by Hassan Saad
Covid-19 doesn’t discriminate, but the accumulating evidence suggests that it is having disproportionate impact on ethnic minorities, who are more likely to live in extended family structures, increasing the risk of transmission between relatives, and are more reliant on community centres and places of worship. Amongst those communities being worst affected are Muslims, who make up a disproportionately large number of staff in the NHS and in other frontline services such as transport. We have seen this play out in the fact that out of the nineteen NHS staff who are reported to have died as of last week, nine were Muslim.
These statistics tell us is that in addition to being disproportionately affected as victims, Muslims are also actively involved in the response to this crisis. Mosques have been at the centre of this response. Early on in the outbreak, many mosques across the country recognised the public health risk of large congregations and accordingly took the decision to close, well before Boris’ announcement. Some mosques have gone even further in serving the public interest, for example Masjid Ghousia in Bolton, which has offered to convert its premises into a temporary shelter to help relieve some of the burden on the NHS. Other mosques are expected to follow their example.
Mosques will face their biggest test this week, with Ramadan scheduled to begin on 23rd April. Ramadan is usually a communal affair, with regular gatherings in the mosque to break fast and pray together. This spirit leads mosque attendances to soar well beyond their usual levels; the increased intensification of worship is something which Muslims look forward to all year long.
Muslim community leaders have been working with mosques around the country to ensure that they remain closed throughout the month, and are equipped to make use of available technologies to provide alternatives services to their congregations during the month.
Harris Bokhari, who has been instrumental in getting Mosques closed during this crisis and a leading campaigner to keep Muslims at home this Ramadan said “Mosque leaders across the country showed real leadership and concern for public health to take early action and close their premises. They recognise the challenge posed by Ramadan, and myself and others are working with them to ensure they stay closed and can still provide a meaningful service to their congregations, who at this time are in greater need of these services than ever before.”
Nonetheless, Muslims, along with others, have and will continue to die in large numbers. This in itself is a logistical challenge, as according to Islamic Law, burials need to be conducted swiftly and come with a range of rituals which take on a huge amount of significant for the families.
The Muslim Council of Britain has been at the forefront of bringing Muslims together to deal with a range of issues, including the coordination of burials, but also supporting the Muslim charity sector, working with mental health charities, and helping Muslims deal with unemployment and access government schemes.
Harun Khan, Secretary General of the MCB commented “This is the greatest challenge our society has collectively faced since World War Two. Back then, hundreds of thousands of Muslims were on the frontlines risking their lives to protect Britain. Once again in a time of crisis, Muslims find themselves on the frontlines– the way our communities across the country have responded has been nothing short of inspirational“. “.
The coming weeks and months will be challenging for all of us. Muslims in particular, will be heavily impacted, whilst simultaneously not having access to the usual mechanisms of community grieving, or indeed any form of the communal worship which is normally such an integral part of the month of Ramadan.
Nonetheless, having seen first-hand the stellar work being done on so many fronts by Muslim communities across the country, I am confident that we will pull through this.