudi hosts strive to prevent a coronavirus outbreak.
The hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam and a must for able-bodied Muslims at least once in their lifetime, is usually one of the world’s largest religious gatherings.
But only up to 10,000 people already residing in the kingdom will participate in this year’s ritual, compared with 2019’s gathering of some 2.5 million from around the world.
Pilgrims walked into Mecca’s Grand Mosque to begin the ritual with their first “tawaf”, the circumambulation of the Kaaba, a large cubic structure draped in gold-embroidered black cloth, towards which Muslims around the world pray.
They were brought in small batches, walking along paths marked on the floor, in sharp contrast to the normal sea of humanity that swirls around the Kaaba during hajj.
“This is an indescribable feeling,” said Mohamed Ibrahim, a 43-year-old Egyptian electrician who was among this year’s pilgrims.
“It feels like a dream,” the father-of-three, who lives in nearby Medina, told Media (known to Noble Reporters Media) by phone before entering the mosque.
The tawaf, which involves walking around the structure seven times, was completed in “record time”, a security commander told state media.
The pilgrims travelled later Wednesday to Mina, another district of Mecca where they will spend the night. It sits in a narrow valley surrounded by rocky mountains, and is transformed each year into a vast encampment for pilgrims.
Worshippers will on Thursday climb Mount Arafat, also known as the “Mount of Mercy”, for hours of prayers and Koranic recitals.
After descending the following day, they will gather pebbles and perform the symbolic “stoning of the devil”.
Foreign journalists were barred from this year’s hajj, usually a huge global media event.
‘Danger of pandemic’ In a sign that its strict measures were working, the health ministry reported no coronavirus cases in the holy sites on Wednesday, although 122 cases were reported in Mecca.
The pilgrims, who have all been tested for the virus, are required to wear masks and observe social distancing during the rites completed over five days in the holy city of Mecca and its surroundings.
The pilgrims said they were given ihram, the traditional seamless white hajj garment, made from a bacteria-resistant material.
Those selected to take part were subject to temperature checks and placed in quarantine as they began trickling into Mecca at the weekend.
State media showed health workers sanitising their luggage, and some pilgrims reported being given electronic wristbands to allow authorities to monitor their whereabouts.
Workers clutching brooms and disinfectant were seen cleaning the area around the Kaaba. One worker used his bare hands to daub its outer wall with perfume.
Authorities have cordoned off the Kaaba this year, saying pilgrims will be barred from touching it, to limit the chances of infection.
Saudi authorities also reported setting up multiple health facilities, mobile clinics and ambulances to cater to the pilgrims.
“There are no security-related concerns in this pilgrimage, but (downsizing) is to protect pilgrims from the danger of the pandemic,” said Saudi Arabia’s director of public security, Khalid bin Qarar Al-Harbi.
Saudi authorities initially said only around 1,000 pilgrims residing in the kingdom would be permitted for the hajj, but local media reports say as many as 10,000 will be allowed to take part.
Some 70 percent of the pilgrims are foreigners residing in the kingdom, while the rest are Saudi citizens, authorities said.
– ‘Blessed’ – All those attending the pilgrimage will also have to quarantine afterwards.
The number of COVID-19 cases in the kingdom has surpassed 270,000, with over 2,800 deaths, one of the largest outbreaks in the Middle East.
They were given elaborate amenity kits that include sterilised pebbles for the stoning ritual, disinfectants, masks and a prayer rug, according to a hajj ministry document.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Saudi Arabia’s arch-nemesis Iran, tweeted Wednesday that Muslims felt “sorrow and grief” about being far away from the Kaaba.
“Hearts feel lonely due to the (Kaaba’s) isolation,” he said.
The Saudi ministry said foreign residents of the kingdom from around 160 countries competed in the online selection process, but it did not say how many people applied.
Some disappointed applicants have complained that the government-run lottery was not clearly outlined and that no reason was given for their rejection.
But Hajj Minister Mohammad Benten insisted the process was transparent, telling the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya television that “health determinants” formed the basis of selection.
The Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) has warned Muslims against contravening the ban on religious gatherings over the outbreak of coronavirus in the country.
In a statement released by the group’s director Ishaq Akintola, Muslims in the country were asked to adhere to the restrictions on public assembly.
The group which pointed out that Saudi Arabia cancelled all Jumu‘ah prayers and also suspended Umrah for the first time in history, warned all faithfuls against being “more Muslim than Muhammad.”
MURIC reiterated that Islam is religion of moderation which does not encourage extremism, as the curse of Allah is upon extremists.
The statement reads;
“In spite of government’s efforts at sensitizing the general public on the need to shun gatherings, many Muslims are still calling our office asking us to speak against the ban on public gatherings so that they could observe Jumu‘ah service.
“Let us make our position clear on this. MURIC will not support any Muslim group or individual found contravening the ban on public assembly because the ban is in the best interest of citizens. It is not targeted at any religious group.
“Saudi Arabia cancelled all Jumu‘ah prayers. It also suspended ‘Umrah. For the first time in history, nobody is performing tawaaf at the Haram. In Kuwait, adhan (call to prayer) has been changed from ‘Come for prayer’ (haya ala al-salat) to ‘Pray in your houses (soluu fii buyuutikunm). But here in Nigeria we still find a handful of Muslims who insist on conducting Jumu’ah service. Do we want to be more Muslim than Muhammad (peace be upon him)?
“MURIC warns against extremist propensities. We all can see where Boko Haram has taken us. It started from little excesses like this. Islam is a religion of moderation. It is dangerous phenomena like Corona Virus that the Glorious Qur’an warned us against when it said ‘Do not make your hands contribute to your own destruction, but do good for Allah loves those who do good (Wa laa tulquu biaydiikunm ila al-tahlukah, Qur’an 2:195).
“We Muslims must face reality. The manner of congregational salat inside the mosque has all the likelihoods of infection. We stand shoulder to shoulder and feet to feet. There must be no gap between a worshipper and the man standing next to him. On the contrary, health experts recommend at least one meter between persons in social interaction in order to prevent infection.
“MURIC urges all Muslims to see government’s instructions on Covid-19 as necessary and beneficial to them. It is therefore in their best interest to cooperate. Zuhr prayers should be offered at home in place of Jumu’ah. The same may be done with the five congregational prayers where the number of those in the mosque is more than 20. However, we strongly advise praying daily salat at home with members of the family as domestic jama’ah.”