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Dalya Ayoub, second from left, and her family.

Making the best of Eid in an age of COVID

Society

Coronavirus restrictions are upending Eid-ul-Adha celebrations for Australian Muslims.

Eid-ul-Adha, the Islamic celebration that marks the end of the Hajj pilgrimage, will look very different this year, whether at home in Bankstown or across the world in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

The three-day festival, which starts today and is celebrated by 1.85 billion Muslims, is a time for sacrifice, charity, and solidarity. It honours the willingness of Ibrahim to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience to God's command.

In a normal year, the celebration would pivot around attending morning prayers, sacrificing livestock, distributing portions to the poor and sharing meals with family and friends. Traditionally at the crack of dawn, thousands gather to perform the obligatory Eid prayer at their local mosque.

However, COVID-19 social distancing regulations means this won't be possible. This year, with restrictions tightening as COVID clusters emerge across Sydney, and Melbourne in a six-week lockdown, many Australian Muslims are preparing for a more isolated Eid.

Dalya Ayoub, of Bankstown, in Sydney's south-west, said celebrating Eid with her family members and preparing big family feasts is what she will miss most.

"Eid for me is seeing the happiness and pure joy of children on this special day," Ayoub, an Islamic life coach, said. "After Eid prayer at the mosque, there would be people distributing show bags, balloons, food and even jumping castles for kids to play on.

"However, we can't go to the masjid and won't be able to have a family feast which is disheartening as it doesn't feel the same anymore."

'We will show off our children's clothes on Facetime and Zoom but in the same Eid clothes from last time.'

Any hope restrictions might have been further eased ahead of the festival were dashed by the surge of COVID cases in Victoria. Last Friday, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, further tightened restrictions around "higher risk activities" including gatherings at places of worship. They are limited to 100 people, subject to the one person per four square metre rule and a COVID-Safe business registration.

The Premier has previously acknowledged "how important these services are to individuals and families but ... we must remember to keep one another safe."

Despite her disappointment at the restrictions, Ayoub is determined to make the festival special. Her family plans to perform a congregation prayer at home while maintaining 1.5 metres distance and will follow a live stream of prayers by her local mosque.

"This Eid-ul-Adha will be different, but we will make the best out of it in the best way we can without breaking any rules."

The local constraints on numbers are also reflected at Islam's holiest shrines. The journey to Hajj in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, is the annual Islamic pilgrimage that all Muslims who are financially and physically capable, must perform at least once in their lifetime. In any other year up to 2.5 million Muslims would perform the pilgrimage but in 2020, only 10,000 Saudi residents are expected to attend. Saudi Arabia's decision to impose a travel ban on foreign pilgrims in a bid to stop the spread of the virus has left thousands devastated.

Mohanned Skaf was one of those pilgrims. "I was looking forward to finally seeing the Kaaba which Muslims pray to," he told SBS News. "I am gutted, but at the end of the day, it is what it is. The coronavirus is a real concern, and I feel it was a good decision to not go."

In Melbourne, Sheikh Belal Assaad, an imam and Islamic scholar, said physical distancing should not ruin the spirit of Eid-ul-Adha. Instead, he believes Muslims can find solace in their worship and connection with God by finding alternatives. His family will create memories with relatives through their devices. "I've learnt that accepting uncertainties in life is a pathway to lessen stress. So, we need to do what is in our control and know that nothing will happen except what Allah has willed."

"This will be the first Eid where we will show off our children's clothes on Facetime and Zoom," he said, "but, in the same Eid clothes from last time."