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Millions of Muslims celebrate Eid as pandemic restrictions ease

Muslims offer Eid al-Adha prayers at the Great Mosque in Semarang, Indonesia, on July 10. (Antara Foto/Reuters)
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Millions of Muslims around the world are celebrating Eid al-Adha — a major Islamic holiday that marks the end of the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia — as the easing of coronavirus restrictions allows worshipers to gather.

President Biden called the festivities a “symbol of the progress we have made in fighting” the coronavirus but warned that the pandemic is not over yet.

“While COVID-19 restrictions remain, Muslims draped in white will be able to gather from around the world for the first time in two years to perform the Hajj,” Biden said in a statement Saturday.

“It’s a symbol of the progress we have made in fighting this pandemic and of all work we must still do to strengthen our recovery. Let us all take this opportunity to renew our shared commitment to work for peace, care for the vulnerable, and pursue greater equality and opportunity for all people,” Biden added.

Even as many countries have loosened public health restrictions, coronavirus cases have continued to rise around the world, a surge driven largely by sub-variants of omicron.

Amid fears of delta variant, Eid al-Adha celebrations begin

Globally, more than 4.6 million new cases were reported to the World Health Organization between June 27 and July 3. The WHO says new cases in Southeast Asia — which under the agency’s classification includes countries with some of the largest Muslim populations in the world, including Indonesia, India and Bangladesh — grew by 20 percent between June 27 and July 3.

Some Eid celebrations marred by war, others return to pre-covid scale

In some parts of the world, Eid celebrations were restricted last year because of the pandemic, with strict limits on the number of worshipers allowed into Mecca.

This year, Saudi authorities have allowed about 850,000 Muslims from abroad to make the pilgrimage. They were chosen via a lottery and were required to be no older than 65, vaccinated against the coronavirus and to have recently tested negative for the virus.

While Saudi Arabia has softened its national mask mandate, masks are still required inside Mecca and Medina, and some restrictions are in place around the Kaaba, the shrine at the center of the Great Mosque of Mecca.

Outside Saudi Arabia, Muslims celebrate Eid al-Adha with prayers and large gatherings of family and friends. The festival is joyful and a chance to share a meal with loved ones.

This year, the holiday falls between July 9 and 13. Muslims and non-Muslims mark the occasion by greeting one another with “Eid Mubarak.”

Many Muslims sacrifice animals — including sheep, goats, cows and camels — to mark the Quranic story of the willingness of Ibrahim to sacrifice his son Ishmael as an act of obedience to God, before God intervened and gave him a lamb to sacrifice instead.

The tradition on one of Islam’s two main festivals is to share the meat among family, friends and those in need.

Even in Ukraine, as war with Russia rages, Muslims marked Eid al-Adha in mosques.

In Russia, photos show large-scale public prayers taking place under the watchful eye of security forces.