EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ - On the July 31-August 2 weekend, Muslims all over Middlesex County gathered to celebrate Eid al-Adha. Normally, the holiday occurs at the height of the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a lot less gathering than normal, and those who celebrated the holiday practiced social distancing measures.
July 31 saw East Brunswick’s annual Eid celebration, which takes place at Heavenly Farms every year. Normally, two to three hundred people gather on the fields, standing shoulder to shoulder in prayer. The event is followed by a community breakfast. But in 2020, the gathering’s organizers had to put strict rules in place to ensure that no one got sick. Attendees were asked to bring their own prayer mats, and families had to stay six feet apart from each other while praying. Children and seniors over 65 were also asked to stay home in order to avoid any potential danger to their health. The celebration was held underneath the pavilion rather than on the turf, so its capacity was much smaller. Three different salat, or prayers, were held from 7:00 to 8:30 AM in order to accommodate more people.
The main draw of Eid al-Adha is the sacrifice of an animal - usually a sheep, goat, or cow. The animal is then divided into three pieces. One piece goes to the people who purchased the animal, one goes to family and friends, and the last piece goes to charity. But this tradition has changed over time, especially now that there is a global pandemic. Ambreen Rab, a Muslim woman living in East Brunswick, described how her family does it - “Even in previous years, we donated all the meat to charity. Most people opt to buy an animal online and then distribute the meat to people who need it, even in Pakistan. In Pakistan, because of COVID, people don’t have the means to buy meat themselves, so they just get it online.”
Celebrating holidays has proven difficult for East Brunswick’s Muslim population as of late, as so many involve prayer in proximity to other people. But many are finding alternative ways to celebrate. Some have video calls with their families and friends over Zoom or FaceTime. Rab said that her family got into their Eid clothes just to take pictures to send to relatives, even though there was no family get-together planned.
Community acts of kindness are also helping local Muslims get through this difficult time. Rab told the story of how during Eid al-Fitr, an earlier holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, her neighbors put together a drive-by parade to cheer her up. “I was very depressed that nothing was happening,” she said. “My neighbors got together and blasted music out of their cars, and honked as they drove by. It was very sweet.”
While social distancing regulations still remain in place, Mosques are beginning to reopen after being closed for several months. The Islamic Center of East Brunswick reestablished their five daily prayer gatherings in early June, though the building is limited to 25% occupancy and masks are mandatory.