The Coronavirus pandemic has meant drastic changes for the Muslim community in how they observe the month of Ramadan.
Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar during which Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, it is a time of prayer and reflection.
It is often a communal occasion when families come together to pray and eat after sunset which of course due to social distancing guidelines, is not allowed.
Ilyas Esmail, member of the Jamea Masjid Mosque on Clarendon Street, explains the choices that were made by the Mosques of Preston when the pandemic began:
“So this all began just before the month of Ramadan, so the Mosques of Preston got together to discuss what should be done and how we can help to ensure COVID-19 doesn’t spread,
“So we decided to limit the number of people going into the Mosque because on an average prayer you are probably talking about 100 people a day at each Mosque. Within 24 hours, we got together again and decided as a Preston Muslim society to shut all our Mosques.”
The decision to close all Preston Mosques was not an easy decision to make and was met with some controversy:
“We got a bit of backlash from Mosques around the country saying ‘you’ve not been told to do it, why are you doing it?’ but we took upon ourselves to do what we can to help. You won’t believe how tough that decision was to make, we were fighting with our belief as Muslims to shut the doors of the house of God, seriously I can’t describe it,
“I was talking with our committee members saying ‘how are we making this decision? what are we basing it on?’ but we decided this is what needs to be done. Within about 48 hours, the message from the government came that we had to shut the doors anyway with social distancing guidelines in place.”
In Islam, the Friday prayer is considered a religious obligation, Ilyas explains it’s importance and the impact of closing the Mosque doors has had:
“The afternoon Friday prayer is a non-missable prayer, you can do other prayers from at home but Friday prayer is of paramount importance but people were told ‘stay at home’ even for that one, if you miss three Friday prayers in a row, your standing as a Muslim in Islam is questioned, not between individuals but with your creator, so you can see how tough this was.”
The closure of the Mosques has meant a completely different Ramadan for Muslims worldwide:
“In Ramadan, the majority of the day for Muslims from the afternoon onwards until the early hours of the morning is spent at the Mosque, everything stopped, nothing is happening, everybody is in their own homes. Ramadan this year has been totally different, not just here, but for the rest of the world.”
Ilyas explains the Muslim belief system and how they are dealing with this pandemic:
“Within the Muslim community the belief is everything that happens is the will of God, so this virus? the will of God. Everybody knows they are going to die at some point, so if it’s your time that’s it, whether it’s a road accident, a heart attack or COVID-19, whatever it is, that was your time and I think for Muslims that is a comforting thing.”