Eid Al-Fitr and Religious Holidays: Challenges of Covid-19 in the Muslim World

Data collection and examination of residents who want to go home, during the Covid-19 pandemic. Photo: Mohammad Hidayaturrahman.

As the world faces the Covid-19 pandemic, Muslim communities face specific problems. In 2020, the Muslim world commemorates two holidays, namely the Eid al-Fitr 1441 Hijriyah and the Eid al-Adha 1441 Hijriyah. This year’s Ramadan takes place from April to May 2020. While Eid al-Fitr takes place on May 24, 2020. The Eid al-Adha takes place on July 31, 2020. The pilgrimage in Mecca and Madinah Saudi Arabia takes place from July to early August 2020. Both the feast and all the celebrations of Muslim religious holidays involve large numbers of people. Preventing the spread of Covid-19 requires maintaining physical and social distance between people, but at the same time, Muslims celebrate religious holidays and ritual activities involving millions of people.

Eid al-Fitr is usually celebrated by Muslims around the world after fasting for a full month. Fasting during Ramadan also involves a number of traditions that allow people to gather. First, the tarawih and witir prayers which are usually held in congregation in mosques and prayer rooms. The tarawih and witir prayers in congregation involve dozens or hundreds in one place. Second, the tradition of breaking fast together. Fasting Muslims have a tradition of gathering to hold iftar together, by eating together well with extended family, friends, friends, work colleagues and others. Third, the Eid al-Fitr prayer in congregation in the mosque or in the field. The implementation of Eid prayer in the mosque or in the field involves more people than the congregational prayers at the mosque or tarawih prayers and witir congregation. The number of participants in Eid prayer is usually in the hundreds or thousands. Fourth, after the Eid prayer, Muslims have a tradition of silaturrahim, meeting each other, visiting and visiting one another, not only meeting in the field, but also from house to house. Fifth, in a number of Muslim countries, Eid al-Fitr is also followed by the tradition of going home or going home (silaturrahim). People who live in various cities to work or move, before the Idul Fitri holiday usually return to their hometown. Usually it is the village, where their ancestors came from. To gather with family, celebrate Eid al-Fitr.

Photo: Mohammad Hidayaturrahman

The atmosphere of people gathered at the dock and ship going home to celebrate Eid in the village. Photo: Mohammad Hidayaturrahman

Besides Eid al-Fitr there is also Eid al-Adha. Eid al-Adha celebrations are usually done by praying in congregation in the mosque or in the field by involving hundreds to thousands of people, such as the implementation of Eid al-Fitr. As is the case with Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha also has a tradition of gathering with family, although it is not as busy and festive as at Eid. But the celebration of Eid al-Adha is coupled with the ritual of slaughtering sacrificial animals both goats, cows, sheep and camels. Slaughtered animal meat is then distributed to the poor people. The distribution of meat for sacrificed animals also usually draws large numbers of people.

Along with the implementation of Eid al-Adha throughout the world, there is a pilgrimage ritual held in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. In Saudi Arabia for two weeks, millions of Muslims around the world gather in several places that are believed to be part of the the pilgrimage, starting from the Haram Mosque in Mecca, the Nabawi Mosque in Medina, Tawaf around the Kaaba, the sai or jogging from Safa to Marwa, then throwing jumroh, staying at Mina and before staying at Arofah.

The whole activity of Muslims involving millions of people who interact socially and physically is a challenge in overcoming the spread of Covid-19. In the case of the Hajj, we expect the Government of Saudi Arabia to cancel the the pilgrimage this year. If the Saudi Arabian government declares the cancellation and elimination of hajj activities this year, then Muslims around the world will not go to Saudi Arabia to hold the pilgrimage. Likewise, the cancellation of congregational prayers both in the mosque, in the field for the implementation of Eid and Eid al-Adha prayers, can be done with fatwas from scholars in Islamic countries, which prohibit Friday prayer activities, praying in congregation five times, tarawih and witir, including Eid al-Fitr prayer and Eid al-Adha, in locations that have been affected by Covid-19.

The toughest challenge is how to engage with Muslims who have the habit of gathering with their families while celebrating Eid. Their habits of gathering with each other are very conducive to the acceleration of the spread of Covid-19. This habit has been passed down from generation to generation and practiced massively.  To prevent and change it is not an easy task.

Forbidding a large number of people from doing one thing at the same time is not easy. Moreover, if it has become a habit or part of religious traditions. The toughest challenge is not only closing access, which can be done by the government, such as delaying the inauguration of the pilgrimage by the Government of Saudi Arabia, or giving an appeal not to hold a Friday prayer at the mosque, as can be done by Muslim scholars. The challenge is rather changing habits that have been passed down for generations in a short time, such as those of gathering to celebrate Eid and Eid al-Adha.

For this reason, governments in predominantly Muslim countries that have the custom of celebrating Eid and Eid should be able to prepare audio-visual software, technology and communication that are easy, inexpensive and can involve many people in one communication.  That way, Muslims who usually hold meetings will have alternatives via communication technology that is technically easy and inexpensive to use. If easy and inexpensive communication technologies and devices are not available, it will be difficult to prevent them from visiting and gathering together.

Available communication technology remains expensive, however, especially when using cellular data to communicate with video devices. This will be be quite burdensome for Muslim families who suffer economic hardship, including most Muslims living in poor countries. In addition, the accessible platforms that are well-known, such as Whatsapp, cannot accommodate large numbers of teleconferences.  Perhaps in the metropoles it is relatively easy to maintain work, play and ritual by “Zooming”, yet this is a resource not all can take for granted.


Mohammad Hidayaturrahman

Mohammad Hidayaturrahman is a doctor of social science, concentration in political and development, who is a lecturer and researcher in the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences at Wiraraja University, Indonesia. Among the studies that have been published nationally and internationally are “Political Investors in Regional Head Elections: Political Elite Oligarchy and Mastery of Regional Resources, “Kiai of Political Relations Reconciling Politics and Religion in Indonesia” and “Curse Theory Analysis on Oil and Natural Gas Resources for Madurese Citizens, “Empowerment of Salt Farmers to Alleviate Poverty.” He can be reached at hidayaturrahman@wiraraja.ac.id.

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