05/02/2022, 20.05
ASIA
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Ukraine war and food shortages cast a long shadow on Eid

For the first time in two years, millions of people travel to their villages of origin to celebrate the end of Ramadan following the lifting of pandemic restrictions. However, the festivity is overshadowed by economic crisis and food shortages. Meanwhile in India, Muslims are targeted by Hindu extremists.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – Millions of Indonesians are taking advantage of the end of Ramadan to return to their villages of origin, the first time in two years after COVID-19 restrictions were lifted.

In other countries, from the Middle East to South East Asia, celebrations are muted because of a persistent economic crisis, which Russia’s war against Ukraine has aggravated.

In India acts of violence have been blamed on Hindu nationalists, but by and large a desire to celebrate the end of Ramadan prevails, with both Sunnis and Shias intent on sharing for Eid al-Fitr, the three-day celebration that began yesterday to mark the end of the holy month of fasting and prayer.

In the past two years, none of the activities associated with the festivity, such as lavish meals, were possible because of the pandemic.

On this occasion, Muslims thank Allah for giving them strength and blessings, hoping that Ramadan helped them get closer to God and perfection. Tradition has it that the first Eid was celebrated in 624 AD a day after Mohammed won a battle.

Celebrations vary according to religious branch (Sunni or Shia) and location. Usually, the faithful gather in mosques or in the open for their first daytime meal. In some places, interfaith meetings are held.

This year, war and widespread economic difficulties have cast a shadow over the festivity, while COVID-19 has melted into the background. In fact, inflation and food shortages, especially wheat and other grains, are an issue.

In Egypt, many families bought fewer sweets, clothes and gifts for children or share less with relatives, friends and neighbours.

Southeast Asia’s largest mosque, the Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta (Indonesia), closed its doors two years ago, at the start of the pandemic, and stayed closed last year due to government restrictions.

This year though, “Words can’t describe how happy I am today after two years we were separated by pandemic,” said Epi Tanjung after he was able to pray in a mosque.

Several Muslim-majority nations were counting on grain imports from Russia and Ukraine to meet domestic needs but given disruptions in supply chains are now in extremely difficult circumstance.

In Idlib, a province in northwestern Syria controlled by anti-Assad rebels and jihadis, the situation this year is more difficult than in previous; many families have received only half of the food supplies necessary to satisfy their needs.

In an area, heavily impacted by war, Western sanctions and widespread corruption, there are shortages of rice, lentils, and cooking oil; the same is true in neighbouring Lebanon as well.

In the Gaza Strip, streets and markets are crowded, but few can afford to buy the food and goods typical of the celebration.

“The situation is difficult,” said Um Musab, a mother of five. “Employees barely make a living but the rest of the people are crushed.”

In Afghanistan and Iraq, security is a major issue.

Following recent attacks by groups linked to the Islamic State group, the Taliban have tightened security in the Afghan capital of Kabul.

In Baghdad, Iraq’s capital, and other major cities, sales are also way down because few people can afford the prices.

In India, radical Hindu nationalists have been attacking minority Muslims. As Islamophobia grows, local Muslim clerics urge the faithful to remain vigilant during Eid.

Indeed, Indian Muslims should prepare "to deal with the worst,” said Ovais Sultan Khan, a rights activist. “Nothing is as it used to be for Muslims in India, including the Eid,” he lamented.

Still, Muslims worldwide were happy that pandemic restrictions were no longer in the way of traditional rites.

In Indonesia millions filled trains, ferries and buses to travel to their families and celebrate.

In the capital, families flocked to shopping malls to buy clothes, shoes and sweets for the holiday, despite pandemic warnings and rising food prices.

In neighbouring Malaysia people just want to turn the page after two years of closures and lockdowns. "It is a blessing that we can now go back to celebrate,” said a sales manager in Kuala Lumpur.

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