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Ahead Of Eid, India's Muslim Clerics Urge Celebrating At Home, Donating To Charity

People wait to enter a bakery to shop for treats on Wednesday, ahead of Eid al-Fitr in Srinagar, India.
Hindustan Times
Hindustan Times via Getty Images
People wait to enter a bakery to shop for treats on Wednesday, ahead of Eid al-Fitr in Srinagar, India.

With India under a nationwide lockdown and religious gatherings banned, Islamic clerics are urging Muslims to observe this weekend's Eid al-Fitr holiday, marking the end of Ramadan, at home with social distancing.

"We cannot allow any congregations in courtyards and parks, as it will expose people to an increased risk of contracting the virus," Syed Shaban Bukhari, deputy Shahi Imam or prayer leader of New Delhi's famous Jama Masjid said in a video posted on Twitter.

He and other Muslim leaders are urging faithful to forgo the usual Eid festivities, social visits and shopping and donate to charities instead. They suggest conveying wishes to friends and relatives via phone. Mosques are closed.

"Since the entire world is at present battling coronavirus, the happiness of Eid is in not hugging each other and not shaking hands this time over," said Umer Ahmed Ilyasi, chief imam of the All India Imam Organization. "If we want to love them, we have to maintain distance. ... Eid is related to life and happiness and we have to give the same."

Indian Muslims have faced increased harassment and threats by some of the country's Hindus, who blame Muslim missionaries for a coronavirus outbreak in the capital New Delhi in early March.

Authorities in Jammu and Kashmir, India's only Muslim-majority territory, eased lockdown restrictions Friday in the Lal Chowk market area of the region's main city, Srinagar. Thousands of Indian troops still line Srinagar's streets, some nine months after India's Hindu nationalist government revoked Kashmir's autonomy last August, putting local politicians under house arrest and cutting off the internet.

Srinagar's old quarter was disrupted earlier this week by a gun battle — the city's first in two years — in which a separatist rebel commander and his aide were killed by Indian paramilitary soldiers, triggering anti-government protests across the city.

Amid the violence, a group of university students in Kashmir collaborated with local artists to sell digital postcards for Eid. With designs being shared on social media, organizers say they've raised about $6,000 to donate to the Srinagar Masjid Committee, which is providing assistance to families whose homes were damaged in Tuesday's fighting.

India's Muslims will begin celebrating Eid the day after clerics confirm the sighting of a new moon, either Saturday or Sunday night.

"There's a depressing atmosphere in Srinagar this Eid, so we all wanted to help in some way," says digital postcard organizer Waqar Qamri, a 22-year-old mechanical engineering student who's also been researching wealth inequality as a side project. "We thought maybe we'd raise just a [a few hundred dollars], but Alhamdulillah, thanks be to God, we raised all that money and we're still going. We'll keep going until we see the moon."

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Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.