October 26th, 2012
10:02 AM ET
By Salma Abdelaziz, CNN
"There is no Eid here. What are you even talking about? How can you have Eid amid shelling? May God watch over us. We have rockets falling over us. The situation is horrific. Eid has no meaning for us," Abu Fouz, a 48-year-old resident of Aleppo, told CNN.
Eid al-Adha, literally meaning The Feast of Sacrifice, is one of two major holidays in Islam. It commemorates millions completing the holy pilgrimage called the Hajj to Saudi Arabia. It marks the Prophet Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son for God.
"During Eid, Muslims traditionally slaughter animals and give the meat to poor people. This is the communal aspect of the holiday to give charity, food and meat to the poor and needy. Due to the civil war in Syria, Eid is essentially suspended because the constant killing and violence results in a breakdown of society," Akbar Ahmed, former Pakistani ambassador to the United Kingdom, said.
About 19 months since anti-government demonstrations in the southern city of Daraa sparked a nationwide uprising and a military crackdown to quash dissent, the ancient country is still mired in a civil war that has claimed the lives of an estimated 30,000 people, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Markets across the Middle East are generally flooded with customers as families purchase new clothes and gifts for relatives and prepare large feasts for Eid al-Adha, but the Syrian civil war has destroyed the country's once-vibrant economy.
"We feel like we are in a large prison. Yesterday, the markets were attacked and many business raided by Syrian security forces. Dozens of men were arrested. We cannot celebrate with so many dead and missing and the constant shelling," said Alaa, a resident of Idlib who refused to giver her full name for personal safety reasons.
The World Food Programme says that up to 3 million people are expected to be in need of food over the coming year and in areas of ongoing armed conflict, civilians lack basic needs such as electricity, water and food supplies.
"There will be no sweets this year. We don't even have bread. People stand in line from 3 a.m. to 7 a.m. just to buy a bag of bread, which now costs almost double," Jelan, a college student in Idlib city, told CNN.
The Syrian government announced it will suspend military operations from Friday morning to Monday as part of an Eid al-Adha cease-fire, but "reserves its right to respond" to attacks.
"There are reports that the regime is planning to bomb Homs. Army defectors provided intelligence to the opposition that the Syrian government may use car bombs. So many civilians are very scared about Eid and what the cease-fire may bring," said Saleem Kabbani, a member of the Local Coordination Committees in Homs.
The adha, or sacrifice, is the central tenant of Eid al-Adha, requiring all Muslims with the financial freedom to do so to sacrifice an animal. It's typically a goat or lamb, and they distribute its meat to the poor. The tradition stems from Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son for God, who according to the Muslim holy book, the Quran, provided a lamb in the boy's place.
"Eid is a time of happiness for Muslims, but we do not have this happiness. Many have lost relatives and loved ones. You cannot find happiness in any Syrian home. You hear everyone saying Eid will come when we have victory over this regime," Jelan said.
In the days before Eid al-Adha, millions of Muslims from around the world flock to Saudi Arabia to complete a four-day pilgrimage called the Hajj, which according to Islam must be completed by each able-bodied believer at least once in a lifetime.
"This is considered the big Eid, so it is a time of unity for the Muslim world. Muslims throughout the world are very conscious of Syrians being killed by other Syrians, and there will be many prayers for the victims that evoke a lot of sympathy and sorrow," Ahmed said.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's relentless military campaign to silence rebellion pushed the opposition to militarize and eventually create the rebel Free Syrian Army, a fragmented group of fighters with few resources and little international support that has managed to make modest gains.
"In the liberated areas, we will try to pass out toys to the kids to give them a sense of normalcy. Many of the children are in an awful mental state, and many are always scared and have constant nightmares. We hope we can get them out of this environment for just one day," Kabbani said.
The Free Syrian Army, which controls a portion of Homs, hosts nearly 200,000 displaced people packed in schools, orphanages and family apartments. Activists, including Kabbani, organized a fundraiser to purchase enough animals to slaughter for Eid and feed hundreds of families in need.
"When we told them they would receive a portion of the adha (sacrifice) for Eid, many were overjoyed, but we could see tears in their eyes. It is difficult to think they are homeless and cannot celebrate because their own government did this to them," Kabbani said.
About 1 million children inside Syria are affected by the conflict and an additional 100,000 children have been displaced to neighboring countries, according to UNICEF.
"This could have a devastating psychological effect on children. The most joyous occasions for children are these particular holidays when you're being given gifts and extra attention from relatives. For Eid to be disrupted, this means normal life has ceased to exist," Ahmed said.
Eid is a joyous occasion meant to celebrate the sacrifices already made during the adha and holy pilgrimage, but for many Syrians, sacrifice is a daily obligation imposed by a bloody war with no immediate resolution.
"The children do not even ask for presents, and even when they get something new, they are not very excited. My little brother is always watching the massacres on television and understands what is happening. You feel here even the children's hearts have died, and they do not have happiness," Jelan said.
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