June 4, 2020 – Saudi Arabia’s mosques opened their doors for worshippers this Sunday 31 May, the first time in nearly two months, as the Kingdom eased restrictions imposed to battle the novel coronavirus.
Mosques in the holy city of Mecca remain closed as part of the Kingdom’s plan for a gradual return to normal life.
Hundreds of thousands of worshippers headed to mosques for the dawn prayers complying with strict new regulations: face masks are mandatory, as is bringing personal prayer mats, avoiding handshakes and standing about 6.5 feet away from each other.
The elderly, children below the age of 15 and people with chronic diseases are not permitted, and people coming to pray must perform the ablution rite – the act of washing face, arms and legs before prayer – at home, prior to arrival.
“It is great to feel the mercy of God and once again call people for prayers at mosques instead of at their homes,” Abdulmajeed al-Mohaisen, who issues the call to prayer at Al-Rajhi Mosque, one of the largest in the capital Riyadh, told Reuters news agency on Sunday.
Sunday also saw the gradual reopening of the Prophet’s Mosque (Al Masjid an-Nabawi) in Medina, with prayers allowed at 40%of the mosque’s capacity.
The Ministry of Islamic Affairs has set a raft of precautions for performing congregational prayers in mosques. They include opening mosques 15 minutes before the Adhan and closing them 10 minutes after the end of the prayer, with the interval between the Adhan and the start of the prayer shortened to 10 minutes; avoiding crowding, and the distribution of food, drinks, incense and miswak twigs (used to clean teeth) no longer allowed. Toilets and ablution places are closed. Likewise, mosque lectures and Quran memorization gatherings remain suspended.
Saudi authorities said earlier in May that restrictions would be lifted in three phases, culminating in a curfew ending on June 21, with the exception of the holy city of Mecca. The Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages, which attract millions of Muslims from every part of the world, also remain suspended until further notice..
The country of around 30 million people has reported more than 89,000 infections and 549 deaths from the disease, the highest among the seven Gulf Arab states.
Eid is known to be a very social celebration as Muslims traditionally gather together with family and friends and basically enjoy each other’s company while celebrating the end of fasting.
Obviously due to quarantine, Eid felt a bit off since Muslims couldn’t hang out with their friends and relatives as usual, but some Muslims found a unique and cool way to celebrate while being at home.
The game Animal Crossing: New Horizons has been on the rise due to its modern and lifelike simulation where you get to create your own island and also socialize and communicate with other users virtually.
These Muslims all came together virtually in the game and celebrated their Iftars and Eid together.
Rami Ismail (@tha_rami) was one of the Muslims who spent iftars and celebrated Eid on Animal Crossing. According to Ismail, not all of the days were consistently the same for his friends on Animal Crossing. He said, “For suhoors and iftars, it varied per day I organized the gatherings. Some days felt very ‘normal’ – people talking, laughing, and discussing their lives. Some days were more game-like with lots of running around and playing.”
It's hard to believe - but that was also the final @animalcrossing Suhoor and Iftar gathering! I organized them every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday - and Ramadan ends this weekend.
Obviously communicating in a game isn’t the same as social interaction, but in the situations we are in right now this is a good way of keeping in contact with others and making Iftar and Eid feel as real as possible.
Ismail also mentions how he was “disappointed” as he says he had to build everything for the celebration himself – holidays like Christmas or Easter already have set ups.
He said, “Animal Crossing is a game that is meant to feel homely and it usually succeeds, but when it comes to culture it is homely to Western, Christian, and Japanese people.” He also described what his first ideas of spending Eid on the game were.
Ismail’s friends that joined him for the Animal Crossing experience were a mix of Muslim and non-Muslims that he met from his travels. He states that he loved explaining to the group of what the meaning of the moon in relation to Eid is, as well as what Ramadan is all about, since he only had one other person fasting with him.
The celebrations were made more interesting considering Animal Crossing stands true to realistic simulation, as the moon in the game is the same phase as the moon in real life.
Another Muslim, Ahmed Ali Akbar (@radbrowndads), decided to take his Eid on Animal Crossing and Zoom. Akbar explained that along with dressing up in the game, he and his cousins who were also playing from all around the country dressed up in real life as well.
Akbar wasn’t completely by himself as he had his wife, his uncle, and his father in the household with him to celebrate and enjoy the day.
As if in person, Akbar and his cousins were taking pictures – except they were taking pictures of them in the game as their characters, which was apparently a hassle to do according to Ahmed. Despite the difficulties, it was still one of the most memorable experiences for him.
Both Ismail and Akbar had a beautifully decorated setup for each of their “parties.” Animal Crossing may not exactly have Islamic clothing yet but they have some nice options that could resemble it.
Eid was still able to be celebrated safely, whether it was through other virtual games or even just through video calling, proving that Eid is more than just a lot of people being under one roof.