Africa's Muslims celebrate Eid in the shadow of COVID-19

  • >> Reuters
    Published: 2020-05-24 15:40:31 BdST

A man works on a bazin cloth ahead of Eid al-Fitr, amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Adjame a neighbourhood of Abidjan, Ivory Coast May 22, 2020. REUTERS/Thierry Gouegnon

Bakari Diakité normally celebrates the end of Ramadan by visiting the local mosque and hosting a large family gathering. This year, with COVID-19 still spreading in Ivory Coast's commercial capital Abidjan, he has scaled back festivities.

Instead of heading to the mosque this morning, he prayed on a terrace at home with the few family members he lives with. Their lunch of rice and couscous with bissap juice was more modest than the plates of meats they would normally enjoy with a group of some 30 family and friends.

"Usually, family members come from all the neighbourhoods to celebrate. This year, everyone will stay at home to avoid any risk of contagion," said Diakité, 66, who is unable to be with three of his five children. "It's a very quiet party compared to other years."

This weekend, millions across Africa are celebrating a slightly different Eid-ul-Fitr, the festival marking the end to the Muslim month of fasting where people typically gather after a period of reflection. Eid-ul-Fitr begins with the sighting of the crescent moon - countries where it was visible on Friday night celebrate on Saturday, others wait until Sunday.

While many African countries including Ivory Coast have eased lockdown measures that were in place in mosques, allowing people to worship together, the impact of the virus, which has infected 100,000 on the continent, is clear.

Dozens of mosques in Somalia's capital Mogadishu were crowded on Saturday, making social distancing impossible, according to a Reuters witness. Still, most streets were empty, and the children that normally flock to the city's public gardens during the festival were nowhere to be seen.

In Niger's capital Niamey and Tanzania's capital Dar es Salaam, some mosques were crowded as usual, but many were closed as imams decided they could not run prayers safely. The Grand Mosque in Senegal's capital Dakar will remain closed.

At one mosque in Abidjan's Adjame neighbourhood, every other prayer mat was marked with an duct tape X and had to remain vacant to keep people apart.

Diakité, meanwhile, longs for that human closeness.

"We miss all the people, all the human warmth. There is no holiday atmosphere."