Eid al-Adha at a distance: Muslims in Vancouver find new ways to mark occasion amid COVID-19

One of the most significant celebrations of the Islamic calendar, Eid al-Adha is normally marked with prayer at the start of the four-day festival, which began on Thursday evening and ends on Monday evening.

This year however, COVID-19 protocol has limited mass gatherings in many places, including Canada.

Tarek Tantawy prays outside the the Al Masjid Al Jamia mosque in Vancouver during the start of Eid al-Adha, the second major Muslim festival after Eid al-Fitr. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Worshippers were encouraged to wear masks inside the Al Masjid Al Jamia mosque on Friday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Al Masjid Al Jamia is Vancouver’s oldest mosque. It was founded in 1963 and continues to act as a place of worship for Vancouver’s Muslim community. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Due to provincial restrictions on mass gatherings, the mosque is limited to 50 people inside. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

In Vancouver, the Al Masjid Al Jamia mosque is limited to 50 people inside, with a few spilling onto the front sidewalk area. Hand sanitizer and masks are available for anyone who wants to pray inside.

“We may not like it, but it’s for the safety of the people to stay apart,” said Abdi Halim, who prayed inside the mosque on Friday.

“It’s really different to not hug each other and shake each other’s hands. But we can still feel the same love, and I am really thankful that the mosque is open and for the B.C. government to allow it to be open.”

People maintain a proper physical distance inside the mosque while they pray. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

People leave the Al Masjid Al Jamia mosque after prayer. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

During the COVID-19 pandemic, mosques across British Columbia are allowing a limited number of people to attend morning prayer. Participants must practise physical distancing. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Seemi Ghazi, a UBC lecturer on Muslim feminist theology, leads the Takbir in an open field. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The festival coincides with Hajj, the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, the holiest city for Muslims.

Other Eid events were held in Vancouver on Friday, one of them led by University of British Columbia lecturer Seemi Ghazi, who teaches Muslim feminist theology. 

“Our normal ways of celebrating aren’t there. I often go to the convention centre downtown and [am] with thousands of people from all over the world. There is something beautiful about that, but we wanted to create something in person that would be a bit more intimate. We wanted to put an emphasis on our spiritual space.”

Ghazi recited the Takbir, a chant of glorification, and offered a sermon — which isn’t common in traditional mosques — in an open field with friends and family who align with the same common values.

“People are praying in their own bubble. It was very natural.”

Smaller groups of friends and family pray in various locations around Vancouver. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The Muslim Students’ Association at the University of British Columbia holds an outdoor prayer session on campus. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Muslims pray at the University of British Columbia’s Vancouver campus. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The UBC Muslim Students’ Association also held a prayer event on the Vancouver campus. 

“We never expected this would happen, but we are so united and we come together in solidarity during prayer,” said Aida Sanjush, who works with the student association.

“This was one of the most beautiful Eid prayers we ever had. It was in an open field and the weather was really great, too.”

Muslims gather their prayer blankets after prayer at Vanier residences on the UBC campus. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

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