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Eid-il-Kabir, Hajj and the Coronavirus Pandemic

Introduction

Eid-il-Kabir which literally translates to “the great festival” is unarguably the greatest Islamic festival just as its name implies. The same festival also refers to as Eid-il-Adha – ”Festival of Sacrifice,” this name describes the major highlight of the festival which involves sacrificing/slaughtering of animals. Eid-il-Kabir comes up on the 10th day of Dhul-hijja, the 12th month of the Islamic calendar, yearly. Eid-il-Kabir, however, continues until the 12th of Dhul-hijja. After sunset on the 12th Dhul-hijja, Qurbani (animals slaughtered as a sacrifice) are no longer acceptable.

Hajj is the last pillar of Islam and also comes up yearly in this month of Dhul-hijja. Hajj starts on 8th day of Dhul-hijja and ends on the 12th of the same month. This annual event sees Muslims from all across the world congregate in Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj rites.

Background

The history of this festival and Hajj cannot be said to have been properly narrated without the mention of Prophet Ibrahim (AS)  – the Father of Faith, who masterminded the entire events. It was learned in history that after several years of the inability of the Prophet’s first wife – Sarah to conceive, she gave her female servant, Hajar to her husband in marriage. Hajar then later gave birth to Ismail (AS), Ismail (AS) would later become a Prophet of Allah like his father.

While Prophet Ismail (AS) was still an infant, Allah commanded Prophet Ibrahim (AS) to take the nursing mother and her baby to the wilderness and leave them there. By the grace of Allah who commanded their relocation, mother and child survived the hardship, while in distress in the wilderness, Hajar saw an Angel who provided her with water(Zam-Zam). The Angel thereafter urged her not to be afraid of being neglected, the Angel said to her “don’t be afraid of being left here alone, for this is the House of Allah which will be built by this boy and his father.” The house being referred to here is the Kaaba – the holiest site in Islam. Then, little Ismail (AS) grew to puberty then adulthood, by then, his mother had died. Eid-il-Kabir and Hajj pilgrimage have their origin from Prophet Ibrahim (AS) and his family.

The sacrifice (Qurbani)

When Ibrahim (AS) was supplicating for a child, he had promised Allah that if Allah could give him a child, he would later sacrifice the child for Allah. Then, it was time to fulfil the promise. Prophet Ibrahim (AS) began to dream about fulfilling the promise he had made. Then Prophet Ibrahim (AS) returned to his son – Ismail (AS) intimating him of the latest command of Allah. Ismail (AS) however did not argue with his father, he instead surrendered himself to his father and the will of Allah. Ismail (AS) was to be slaughtered as a sacrifice to Allah. Therefore, father and son set out to Mountain Arafat where the sacrifice was to take place. Since father and son readily obeyed Allah’s command, Allah replaced Ismail (AS) that would have been slaughtered with a ram. That is the basis of the ram being slaughtered for the commemoration of Eid-il-Kabir till today. 

On their way to Mountain Arafat where the sacrifice was to be done, the devil attempted to convince Prophet Ibrahim (AS) to disobey Allah and spare his only child but Prophet Ibrahim (AS) resisted the temptation and stone the devil. This practice still exists till this day as Rami al-Jamarat – stoning the devils as one of the Hajj rites. The command to sacrifice Ismail (AS) was a trial to test the faith and obedience of father and son, and Allah freed them from the temptation when their beliefs were proven, moreover He could possibly have gained nothing in Ismail’s (AS)death. It is quoted in Quran 22:37 that neither the meat not blood(of the animal killed as a sacrifice) reaches Allah, it’s the piety that reaches Him. 

The Kaaba

Later, Prophet Ibrahim (AS) returned to his son telling him of Allah’s direction to build a House(the Kaaba). He sought his son’s assistance and they built the house together. While building the Kaaba, the two prophets recited the Quran 2:227 which reads: “O our Lord! Accept (this service) from us, verily, You are the All-Hearing, All-knowing.” Prophet Ibrahim (AS) and Prophet Ismail (AS) completed the building as commanded by Allah. Ibrahim (AS) placed the black stone(Hajar Al-Aswad) at a corner of the Kaaba to mark the starting point of Tawaf – circumambulation around the Kaaba.

Hajj

In Quran chapter 22 verse 27, Allah directed Prophet Ibrahim (AS) to proclaim Pilgrimage to the holy site he has built on mankind. Since then, Muslims around the world travelled far and wide to perform Hajj. Muslims performing Hajj perform numerous religious rites which span about 6 days. Hajj is the 5th pillar of Islam. Hajj is compulsory for all Muslims who are healthy and financially able to afford it. However, Hajj can be performed by proxy, but this is uncommon. 

Hajj rites start by ensuring Ihram(state of purity), then Niyat – the intention to perform Hajj. Pilgrims then travel to Mina, from there, they travel to Mountain Arafat which is the most important rite. They also travel to another holy site, Muzdalifa, from where they proceed to stone the devil. They perform animal sacrifice. They also perform Halq (shaving of hair for men) and Taqsir (trimming of hair for women). The pilgrims return to Mecca to Tawaf around the Kaaba. These aforementioned are the highlights of Hajj rites. Hajj is performed annually by millions of people worldwide, it brings Muslims from across the world together at the Islamic holy sites. Hajj is believed to wipe out sins of pilgrims. Pilgrims are believed to have been cleansed after successful completion of the religious exercise and prayers said at the holy sites are granted by Allah.

COVID-19

Since the beginning of this year, the world has been battling with COVID-19, while nothing has been spared by the virus, the religious institution is also having a fair share. On 20th March, Saudi Arabia shut down the two holy mosques – Masjid Al-Haram and Masjid An-Nabawi in Mecca and Medinah respectively. The closure was an effort to stem the spread of the coronavirus. The country had earlier suspended International journeys.

However, on 11th June, South African Hajj and Umrah Council announced that pilgrims from the country would not be joining other Muslim faithful around the world to perform this year Hajj, citing border closure as a result of the pandemic as the reason. Similarly, on 22nd June, the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Hajj and Umrah announced the cancellation of international Hajj. The ministry, however, stated that only residents in the country would be allowed to participate in the religious exercise as no outsider would be allowed in, also due to the pandemic scare.

The ministry later released modalities for the conduct of this year’s Hajj. Interested Saudi residents were advised to apply online between Monday, July 6th and Friday 10th July. The ministry thereafter selected 10000 pilgrims out of the applications received for participation in the religious exercise, out of which 30% which represent 3000 are natives, while the remaining 70% representing 7000 pilgrims are indigenes of other nationalities who are residents in the country. Several guidelines and safety protocols have been given to the pilgrims which they are advised and expected to adhere to strictly.

Conclusion

Eid-il-Kabir celebration is also expected to be low-key worldwide. Although the situation of the festival will not be the same everywhere as COVID-19 lockdown is still in five in some parts of the world while same has been eased in other parts, there have been calls for moderation in the celebration and to reflect more on the significance of the festival which is obedience and faith in Allah. 

The Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs in a statement titled “It is not over until it is over” and signed by its Deputy Secretary-General, Professor Salisu Shehu, enjoined Muslims to ”continue to act according to the established protocol in their various communities and locations in Nigeria during the forthcoming Eid al-Adha. In places where restrictions have been lifted from congregational prayers, Muslims should observe their Eid prayers while still taking necessary safety measures regarding personal hygiene, facial masks and social distancing. It is even advisable that in such places, massive gatherings at one Eid ground in a big city should be avoided. Rather the Eid could be performed in area-Mosques to avoid unmanageable crowds. However, in places where the ban on public congregational prayers and socio-religious gatherings is still in force, Muslims are directed to be law-abiding while appreciating that intentions supersede actions and actions are judged on the basis of intentions, as Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said (Buhari and Muslim).”

The statement further noted that: “Muslims are enjoined to note that Eid al-Adha is not a compulsory religious activity (fard) and at no point should it be observed if doing so will undermine the fundamental purpose of Shari’ah: security, a multifaceted concept which includes personal, communal, national, environmental and health components, among others. This is to say that it is not over until it is over.” 

Muslim Faithfuls all around the world are wished a happy Eid-il-Kabir celebration. Barka de Sallah!

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