Muslims here will celebrate the second holiest day on the lunar-based Islamic calendar by gathering to pray together on the grounds of the Eastern States Exposition Friday, while observing social distancing regulations during the coronavirus pandemic.
“We will have congregants come in their cars and park at least six feet apart,” said Dr. M. Saleem Bajwa, a Holyoke physician and member of the Islamic Society of Western Massachusetts, which is organizing the gathering.
“At the time of congregational prayer, they will stand next to the car and use their prayer mats on the ground,” he said. “Family members can stand together, but otherwise everyone will be at a prescribed social distance. There will be no intermingling or socializing on the grounds.”
He added, “While driving out, each car will be offered food bags to enjoy and goody bags will be given for children.”
“The members of the society are advised to have social gatherings and festivities in their homes on a limited scale,” Bajwa said. “The observance follows the day on which Muslims around the world travel to Mecca, Saudi Arabia to make their pilgrimage.”
The event on July 31 is scheduled for 8 to 10 a.m.
The pilgrimage, known as the Hajj, is one of five pillars of Islam and is what Muslims are expected to do at least once in their lifetime during the last month of the Islamic year. The year’s first 10 days are considered the holiest for Muslims with Hajj on the ninth day and celebrated over four days.
Mecca is where Muhammed, the founder of Islam, was born. The Great Mosque there can accommodate millions of people, though Saudi Arabia is limiting pilgrims this year to those from Saudi Arabia and others already in the country to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Bajwa said the 10th day of the last month on the Islamic calendar is known as the day of Eid al-Adha and usually for members of the Islamic Society “starts with a morning congregational prayer” performed at its center here or “in an open field to accommodate large gatherings.”
“The Islamic Society has been holding this prayer in outside facilities as we may have a few thousand come to pray, followed by festivities during the rest of the day,” said Bajwa, noting that safety measures to reduce the spread of the infectious respiratory disease have modified such gatherings around religious observances since March.
The Islamic Society did not hold its annual celebration marking the end of the month’s fast of Ramadan in May, and did not hold its annual interfaith iftar, or breaking of the daily fast. Instead, it sponsored takeout food packs for families in need of such supplies during the month.