Today is the Muslim Feast of the Sacrifice, known as Eid-el-Adha, one of the two main holy days in the Islamic calendar.
But this year, rather than a feast or a celebration, the day will be marked by the shadow of the coronavirus and the restrictions it imposes.
In Brussels, according to mayor Philippe Close, all mosques in the municipality will be closed. “Our Muslim fellow citizens will exceptionally celebrate Eid in their homes, with their loved ones,” he wrote on Twitter. “I want to thank the mosques for setting an example.”
The decision by the federation of mosques means a stop to all activities in the mosques until the end of August.
The same is true today across Flanders, where the federation of Moroccan mosques has taken the decision to remain closed until the end of August.
In Antwerp province, where the current second wave of the epidemic is most serious, the Muslim Executive originally called for the cancellation of the main prayer of the day and several others across the province, without going so far as to call for closure.
Mosques were being called on to enforce health and safety measures to the fullest possible extent: a limit on those allowed to enter, masks to be worn, strict hand hygiene as well as ritual ablutions, social distancing, each person to have a personal prayer mat, and no gatherings before or after the ceremony itself.
But the worsening situation in Antwerp city itself led to a decision to cancel prayers today.
Mechelen mosques then decided to remain closed, and called on Muslims to celebrate at home, within their own family circle, and to refrain from the visits and gatherings that customarily accompany the religious observance.
The exception is in Ghent, where the city authorities have placed a ban on Eid prayers, rather than leaving the matter up to the mosques themselves. The city council explained the move by saying safety could not be sufficiently guaranteed.
“I understand the public health measure, but it would have been easier if we had known earlier,” said Demir Ali Köse, in charge of the city’s mosques.
The situation in the mosques, however, places only a limited damper on the day’s celebrations.
“It is only about prayer,” Köse said,
The Feast of the Sacrifice itself is not celebrated in the mosque anyway. In the mosque there is only a short prayer, a joint thanksgiving prayer and a short speech, after which everyone goes home. The actual party is then celebrated in a private family circle.”
Eid-el-Adha commemorates the willingness of Ibrahim (Abraham) to sacrifice his son – in Muslim tradition Ismael – in obedience to God’s command. In the Biblical narrative, before Ibrahim could sacrifice his son, God provided a ram to sacrifice instead.
In commemoration, an animal, usually a sheep, is sacrificed ritually and divided into three parts. One part is given to the poor, another is kept for the household, and the third is given to relatives.