Eid al-Fitr: One of the happiest times for Muslims will be a somber affair, just like the month that preceded it

For Muslims, Eid al-Fitr is normally a feast of gift-giving and gorging on food with loved ones. Not this year.

The coronavirus pandemic took praying in congregation and breaking fast with loved ones off the table, leaving many feeling lonely this holy month.

And now that Ramadan has ended, Eid al-Fitr, one of the most festive holidays in Islam, will be a somber affair, just like the month that preceded it.

A three-day holiday Muslims celebrate to mark the end of the fast, Eid al-Fitr, or “festival of breaking the fast” in Arabic, will fall over Memorial Day weekend this year, spanning from May 24 to 26.

If it were any other year, this would be a time of limitless excitement and celebration over getting through a difficult month. It would be a three-day feast of gift-giving and gorging on food. Of visits to the homes of loved ones. Of tithing those less fortunate.

But this year is different.

This is the year when the world unexpectedly came to a halt, making a casualty of what is one of the happiest times in the Muslim calendar.

Eid al-Fitr in the US epicenter of Covid-19: cancelled prayers and plans

In New York, the epicenter of the virus in the United States, Eid will be especially isolating this year.

Mazhar Ladji, a product manager who moved to New York from India four years ago, was looking forward to attending the early morning prayer on the first day of Eid in Washington Square Park with the Islamic Center at New York University. But the annual prayer was cancelled this year due to Covid-19.

“It felt celebratory coming together at Washington Square Park, dressed in our best clothes and greeting each other after the prayer,” said Ladji, who also previously attended a post-prayer brunch with fellow Muslims. “There will be no prayers, no brunch and no hugs.”

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This year, a Zoom call will replace the congregational outdoor prayer for Ladji.

Ladji isn’t the only Muslim in New York who had to change his plans.

Around this time each year, Sarah Moawad would usually be packing her bags to head to Massachusetts to spend Eid with her family. This year, Moawad is staying in her apartment in Harlem with her roommate, who is also a Muslim.

“Me and my roommate are still trying brainstorm ways to make Eid festive this year,” said Moawad. “Maybe a little picnic on our roof or in the park,” said Moawad.

Naoual Elidrissi, an accountant for a small food business who lives alone in Queens, plans to spend Eid the same way she spent Ramadan: alone.

“It’s better to be safe than sorry,” said Elidrissi, who lives 10 minutes away from her elderly parents but doesn’t visit them out of fear of spreading the virus.

Eid al-Fitr is usually a very exciting time for Elidrissi, who has a lot of extended family in New York City.

“Every year we dress up to the nines and visit all our family in Brooklyn and Queens. Then my cousins and I go out for a night of dancing,” said Elidrissi. “This year, I’ll probably just FaceTime my family.”

Celebrating Eid while fighting the virus

For Mohamed Madboly, things are a little more complicated this year.

Mohamed Madboly, who is quarantined with his parents, aunt and cousin in his Queens home, hasn’t been able to spend Ramadan with his three nieces on Long Island like he usually does. Both him and his parents tested positive for coronavirus, which meant that seeing his nieces over FaceTime was the only option this year.

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“When I saw my youngest niece crawl for the first time on FaceTime, it really got me,” said Madboly of his eight-month-old niece, Nelly. “It made me feel like we’re in different countries when she’s really just 10 minutes away.”

Mohamed Madboly says talking to his nearby nieces via computer makes it seem "like we're in different countries"

Madboly and his family still hope to spend Eid in his sister’s backyard on Long Island like they do every year. To do this safely, Madboly and his family members in quarantine have each taken Covid-19 tests that they hope will come back negative in time for the holiday.

We’re praying that all five of us test negative,” said Madboly. “It would be a perfect time to see the rest of the family and celebrate since we weren’t able to sit at an iftar together this Ramadan.”

Preparing for the worst, hoping for the best

For many Muslims, Eid al-Fitr this year is a painful reminder of happier times.

A once undeniably jubilant time now feels like it was part of a different life. It almost seems unfitting to celebrate in light of so many lives lost to the virus.

But even in seemingly bleak times, perspective is everything.

“Yes, it’s not the best case scenario, but we have to be grateful,” said Elidrissi. “We’re still alive, right? At least we have that.”

“It’s sad but the crisis demands that we act responsibly … and stay hopeful for better days,” said Ladji.


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