LONDON: Muslims in England have been allowed to pray shoulder to shoulder for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began, after health restrictions were eased nationwide in time for the beginning of Eid Al-Adha.
Mohammed Arif of the Walsall Union of Muslim Organisations said: “We’re actually having two celebrations in one: One is the Eid celebration, the other one is freedom — to be able to come together, stand shoulder to shoulder, and see friends and family that people haven’t seen for a long, long time.”
The group hosted an Eid event in a public park for the first time to bring worshippers outside, where the risk of COVID-19 infection is lower.
Thousands of Muslims attended Victoria Park Eid prayers in Leicester. But in Birmingham, an annual celebration that usually attracts more than 50,000 was canceled for the second year in a row, with the organizers — Green Lane Masjid — choosing to host four separate indoor prayers and one 500-person outdoor event.
The outdoor event took place at Edgbaston Cricket Ground, a prominent stadium that hosts the national cricket team.
It was the first time that a mosque offered congregational prayers in the grounds, marking a major milestone for the local Muslim community.
The events hosted by Green Lane Masjid also marked the first time local Muslims had experienced prayers without health rules in place since the start of the pandemic.
“We had discussions with Public Health England. Some of our doctors are seeing rising infections … and we decided that it was probably not in the public interest for us to do it just yet,” said the mosque’s CEO Kamran Hussain.
“It’s a bit strange after such a long time for everybody to be praying shoulder to shoulder, and obviously we’ve created space for people who still want to social distance.”
Hussain added that safety measures such as mask wearing and hand washing would still be encouraged.
“The lifting of restrictions has come just at the right time for us. This is the fourth Eid prayer during the pandemic, and this is the first one where we’re getting some real level of normality now,” he said.
Eid Al-Adha, which means “festival of the sacrifice,” takes place on Tuesday for the majority of Muslims, although some mark the event a day later. It follows Eid Al-Fitr, which took place amid health restrictions earlier this year.
“We’ve taken some comfort from football and cricket games where there’ve been large crowds, but we’re asking people to still take precautions. People can still bring masks if they wish,” said Arif, adding that a vaccination bus near the prayer event encouraged younger people to receive jabs.
London Central Mosque spokesman Monir Ahmad said: “We’re still going to follow the restrictions — we’re not all of a sudden just open doors and everything is back to normal, even though technically that’s allowed.”
He added: “We’re just doing the best practices to stay safe because we know the numbers (of COVID-19 infections) are going up and ethnic communities are more adversely affected.”