By Zain Zaman Janjua
ISLAMABAD (AFP) -- Muslims across Asia have packed out markets as they prepare for the annual Eid al-Fitr holiday, ignoring coronavirus guidelines even as infections rise.
The celebration, the most important in the Muslim calendar marking the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, is preceded by a rush to buy new clothes, gifts and sweet treats for loved ones.
It is expected to begin over the weekend in most countries, and Sunday or Monday in Pakistan, depending on when the new moon is sighted.
Despite the deadly risk posed by the virus, shoppers in Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia and Afghanistan pressed on.
"For over two months my children were homebound," said Ishrat Jahan, a mother of four, at a bustling market in the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi.
"This feast is for the kids, and if they can't celebrate it with new garments there is no point in us working so hard throughout the year."
Federal and provincial authorities in Pakistan have sent out mixed messages since the first infections were recorded in February.
Prime Minister Imran Khan was reluctant to impose a strict lockdown, fearful of the economic damage restrictions would wreak on the impoverished country.
A patchy shutdown has been gradually eased ahead of Eid even as cases steadily rise, with domestic travel restarting and some businesses allowed to reopen.
"Because of the lockdown things (to buy) have piled up," Sana Ahmed told AFP at a market in the eastern city of Lahore.
"Stores will be closed again during Eid so I must get this shopping done. We can't remain locked up at home forever, life has to go on."
While most upmarket stores and malls in the city have enforced hygiene and social distancing rules, such measures are virtually impossible to implement in the bazaars used by most Pakistanis.
Markets were full in Peshawar and Quetta -- cities close to the border with Afghanistan -- though vendors in the southern metropolis of Karachi complained of a lack of customers.
In the Afghan capital Kabul, shoppers -- only some wearing protective face masks and gloves -- thronged busy markets stocking up on spices and buying new colourful headscarves for the celebrations.
"This virus is very dangerous but people do not take quarantine very seriously. Ahead of Eid, people go out a lot," said a shopper.
In Indonesia, many shoppers defied lockdown orders in the world's biggest Muslim-majority country, even as police attempted to disperse large groups.
"I was afraid but I pushed myself to go because I really want to have new dresses," said Siti Nesya at a market in Cianjur district in West Java province.
Shoppers remained cautious in Malaysia, however, where businesses have been allowed to reopen.
"This year there is no atmosphere at all. People are afraid to come out," said Zawiyah Othman, who sells headscarves in the capital Kuala Lumpur.
"People are saving money. It is so different."
Major Muslim countries such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Syria have already banned the mass gatherings for Eid prayers, but Pakistan's government has yet to make a decision.
Pakistan has given into religious pressure by allowing daily prayers and evening congregations at mosques throughout the fasting of Ramadan.
Prime minister Khan urged people to be more circumspect, telling the nation to celebrate this year's Eid "differently".