Coronavirus has impacted us all; made us overcome challenges we did not expect or envisage as we started the year 2020. But this has been the will of Allah Almighty. The moment we recognise that Allah, the All-Powerful, is our true refuge we find comfort, and that’s what we did in 2020. If I take it back to earlier this year….
Start of Lockdown
When lockdown was first announced in March, I was among many faith and community leaders who worked tirelessly to action new guidelines to ensure everyone’s safety. Mosques and other places of worship were closed, which presented a challenge for us all, because for so many, places of worship are safe havens and a chance to see loved ones. Mosques did exemplary work in following the covid-19 restrictions and raising awareness about PHE and government guidelines as well as providing various services to communities affected by COVID-19.
The leadership shown by many Imams in holding their communities together and mobilising them for the good of the wider society highlights the vital role they play in our communities. Imams continued to provide religious and spiritual guidance online.
Ramadan & Hajj in Lockdown
When lockdown was at its most severe, Ramadan was upon us. Fasting in Ramadan, usually a time for self-reflection, to remember our shared humanity, dedicated time for us to spend with family, friends, and neighbours but like all religious celebrations this year, it was undoubtedly different. Mosques were closed and fasting, congregational praying and Iftars that are a key part of Ramadan were done behind closed doors with Eid al-Fitr unable to be properly celebrated. A frustrating and painful time for many but the protection of human life was the shared priority across the country, and indeed throughout the world.
Being distant from the outside world and the loss of our usual social interactions was extremely difficult, and this year, staying at home was everyone’s sacrifice and one of the ways the Muslim community supported the national effort to tackle the pandemic. Muslims were among those on the frontline of the NHS and emergency services, but unfortunately, were also among the first to lose their lives.
Although there was a lot of positive to come out of this. Muslim volunteers give up their time to support their community, for example by delivering food to the NHS workers, or offering mosque space to be used by the local hospital. A significant part of Islam is giving to charitable causes, or those less fortunate than us and this year, because we could not celebrate Ramadan in the same way, a lot of the Muslim community were donating the money they would have ordinarily spent in organising a community Iftar to their local foodbank.
Later in the summer, Hajj came around, an annual pilgrimage for Muslims that is known as a transformative and reinvigorating experience, but there was a sense of deflation as restrictions were placed on Hajj for the first time.
But it was Eid-al-Adha that caused the most disappointment and upset, as celebrations were restricted the night before. As we saw during Ramadan, Muslims were scapegoated, and we did not want the same rhetoric to overshadow the sacrifice Muslims once again made for Eid and Hajj.
But Muslims were not alone in experiencing loss and disappointment. Many other prominent religious festivals and even Christmas has had to be marked differently this year.
Islamophobia During Lockdown
However, even during such unprecedented times, some continued to spread hatred of Muslims. We were warned before Ramadan started that far right groups might exploit concerns around coronavirus to provoke divisions within communities, and this is exactly what they tried to do. The Independent Members of the Government’s Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group formulated a report highlighting how on social media historical footage of when mosques were still open was being used to support claims that Muslims were violating lockdowns and that cases of coronavirus would increase during Ramadan. In the most extreme instances, these claims came with abuse calling for the destruction of mosques. Hope not Hate polling suggests that 17% of Britons think that “British Muslims are keeping mosques open in contravention of the Government’s lockdown rules”, with a further 26% unsure.
This understandably worried and heightened fear among the Muslim community. No one, or one group should be unnecessarily targeted or marginalised. But communities stood together during this time of extreme unease. Communities committed to show those who seek to divide us that we will not turn on each other and instead stand together to get through Coronavirus as safely as possible, as one society.
Interfaith Solidarity in Lockdown
There has been talk of divided communities with worrying increases of hate crime, tensions about lockdown and abhorrent acts of terror in the name of faith in our neighbouring countries. Places of worship have been restricted and religious festivals such as Eids, Christmas Rosh Hashanah, Diwali and amongst others have not been celebrated as they would have.
As a faith leader while concerned about these tensions and frustrations, communities have pulled together in a way that rarely makes the headlines during times of heightened fear and uncertainty. Joint efforts made by faith & belief leaders as well faith institutions to support the vulnerable have been incredibly inspiring and fulfilling an important role in society. Faiths United, a coalition of faith leaders and activists responding to the COVID-19 crisis, representing all nine major faiths, provided a very useful forum for faith communities to discuss how they have been coping with the COVID-19 pandemic, to share best practices, and to drive joint responses.
We must celebrate and promote that which binds us together, but equally challenge and debate the issues that may lead to division.
To the future
While 2020 has been the most unprecedented and unpredictable year, from experience, we all have a much deeper appreciation of each other. 2020 also brought out the best in us: our sense of kinship, our spirit of community and sacrifice for the common good. The spirit of co-operation between governments, companies, scientists and communities around the world reinforced our belief in ‘togetherness’. 2020 made us more environmentally conscious. A study showed that 2020 had the biggest fall in carbon dioxide emissions since World War II.
Without doubt, the traditional model of operating mosques has been considerably affected by Covid-19 pandemic. But at the same time the pandemic has presented opportunities for us to re-consider our impact and priorities, our income streams and infrastructures. The mosque leadership must grasp this opportunity and make space for young people and women in our mosques as well on our management boards, and invest in online services to keep our mosques truly inclusive, relevant and vibrant institutions in coming years.
There are many reasons to be optimistic heading into the new year. I am hopeful that the development of vaccines means that next year will bring a dawn of new hopes. God-willing, 2021 will be a prosperous and fruitful year for everyone. I am looking forward to a post-pandemic future with much optimism!
May Allah Almighty grant us relief from covid-19 and such pandemics. May the Merciful forgive our loved ones who passed away during 2020 and grant us all His Mercy and Grace. We pray for health and well-being, and hope for peace, justice, and compassion for everyone around the world.
Dr Qari Asim, MBE
Chair, Mosques & Imams National Advisory Board and Senior Editor ImamsOnline.