After a year of not being allowed to organise mass prayers and other religious ceremonies, and a second Ramadan fast without traditional iftar dinners, due to COVID-19 restrictions, Muslims in the Balkans were able to attend mass prayers for Eid al-Fitr, known also in the Balkans as Ramazan Bajram, on Thursday.
In Muslim-majority countries such as Turkey, Albania and Kosovo, or in countries with large Muslim communities, such as Bosnia and North Macedonia, many people gathered on Thursday morning for the Eid al-Fitr, the holiday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
Despite warnings from official Islamic Communities and imams in each country for citizens to follow COVID-19 prevention measures, by keeping a social distance and wearing masks, this was not always the case.
In Kosovo, the central Eid al-Fitr prayer ceremony took place in the Great Mosque in the capital, Pristina. The mosques were only opened 10 minutes before the prayers began, and believers were urged to do their morning prayers at home instead, in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Kosovo’s official Islamic Community suspended all prayers in mosques on March 14, 2020, one day after the first COVID-19 cases were registered in the country.
In Albania, thousands of Muslim citizens returned to the traditional prayer ceremony held in the main Skanderbeg square of the capital, Tirana, after not being allowed to hold prayers in public places in 2020. Although the prayer lasted less than an hour, COVID-19 health restrictions were not fully followed.
In Turkey, a total lockdown imposed from April 30 to May 17 did not stop Muslim believers from gathering for the Eid al-Fitr prayers at the Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque in Istanbul.
Mosques in North Macedonia, where most of the country’s ethnic Albanians are Muslim, were full on Thursday morning. Although media reported that some people wore no masks, the head of the Islamic Religious Community, IVZ, Reis Shekir Fetahu, said most believers had observed the safety regulations during the fast and on Thursday’s celebrations.
Muslim believers can celebrate the holiday freely in North Macedonia this year after the authorities lifted the usual overnight curfew just for this day.