Reports from across the Middle East, Africa, and Asia this weekend described Muslims ignoring coronavirus lockdown bans on large gatherings to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, the end of the Ramadan holiday season, usually celebrated in a highly social manner.
A lockdown was imposed in Iraq for the duration of the Eid holiday, for example, and while some Muslims used social media to celebrate without meeting in person, others insisted on gathering at homes and in mosques.
The Palestinian Authority felt obliged to ease its coronavirus restrictions after large numbers of Palestinians ignored them to fill the streets and demand the right to hold Eid prayers and celebrations.
After a throng of demonstrators marched to PA security headquarters in Hebron chanting “Allahu Akbar! We want to celebrate Eid al-Fitr!” officials announced that mosques in nearly a dozen towns would be allowed to open for Eid prayers.
In parts of the West Bank where the lockdown remained in effect, Muslims ignored the restrictions to stage large prayer services on streets and in sports arenas, leading to some clashes with security officers and several reports of injury from gunfire. Many business owners also defied the lockdown to open their shops, since Eid is one of their most important shopping holidays.
“What we saw in the past 24 hours was a mini-intifada against the harsh restrictions imposed by the Palestinian government. The people feel that these measures are exaggerated. If people are allowed to go to shopping malls, why can’t they pray at their mosques?” one resident of Hebron told the Jerusalem Post.
In Egypt, the staff of an isolation hospital in Alexandria defied a government ban to hold a large Eid prayer service. They also handed out balloons, snacks, and toys to their patients. The hospital director noted that in consideration for especially sick patients who need their rest, prayer chants were only broadcast over the public address system a few times.
Defiance of the lockdown was widespread in Kabul, Afghanistan, as people filled the streets to buy traditional Eid treats and gifts. The Afghan government urged citizens to respect the lockdown because coronavirus cases spiked over the past ten days, raising fears that Eid celebrations will cause a new outbreak.
“We are concerned that if the lockdown is not imposed properly, the number of cases will get out of control and beyond our capacity to treat or test them. We want a strict lockdown,” said Deputy Health Minister Waheed Majroh at a press conference on Saturday.
Packed mosques were reported in Indonesia despite the coronavirus pandemic:
Muslims were also seen defying pandemic controls to celebrate Eid in Africa, with crowds gathering to pray at mosques in Cameroon and Nigeria.
Nigerian officials lifted most of the pandemic restrictions and attended large prayer services themselves, along with top religious officials. One Eid prayer service was held in an open field large enough to accommodate tens of thousands of people. Hundreds crowded into numerous mosques across the country, with very little attention paid to social distancing protocols, although a few imams reported lower-than-normal attendance due to coronavirus concerns.
“We are here to pray, so I don’t think it is necessary to wear a nose mask or leave a space between myself and the next person,” one mosque attendee explained.
Public officials were said to be dismayed that one of the few restrictions they left in place, a ban on women and children attending Eid services, was widely ignored.
Cameroon saw thousands of Muslims gather for Eid prayers despite a strict ban on such assemblies. The police used force to disperse several gatherings during the Ramadan season and shuttered at least 13 mosques for defying lockdown orders.
Government officials expressed surprise that so many citizens were ignoring their safety instructions, while defiant citizens explained it would have been disrespectful to the Quran if they failed to perform Eid prayers in public with other worshipers. Some Cameroonian Muslim leaders urged their followers to at least observe social distancing practices if they insisted on holding Eid group prayers and celebrations.