Indian Muslims skip shopping to support migrants, keep celebrations modest

NEW DELHI – Charity has assumed greater significance for Indian Muslims this Eid-ul-Fitr as many decide to skip pre-Eid shopping and donate money to help the needy instead.

The hashtag #EidForMigrants featured prominently on social media this week amid calls to support migrants who were forced to walk back home because of the coronavirus lockdown that left millions of daily-wage workers stranded without work and adequate access to public transport.

Mr Salman Shahid, who lives in Srinagar and teaches grades 11 and 12, took time away from work to prepare videos and posters urging Muslims to stay indoors and help migrant workers.

“I will be celebrating with my flatmates, cooking something special like briyani,” he said.

Mr Shahid, 28, who has donated to help migrants, will also get on a video call on Eid to connect with his parents in Delhi. With a lockdown still in place, he will not be joining them for Eid this year. The call to help others comes at a time when religious gatherings remain banned in India. Clerical councils have also urged Muslims to celebrate indoors and avoid shopping and meeting friends and relatives.

In Pakistan, however, mosques reopened last month, following pressure from clerics.

Dawn, a Pakistani newspaper, reported that the Sindh provincial government has allowed Eid prayers to go ahead but said that such gatherings would have to follow guidelines on social distancing. Malls and markets have also reopened in Pakistan.

In Bangladesh, the government has advised people to avoid open-air Eid congregations and to pray at nearby mosques instead, with restrictions in place on the number of people who can gather. A travel ban has not stopped thousands living in the capital Dhaka from making their way back home to towns and villages for Eid.

But not every Muslim household in India may be able to celebrate Eid.

A resident of Delhi, Mr Arshad – who goes by just one name – and his family fled their home after their neighbourhood was attacked during the Hindu-Muslim riots in February. They spent a month at a relief camp, where Mr Arshad’s second son was born. The family eventually returned home on March 25 – the camp had to be shut because of the Covid-19 pandemic – and found their valuables looted.

Mr Arshad, a barber, is still unemployed as salons have yet to reopen, forcing the family to scrape by with donations from well-wishers. Last week, he ran out of money to buy infant formula, forcing him to switch to cow’s milk which, while cheaper, is not ideal for his son.

“His stomach has been upset ever since we made the switch,” said Mr Arshad, 30. “We have not even thought about Eid. With no money and the state we are in, how can we think of celebrating?”

Eid has always been an occasion for Ms Yasmin Rahman and her family in Indirapuram, a Delhi suburb, to reinforce links with their Assamese cultural heritage and open their home to friends and relatives.

But this year, she is taking the chance to explain to her eight-year-old daughter the ongoing pandemic and the trouble migrant workers have had to endure, as well as some of the complexities around religious issues.

One of them is the widespread practice in India that limits women’s access to mosques.

“The way I see it, Eid has changed mostly for men, who cannot go to a mosque this year,” said Ms Rahman, 39. “So, I feel no sympathy when I hear men complain this time… That’s what I have been forced to do all my life.”

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