Eid in the time of Covid-19: Keeping the faith

| Updated on May 22, 2020

On Eid al-Fitr, a Muslim reflects on a Ramzan marked by the chaos of a pandemic

Dear Editor,

As I sit down to write this letter, I must say I’ve been wallowing in a leaden stupor induced by watching too many recipes of #EidBiriyani.

Nothing prepared me for the tidal wave of biriyani versions supposedly consumed on Eid. Apart from the usual mutton, chicken and fish variations, there was a keto biriyani made with cauliflower mince and soy chunks (Astaghfirullah!).

I went through enough trouble to get myself some mutton from my local butcher, shelling out a sizeable chunk of my life savings for a kilo. I told him, “Bhai, if this cost any more, I’d have to make my Eid biriyani with phool gobi and soy chhaap.” He narrowed his eyes with irritation through his mask and said, “Sir, don’t worry. If things continue like this, next Eid, we’ll be eating crows. They should be quite cheap.”

Sufficiently deflated, I mutely took the meat and headed home, struggling with my shopping bags filled with onions, tomatoes, assorted vegetables and a small bottle of biriyani flavouring essence I know I will use once and then never again.

On my way back, the emptiness of the largely deserted roads was interrupted by the sight of an open truck with migrant labourers standing in its cargo hold, swaying with the truck’s movements — all of them looking dusty and defeated, hoping to return to their home states.

We gazed at each other briefly and I averted my eyes because I sensed I must cut a faintly obscene figure to them — me laden with my bags of food, preparing for a feast, when hunger was searing through them faster than any virus.

Which is what brings me to this letter. I don’t think Muslims have been able to sufficiently capture just how dissonant this Ramzan and Eid have been.

As festivals go, Eid al-Fitr is as gregarious as they come. It emphasises togetherness. You dress up in the new clothes your family members bought for each other, head to the Eid-gah, the open enclosure where everyone stands in obeisance and prays with joint fervour. Doing the Eid namaz by yourself through a Zoom call just doesn’t have the same feel.

Then of course, the Eid lunch, where everyone eats together, keeping aside a portion of the meal to distribute to the needy.

It is a festival predicated on the ties of community, and the notion that we’d take care of each other.

Thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, this Eid was pared down to the basics — you, a prayer mat and god. No mosque to congregate in, no uplifting feelings of companionship, no faces happy to see you or hands eager to feed you. Just you and some pertinent questions you have for god — such as, “What have you done? Have you lost your mind?”

I had fasted through the month, abstaining from food and water for 15-odd hours every day but — and this is the crucial thing — without desperation.

What did our fasts even mean in the face of such widespread, unrelenting starvation of the poor stranded in a pandemic without jobs, food or shelter?

If suffering did not make us humbler, kinder or more generous as a people, what was the point of such hideous pain across the world?

The virus turned us against each other; and for a community hobbled by pervasive Islamophobia, it turned us inward as well, eager to be invisible if it would just allow us the privilege of passing unnoticed.

This has been a strange Eid, but no stranger than everything else at present. Perhaps next year, the Eid will be different.

Instead of crow biriyani, I hope there is a healthy absence of hunger. And instead of waiting on divine intervention, I hope we’re able to change our collective fate for the better on our own.


Yours sincerely,

A Muslim who loves his biriyani


Published on May 22, 2020

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