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05 Jul 2020, 10:21 HRS IST
  • PTI
  • Soaring infections dampen Eid festivities in Southeast Asia

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11:17 HRS IST

Jakarta, May 24 (AP) Millions of Muslims in Indonesia are marking a muted and gloomy holiday of Eid al-Fitr, the end of the fasting month of Ramzan a usually joyous three-day celebration that has been significantly toned down as coronavirus cases soar.

The world's largest Muslim-majority nation, with more than 240 million people, has reported nearly 22,000 infections and 1,350 fatalities, the most in Southeast Asia. It means no congregational prayers at mosques and open fields, no family reunions, no relatives bearing gifts for children.

This outbreak is not just dampening spirits of Eid, but also has made the tradition entirely different, said Andieka Rabbani, a university student in Jakarta.

This year, like other Indonesians, he can only greet his cousins and friends through video calls.

In deeply conservative Aceh, Indonesia's only province enforcing Islamic sharia law, public Eid prayers can still be performed at mosques and fields, but without shaking hands and with limited sermons.

The iconic public parade of decorated vehicles with loudspeakers invoking God's name was scrapped this year.

It's too sad ... the whole week used to be one long festival, but not this time, said Muchtar Yusuf, a resident of Aceh's Lhokseumawe city.

The province has reported zero coronavirus cases in the past weeks and has had only one death and 19 confirmed infections.

Unlike Aceh, mosques and fields in Jakarta, which are usually always crowded with Eid worshippers, stood empty after authorities extended the restrictions to June 4, suspended communal gatherings and banned private cars from leaving the capital.

Jakarta has become the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in Indonesia with 6,515 confirmed cases with 501 deaths as of Saturday.

Eid celebrations also were low-key in neighboring Muslim-majority Malaysia.

Businesses have mostly reopened after weeks of virus shutdown, but mass gatherings are still banned and ethnic Malay Muslims are not allowed to travel back to their villages.

Police have turned away more than 5,000 cars trying to head back to their hometowns in the last few days and have warned of strict penalties against those who sneaked back.

The pandemic has also canceled the open house tradition, where Muslims invite family and friends to their homes for a feast.

The prime minister and government officials usually host open house events that attract thousands of people. This year, the government allowed family members living nearby to visit each other on Sunday only, but the gatherings must not exceed 20 people in the same house.

Mosques have reopened but are limited to small congregations of up to 30 people.

Rohaizam Zainuddin said he was blessed he could celebrate Eid with his elderly parents living nearby but his sister in another state couldn't return home.

Usually, the house will be teeming with visiting relatives and well-wishers on the first day of Eid, but Rohaizam said he expects most of them to stay away this year.

We feel sad and being human, we are frustrated that celebration this year is not the same," he said. "But there is no point getting angry. We just have to accept it, life goes on.

Everyone in the family has put on new clothes and traditional dishes, and cookies are ready for any visitors, along with a thermometer and hand sanitizer to comply with health measures, he added.

Malaysia has reported 7,185 infections and 115 deaths, but officials fear the Eid festivities could spark a new wave if people ignore social distancing and health measures.

In his Eid message broadcast late Saturday, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who is under a two-week quarantine after being in contact with a government official diagnosed with the virus, reminded Muslims to be responsible and follow strict health guidelines.

He urged them to ensure their homes are cleaned up immediately after hosting guests, and also to refrain from visiting graves, a norm during Eid.

To preserve life, we have to sacrifice some of our traditions or norms so as to prevent infection, he said.

For the first time, Pakistan is celebrating Eid countrywide on the same day, ending an annual controversy over the moon sighting, with rival committees disagreeing over the holiday's start date.

In previous years, Pakistan's Khyber Pukhtunkhwa province, which borders Afghanistan, celebrated Eid a day before the rest of the country, but on the same day as much of the rest of the Muslim world. The rest of Pakistan followed the next day.

Pakistan has been in a lockdown to control the spread of the coronavirus since mid-March but Prime Minister Imran Khan refused to close mosques during Ramzan, despite pleas from doctors and a rising number of COVID-19 infections.

Pakistan has more than 52,000 cases and more than 1,100 deaths.

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