Sunday 24th May was Eid al-Fitr, an Islamic celebration marking the end of Ramadan. This year, COVID-19 restricted many Muslims from celebrating Eid with their loved ones.
As a Muslim, my mother found this period especially difficult. This year is the first Eid ul Fitr without her mother, my grandmother, alive to celebrate with. On top of this, lockdown regulations brought her Eid plans to a standstill. My brother and I are not Muslims ourselves, yet we both felt her sadness. It was hard to watch her struggle with these circumstances.
Despite these unusual state of affairs, my family complied with social distancing rules. We still dressed up and ate food together in our household. We also took part in a Zoom call with family members all around the world. This was not the same as being around family. Despite the festivities, she still felt the loss of her mother deeply. It would have been beneficial for my family to be around each other for support. Still, we complied with the ‘Celebrate Eid at Home’ message promoted to British Muslims.
COVID-19 affects Black, Asian and Minority Ethnicities at a higher rate. 1 in 3 of the UK’s BAME community identifies as Muslim. Our government and media has a duty to tell British Muslims to celebrate at home. However, our government and media also has a responsibility to promote ‘Stay at Home’ messages to the rest of the UK. There is a discrepancy with the amount of advisory messages leading up to Eid, and the amount leading up to VE Day. This is not just hypocritical. This has greater repercussions on the way British society perceives Muslims.
Government social media accounts posted many ‘Stay at Home’ messages. They promoted these during Ramadan and before Eid. The Department of Health and Social Care and NHS England released these posts multiple times on Twitter. Public Health England even posted nine of these during Ramadan. Government organisations have been striving hard to promote their advice to British Muslims. Yet none of these accounts released advisory messages about VE Day’s specific risks. These messages are patronising to the many Muslims complying with lockdown rules.
Media outlets have a responsibility as well. The BBC released two online articles with the headlines:
The phrasing of these headlines is inadequate. The word ‘urge’ implies Muslims have collectively defied social distancing rules. This leads to the assumption that Muslims are not complying with lockdown regulations.
The BBC covered a VE Day street party in Portsmouth. They stated that those on screen were socially distancing. Social distancing means more than keeping 2 metres apart from each other. It relies on individuals staying inside, only leaving the house for essentials. It is clear from the video, that the enormous amount of people are not keeping in line with regulations. This is unreliable behaviour. The BBC are a broadcasting company with a responsibility to the British public. Reporting on a street party as though it were normal, leads the public to believe these actions are acceptable. There is one message for Muslims and another for the rest of Britain.
People see more ‘Celebrate At Home’ messages targeted at Muslims and headlines like the BBC’s. They then assume Muslims need these messages at a greater level, as they are not following the rules. This leads to the spread of the Islamophobic belief; that Muslims are responsible for spreading COVID-19.
This is particularly significant during this time. The Guardian reported in March, Tell Mama, a public support service that measures anti-Muslim incidents, recorded incidents of far right groups attempting to blame Muslims for spreading coronavirus. Following this, Tell Mama then exposed false claims of Muslims breaching lockdown by continuing to pray at mosques. On the 16th March, The Muslim Council of Britain called for the suspension of all congregational activities at UK mosques and Islamic centres. This was a week before the government placed us under lockdown. At a time of togetherness, this has been hard for many Muslims.
When I called my grandfather on Eid, he told me he was distressed. Ever since he was a boy, he, along with friends and family, would go to their local mosque for the communal Eid prayer. Focusing on similar prayers brought his friends and family closer together. For him, this is not only prayer, it is a tradition going back decades. Unable to take part in Eid prayers had a demoralising effect on him. Yet as an at risk individual, he understood the reasons behind staying at home. He co-operated fully with lockdown guidelines. Many Muslims know that they, or their loved ones are in the at risk category. They will obviously follow social distancing regulations to protect their loved ones.
The Stay Alert/At Home message is important. Our government was right to deliver these messages regularly. However, these messages became patronising, as they were not given to the rest of Britain. Bradford and Weston-Super Mare are areas that saw more coronavirus cases after VE Day. It is clear the same message promoted to Muslims should have been given to those celebrating VE Day. After street parties and Cummingsgate; we could have driven to our loved ones in defiance. At a time when my mother and grandfather needed comforts of prayer and family, they chose to remain at home.
Far-right groups are spreading the idea that Muslims are flouting lockdown rules. Fake news is easily believed and if we are not careful, it can shape our internal belief system. Our media and government has to ensure they do not contribute to Islamophobia as well. The welfare of British Muslims depends on it.
Words By Rosh Ilyas