The event, celebrated by 1.8 billion Muslims, is the main holiday in their religious calendar

Muslims celebrate a feast of Sacrifice marked by the pandemic

AFP/MINISTERIO DE MEDIOS SAUDÍ - The Kaaba, Islam's holiest shrine, at the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Mecca on 26 July 2020.

The 'Feast of Sacrifice' (Eid al-Adha in Arabic, or Eid-el-Kebir, 'the great feast') is a very special date for the more than 1.8 billion Muslims around the world. The Feast of the Lamb falls in the twelfth month of the Islamic calendar, coinciding with the last day of pilgrimage to Mecca and just 70 days after the end of Ramadan. On this day, every person with financial means must sacrifice a lamb, calf or ram in commemoration of the day when the Prophet Abraham, after finishing building the Ka'aba, - a cube in which a black stone is guarded that Muslims consider a piece of paradise - with his son Ishmael, had a dream in which Allah revealed to him that he must sacrifice his first-born son. This holiday commemorates the passage in the Qur'an (and the Bible), in which God prevented Abraham from killing his son by divine will by replacing the young man with this animal.

Peregrinos musulmanes circulando alrededor de la Kaaba, el santuario más sagrado del Islam, en el centro de la Gran Mezquita en la ciudad santa de La Meca AFP/MINISTERIO DE MEDIOS SAUDÍ

The festival, also known as Muslim Easter, takes place at the end of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, which is one of the obligations that every good Muslim must perform at least once in his or her life. The faithful around the world prepare months in advance for these special days, both for those who choose to make the pilgrimage to Mecca and for those who stay at home. 

The four-day Muslim festivities are marked this year by a pandemic whose ravages are far from over in the Arab world. Due to the global health crisis, only Muslims residing in Saudi Arabia who have been vaccinated have been allowed to perform the pilgrimage rites. A total of 60,000 worshippers, all vaccinated and resident in the Saudi kingdom, began the annual pilgrimage to Mecca on Mount Arafat, where the Prophet Muhammad delivered his last sermon fourteen centuries ago, amid strict health protocol due to the pandemic.

AFP/LOUAI BESHARA – Corderos bebiendo cerda de la Badia próxima a la capital de Siria, Damasco

Saudi Arabia used to welcome some two million pilgrims from all over the world before the pandemic, but only 60,000 people living in the Kingdom have been allowed to perform the pilgrimage, after limiting the number to a few thousand last year. Under normal conditions, this event usually brings together more than 2.5 million believers. The Kingdom, which is in its third wave of the pandemic with around 1,000 infections per day, is among the most advanced Arab countries in terms of vaccination, having administered 22 million doses to its 35 million people.

Iraq, where COVID-19 continues to strain a health system devastated by years of war and sanctions, is struggling to cope with its worst wave of COVID-19, which has already left 17,592 people dead and more than 1.4 million infected in the country. Meanwhile, restrictions have been tightening in Oman, which is in the midst of strict restrictions imposed due to the coronavirus disease. The government has imposed a strict blockade from 20 July to 24 July due to the increasing number of daily deaths and infections, with nearly 80,000 contagions, where public spaces and businesses will be closed between 7pm and 6am until 8 August.

AFP/LOUAI BESHARA – Corderos bebiendo cerda de la Badia próxima a la capital de Siria, Damasco

For the second year in a row, Morocco has opted for relative restrictions only on this date of great mobility of citizens and large family gatherings. The Feast of the Sacrifice is a time of great economic dynamism in Morocco, as some eight million animals are slaughtered for the occasion. However, in view of the increase in cases of COVID, the authorities have decided to ban the specific prayer of the festival in mosques and oratories.

In Egypt, the Arab world's most populous country, restrictions have been imposed to coincide with the religious holiday, including the closure of parks and public beaches, with the threat of dusting others if people do not exercise caution. In the neighbouring United Arab Emirates, the executive has advised residents to hold prayers at home; to pay charities to slaughter animals; to respect social distance when visiting relatives. 

La Kaaba en la Gran Mezquita durante el Haj, durante la pandemia de la enfermedad coronavirus (COVID-19), en la Meca, Arabia Saudita, el 26 de julio de 2020. AFP/MINISTERIO DE MEDIOS SAUDÍ

Celebrating the Feast of Sacrifice is a Koranic obligation for all Muslim families. The streets fill with traffic, and women and men run almost madly to shop.Thousands of sheep are moved from where they are raised to where they are sold. For thousands of households, the Feast of the Sacrifice means a serious disruption of the household economy, a strain on the resources available to them during the year. It is not only the high price of the lambs, between 200 and 300 euros, which in many countries is more than the minimum wage. Many families have no choice but to take out a bank loan to meet the high cost of this celebration for their precarious economies.

In the weeks leading up to the holiday, banks have been flooding the market for years with loans at favourable interest rates and offers to help consumers buy their animals and finance their holiday. For this reason, many institutions have realised the enormous potential of this traditional holiday due to the enormous expenses involved and have started to market specific loans to finance the purchase of the sheep.

AFP/MINISTERIO DE MEDIOS SAUDÍ

This festivity, which transcends the mere religious event, has become an occasion for meeting, generosity, solidarity and sharing with those who have the least. Hence, a gesture of this generosity is reflected in the increase in the number of remittances that Muslims send to their relatives and friends so that, among other things, they can celebrate this important date. However, the number of remittances to the Arab world totalled $58 billion in 2020, $3.7 billion less than the previous year due to the pandemic. Algeria, Djibouti, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia and Palestine received a total of $54.9 billion in 2020, 95 per cent of Arab remittances. 

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