Community spirit returns to UK’s mosques as Muslims enjoy easing of lockdown for Ramadan

Community spirit returns to UK’s mosques as Muslims enjoy easing of lockdown for Ramadan
Worshippers pray at the East London Mosque & London Muslim Center in London, England. (Supplied)
Short Url
Updated 22 April 2021

Community spirit returns to UK’s mosques as Muslims enjoy easing of lockdown for Ramadan

Community spirit returns to UK’s mosques as Muslims enjoy easing of lockdown for Ramadan
  • Gloom lifted after last year’s holy month fell during strict anti-coronavirus measures
  • Faithful revel in return to communal worship as restrictions eased across Britain

LONDON: British Muslims have expressed their joy and relief at being able to worship communally in mosques after lockdown restrictions eased in time for Ramadan.
Last year, the holy month came as the UK and many parts of the world shut down amid the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
Muslims were forced to stay at home during Ramadan, a month usually characterized by worshipping with others and community gatherings. Many felt isolated and disconnected from their communities and routines as thousands of people died from the virus around them.
Striking images of the Grand Mosque in Makkah bereft of pilgrims and worshippers during Ramadan 2020 sent shockwaves through Muslim communities across the world.
“The most prominent image that I can think of (during the pandemic) is seeing the completely empty Grand Mosque in Makkah, an image that resonated with Muslims around the whole world,” the CEO of the Council of British Hajjis, Rashid Mogradia, said. “I never imagined that would happen during my lifetime or ever for that matter. It was quite upsetting.
“We took life and simple things like going to the mosque for granted.”
Although the pandemic is not over and the UK has lost 127,000 people to COVID-19 since it started, Ramadan 2021 is very different to last year.
Several vaccines against the virus have been developed in record time and more than ten million people have been inoculated in the UK so far, providing some protection and reassurance to society’s most vulnerable.
Lockdown restrictions in the UK eased on March 29, two weeks before the start of Ramadan. Unlike last year, communal prayer in mosques is allowed as places of worship were not required to close during the lockdown announced in January. However, strict precautionary measures have been in place to curb the spread of the virus.
Social distancing is being enforced, face masks must be worn, individual prayer mats and shoe bags used, and people are encouraged to perform ablution at home.
Only dates and bottled water are provided for iftar instead of full meals, and the length of the taraweeh prayer has been shortened.
“Ramadan 2021 is massively different to Ramadan 2020. There is an appreciation of the fact that you can enter mosques, break your fast and pray taraweeh,” Mogradia said.
“The mosques seem to look fuller than usual. That’s probably down to the fact that everyone is bringing their prayer mats and the social distancing. I am also seeing a lot more new faces at my local mosque. Those who didn’t come to the mosque as often are now attending, and that might stem from an appreciation for being able to perform prayers in the mosque. That’s really nice,” he said.
People in the UK are still not able to mix indoors with people they do not live with or who are not in their support bubble. This means that extended family iftar gatherings, a celebrated Ramadan tradition, are off the table.
However, Muslims are able to worship as a community during Ramadan 2021 and this has returned a partial sense of normality to the holy month. It has caused a surge in optimism and people feel less isolated and lonely because they are able to pray together and break their fasts, albeit briefly, with each other in the mosque.
“This time last year we were all on lockdown and we had to worship at home. Ramadan is about communal worship: Iftars and performing prayers and taraweeh together — that is back. We are able to move around and exchange Ramadan dishes with the neighbors,” Mogradia said.
“That whole community spirit is coming back and we actually feel as though Ramadan is here. Last year, we were confined to our houses. We are grateful that we have been given this opportunity. It also makes you reflect on how many people have passed away. It’s a great blessing to be able to partake in Ramadan again,” he added.
The secretary of Waltham Forest Council of Mosques (WFCOM), Said Looch, said that mosques have been working tirelessly to ensure the safety of their congregations and that COVID-19 precautionary measures are in place.
“From the mosques’ perspective, there has been a lot more preparation compared to previous Ramadans because of the precautionary measures that need to be put in place to ensure that worshippers are safe and following guidelines and protocol set by the government. Mosques have been working really hard to accommodate their local communities and we still want people to enjoy coming to their local places of worship,” Looch said.
He said that although communal prayer is back this Ramadan, sharing big iftar meals in the traditional sense is what a lot of people are still missing.
“Normally for iftar, huge mats are laid out and people bring lots of food to the mosque and everyone sits together. Sometimes you sit with your friends and at other times you share a meal with a complete stranger and become friends,” Looch said.
He said that keeping a one-meter gap between worshippers has reduced capacity by 60-70 percent in some mosques this Ramadan, and this has led to a change in ambience.
“Normally, when we pray in congregation, there is a real sense of brotherhood because you stand shoulder to shoulder with the next person. Now, there is a lot of space between people and so there is a different atmosphere,” Looch explained.
“The mosques are open but they are not fully functioning,” he added.
Looch said that despite all the restrictions to protect worshippers, mosques are trying to make people feel comfortable.
“We hope worshippers will get a spiritual upliftment from the mosque and that they feel like they have benefitted and want to come back again.
He added that a few Muslims had told him they had been more productive spiritually during Ramadan 2020 because they could worship at their own pace.
The media and communications manager for East London Mosque & London Muslim Center, Khizar Mohammad, said that although London’s busiest mosque is open this Ramadan, taraweeh prayers will be markedly different.
“The prayer will be shorter in duration, and people will be allowed to enter the mosque 20 minutes before and will be required to leave as soon as it is over. Volunteers encourage people not to socialize outside the mosque as they usually would,” he said.
Mohammad said that the popular mosque, which sees some 7,000 worshippers descend on it from around London on the first night of Ramadan for taraweeh prayers, will only be able to accommodate about 1,600 people due to social distancing measures this year.

Related


German report reveals how Iran uses proliferation to smuggle illegal goods

German report reveals how Iran uses proliferation to smuggle illegal goods
Updated 54 min 43 sec ago

German report reveals how Iran uses proliferation to smuggle illegal goods

German report reveals how Iran uses proliferation to smuggle illegal goods
  • The report states that Iran creates state-controlled “neutral” companies to hide the true nature of the purchase from buyers
  • Iran also uses “detour deliveries over ‘third states’ in order not to identify the final buyer”

DUBAI: An intelligence report from Germany revealed on Friday details of how the Islamic Republic uses proliferation techniques to smuggle illicit technology for deadly weapons.
“Proliferation-relevant countries such as Iran, North Korea and Syria, but also Pakistan, try to circumvent safety precautions and legal export regulations and to disguise illegal procurement activities. To do this, they turn to mostly conspiratorial means and methods,” wrote the intelligence agency in northernmost state of Schleswig-Holstein,” the report explains.
“Proliferation is still one of the central tasks of counter-espionage in Schleswig-Holstein,” the report adds.
According to the agency, proliferation is the “spread of weapons of mass destruction (ABC weapons) and the necessary know-how, as well as the products used for their manufacture and associated carrier technologies.”
ABC commonly refers to atomic, biological and chemical weapons.
The report states that Iran creates state-controlled “neutral” companies to hide the true nature of the purchase from buyers and establishes “illegal procurement networks which belong to the front companies and middlemen.”
Iran also uses “detour deliveries over ‘third states’ in order not to identify the final buyer” and “the use and misuse of inexperienced freight deliverers and transporters,” the report added.
Iran also breaks down the deliveries of illegal deliveries into several “individual non-suspicious deliveries to avoid exposing the entire business.” 
The report also said that Iran “conceals the end user” and the “individual, company or institution with which the goods ultimately remain.”
The report cited Iran 19 times in the 218-page report, covering security threats to the state’s democracy.
It also said that states such as Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Syria and Russia strive to acquire dual-use goods, items which have both civil and military use.
“Proliferation is a serious threat to security in many regions of the world, including the Federal Republic of Germany and thus for the state of Schleswig-Holstein. The Federal Republic of Germany is one of the most important export nations in the world. The export of military as well as civilian goods are subject therefore to special control,” the report added.


China says ‘extremely low’ risk of damage on Earth from rocket re-entry

China says ‘extremely low’ risk of damage on Earth from rocket re-entry
Updated 07 May 2021

China says ‘extremely low’ risk of damage on Earth from rocket re-entry

China says ‘extremely low’ risk of damage on Earth from rocket re-entry

BEIJING: China said Friday the risk of damage on Earth from a rocket which fell out of orbit after separating from Beijing's space station was "extremely low", after the United States warned it could crash down onto an inhabited area.
Foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said "most of the components will be destroyed by ablation during the re-entry" into the atmosphere and "the probability of causing harm to aviation activities or people... on the ground is extremely low".


Australia to end ban on citizens returning from India

Australia to end ban on citizens returning from India
Updated 07 May 2021

Australia to end ban on citizens returning from India

Australia to end ban on citizens returning from India
  • Scott Morrison this week barred all travel from India, fearing a large number of COVID-positive arrivals
  • The prime minister’s move stranded an estimated 9,000 Australian citizens

SYDNEY: Australia will not extend a controversial ban on citizens returning from COVID-hit India, the prime minister said Friday following widespread public outrage.
Scott Morrison this week barred all travel from India, fearing a large number of COVID-positive arrivals would overwhelm Australia’s already strained quarantine facilities.
The move stranded an estimated 9,000 Australian citizens and threatened them with large fines and jail time if they tried to dodge the ban and return on non-direct flights.
The conservative prime minister on Friday said that the measures would remain in place until May 15 as planned, but then repatriation flights could resume.
“The determination was designed to be a temporary measure and the medical advice... is that it will be safe to allow it to expire as planned on 15 May,” he said.
Three flights are being planned to return the most vulnerable Australians still in India, bringing them to a remote Outback quarantine facility.
No decision has been taken yet on whether commercial flights will also resume.
Morrison’s ban caused widespread outrage, with even allies describing it as racist and an abandonment of vulnerable Australians overseas.
He had already walked back the threats to prosecute returning Australians, saying it was “highly unlikely” the punishment would ever be meted out.
The legality of the ban is being challenged in federal court, with a hearing set to take place on Monday.
Australia has no widespread community transmission of COVID-19, but has seen several outbreaks emerge from hotel quarantine facilities, causing disruptive city lockdowns.
Since March 2020, Australians have been barred from traveling overseas and a hard-to-get individual exemption is needed for foreign visitors to enter the country.


India’s coronavirus surge pressures Narendra Modi to impose strict lockdown

India’s coronavirus surge pressures Narendra Modi to impose strict lockdown
Updated 07 May 2021

India’s coronavirus surge pressures Narendra Modi to impose strict lockdown

India’s coronavirus surge pressures Narendra Modi to impose strict lockdown
  • Lockdown seems to be the only option with the virus raging in cities and towns
  • On Friday, India recorded a new record of 414,188 confirmed cases in the past 24 hours

NEW DELHI: With coronavirus cases still surging to record levels, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is facing growing pressure to impose a harsh nationwide lockdown amid a debate whether restrictions imposed by individual states are enough.
Many medical experts, opposition leaders and some of the Supreme Court judges have suggested the lockdown seems to be the only option with the virus raging in cities and towns, where hospitals are forced to turn patients away while relatives scramble to find oxygen. Crematoriums and burial grounds are struggling to handle the dead.
On Friday, India recorded a new record of 414,188 confirmed cases in the past 24 hours. Its tally has risen to more than 21.4 million since the pandemic began with faint hopes of the curve going down quickly. The Health Ministry also reported 3,915 additional deaths, bringing the total to 234,083. Experts believe both figures are an undercount.
The official daily death count has stayed over 3,000 for the past 10 days.
Over the past month, nearly a dozen out of India’s 28 federal states have announced less stringent restrictions than the nationwide lockdown imposed for two months in March last year.
Modi, who held consultations with top elected leaders and officials of the worst-hit states on Thursday, has so far left the responsibility for fighting the virus to poorly equipped state governments.
Dr. Randeep Guleria, a government health expert, said a complete, aggressive lockdown is needed in India just like last year, especially in areas where more than 10 percent of those tested have contracted COVID-19.
Srinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation of India, a public-private consultancy, acknowledged that different states were experiencing different intensities of the epidemic, but said a “coordinated countrywide strategy” was still needed.
According to Reddy, decisions need to be based on local conditions but should be closely coordinated by the center. “Like an orchestra which plays the same sheet music but with different instruments,” he said.
Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, also suggested that a complete shutdown in India may be needed two to four weeks to help ease the surge of infections.
“As soon as the cases start coming down, you can vaccinate more people and get ahead of the trajectory of the outbreak of the pandemic,” Fauci said in an interview with the Indian television CNN News18 news channel on Thursday. He did not provide specifics of what a shutdown should entail.
He said it appears there are at least two types of virus variants circulating in India. He said B117, which is the UK variant, tends to be concentrated in New Delhi and that the 617 variant is concentrated in the worst-hit western Maharashtra state.
“Both of those have increasing capability of transmitting better and more efficiently than the original Wuhan strain a year ago,” Fauci said.
Modi imposed a two-month stringent lockdown last year on four hours’ notice. It stranded tens of millions of migrant workers who were left jobless and fled to villages with many dying along the way. Experts say the decision helped contain the virus and bought time for the government.
Modi’s policy of selected lockdowns is being supported by some experts, including Vineeta Bal, a scientist at the National Institute of Immunology. She said different states have different needs, and local particularities need to be taken into account for any policy to work.
In most instances, in places where health infrastructure and expertise are good, localized restrictions at the level of a state, or even a district, are a better way to curb the spread of infections, said Bal. “A centrally mandated lockdown will just be inappropriate,” she said.
Dr. Yogesh Jain Ganiyari of the Peoples Health Support Group, a low-cost public health program in the central state of Chhattisgarh, said that scientifically, lockdowns are the most effective way of curbing infections.
“But we don’t live in a lab. We need to take into account the humanitarian aspect,” said Ganiyari. “Those who look at lockdowns just as disease control mechanisms are heartless. You have to think about the people.”


4 people freed from ongoing Minnesota bank robbery standoff

4 people freed from ongoing Minnesota bank robbery standoff
Updated 07 May 2021

4 people freed from ongoing Minnesota bank robbery standoff

4 people freed from ongoing Minnesota bank robbery standoff
  • Police officials initially said an unspecified number of hostages were being held by a male suspect.

ST. CLOUD, Minnesota: A standoff between Minnesota police and an alleged hostage-taker continued into the evening Thursday despite the release of four bank employees.
Three women and a man were released from a Wells Fargo Bank branch in St. Cloud, according to authorities. The first woman ran from the bank toward members of a SWAT team with her hands up. After being searched, she was escorted to safety. Two women and a man later emerged from the bank and were led to safety.
It wasn’t immediately clear if other bank employees were being held against their will.
The incident began around 1:45 p.m. Thursday, with a report to police of a robbery in progress. Law enforcement officials initially said an unspecified number of hostages were being held by a male suspect. Police said negotiations were continuing with the suspect, and there were no reports of injuries.
St. Cloud resident Abdi Kadir told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune he was in the bank drive-through when the teller hurriedly told him to leave. As he drove off, he saw people running out the bank’s front door, he said.
“We recognize this is a traumatic moment for the community and our colleagues,” Wells Fargo said in a statement. Company spokeswoman Staci Schiller confirmed “a hostage situation” at the bank’s south branch. She said bank officials are cooperating with local law enforcement and will do whatever they can to assist the authorities.
Two armored vehicles were stationed near the bank’s front door along with several armed officers. Police moved onlookers away from the bank, but a crowd gathered across the street to watch the drama unfold.