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“It is like having a month of real hardship and toil without the celebration at the end. It does feel like a real sacrifice not to have the momentous occasion of Eid as we know it.”
Ali Amla sum up how thousands of Muslims across the UK will be feeling as they mark a very different Eid this weekend following a month of fasting during Ramadan.
Eid-al-Fitr is the date when Muslims worldwide celebrate the end of fasting and it is usually a joyous occasion filled with brightly-coloured new outfits, food and communal festivities. But the Covid-19 pandemic means people won’t be able to meet and interact with those outside their households this year.
Eid is traditionally marked with congregational prayers in mosques and parks followed by parties with family and friends. But mosques, like other places of worship, remain closed, while large gatherings are not yet permitted. So, Muslims are urged to observe the religious festival by praying within their household and celebrating virtually with family and friends instead.
“Eid has not been cancelled – we just have to celebrate it in a different way this year.”
“I am really going to miss going to the mosque for Eid prayers and that powerful feeling of solidarity after completing the month of Ramadan,” admits father-of-two Ali Amla, 40, who lives in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire. “But it is about changing your mindset. Eid has not been cancelled – we just have to celebrate it in a different way this year. It is about remembering the essence of Eid and finding what works for you.”
Although Amla knows his nine-year-old daughter and eight-year-old son will miss seeing their grandparents, cousins and aunties and uncles on Eid and that family feeling of togetherness, he is planning to virtually connect with his sisters and their families so everyone can still see each other.
“We are going to have an online get-together so we can still have a level of excitement at seeing others,” he says. “Food is a very important part of Eid and my children associate Eid with lamb biryani and mango lassi. So I will still be making a big pot of biryani and we will be baking and decorating the home and making it a fun and joyous day.”
Many Muslims are coming up with creative ways to mark Eid in lockdown. Raisah Ahmed, 34, who lives in Glasgow, spent two days baking Eid shortbread which she stunningly decorated with royal icing. She then packed her biscuits in boxes and dropped them off at the homes of family and friends – while wearing a mask and observing social distancing.
“Eid will be strange this year and a bit anticlimactic in some ways. But everyone understands why it needs to be this way and the most important thing is to keep everyone safe,” she tells HuffPost UK.
“We are still going to dress up in our Eid outfits and do henna painting on our hands. We just won’t have as much family around as we normally do.”
“It will just be a more low-key Eid and a day at being at home with the family you live with,” Ahmed says. ”We are still going to dress up in our Eid outfits and do henna painting on our hands. Any excuse for henna! We are going to put decorations up to mark Eid and make it joyous.
“We just won’t have as much family around as we normally do.”
Ahmed, a screenwriter and director, says that she feels lucky to live in a busy household with her parents, three sisters and five-year-old niece and two-year-old nephew so she will still be surrounded by family on Eid.
However, she has another sister who lives nearby with her husband and two daughters and says the family will miss being all together on Eid.
“I miss not being able to hug my other nieces and having physical contact with people. Eid is a reason for families to come together and nothing replaces being in the same room as someone,” says Ahmed.
They are planning on video calling each other and playing online games, she says – and there will still be lots of food involved. “My parents are still going to do all the Eid cooking and we will leave some food on my sister’s porch so we can at least eat the same food even if it isn’t together.”
Which is where the biscuits comes in. “I enjoy baking and have made cupcakes and traybakes on previous Eids,” says Ahmed. “Last year, I decided to make biscuits as they are not too heavy and you can enjoy them without spoiling your appetite for other Eid food. So I decided to make them again this year despite lockdown and drop them off for family and close friends.”
In the same way that Ramadan has been observed at home, the Muslim Council of Britain is urging Muslims to celebrate Eid in lockdown.
Harun Khan, the Muslim Council of Britain’s general secretary, says Muslims had shown great resolve throughout Ramadan, adapting to a different way of life by holding virtual iftars with friends and family and they now need to show the same attitude to Eid.
“Whilst Eid away from the mosques and from our loved ones is unprecedented and will be a source of great sadness in communities across the country, Muslim communities will adapt and find the best way to still celebrate this holy day while aligning to the latest guidance,” says Khan.
“Some will pray Eid prayers in families within their households and virtual gatherings can be arranged to still connect with loved ones.”
With lockdown restrictions now varying between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, specific guidance for each nation has been developed between the Muslim Council of Britain and its affiliates the Muslim Council of Scotland, the Muslim Council of Wales and Belfast Islamic Centre.
The variations in public health advice have been addressed: Muslims in England who are not self isolating are encouraged to go outdoors with other members of their household in accordance with the updated lockdown restrictions, while the main message in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland is to stay at home.
The guidance includes dos and don’ts such as encouraging people to wear their best clothes and perfume and enjoy a home cooked meal or takeaway at home, but not to visit family and friends in their homes, go to the mosque or gather in groups of two or more with people who are not from your household.
“As ever, everyone’s number one priority must be to help save lives and celebrating Eid at home is the best way to do this,” says Khan.
“We use this holy day to pray for the safety of our communities and our key workers and a swift end to this pandemic.”
In some places, such as in Preston, Lancashire, mosques will broadcast the symbolic Eid call to prayer by loudspeaker so people can hear it from their homes even though mosques will remain closed.
Matthew Brown, leader of Preston City Council says: “We are keenly aware of how difficult it has been for our Muslim communities who have not been able to come together, pray and break their fast, as is their tradition during Ramadan.
“While this is not a real replacement for time spent celebrating with family and friends, I am proud we are able to support the community and offer a small way to mark the occasion.
“We believe this unique event will be of interest to the whole community and illustrates the benefit of genuine dialogue with faith leaders through the pandemic.”
The NHS has also reinforced the safety advice with hospital trusts around the country sharing the message for Muslims to celebrate Eid at home.
Ali Amla says that with growing evidence that people from Black, Asian and ethnic minority (BAME) backgrounds are more adversely affected by coronavirus, the overwhelming majority of Muslims are abiding by the lockdown rules.
“The reality is, there will always be those that listen and those that don’t. But I am seeing and hearing that more people are sticking to the lockdown than not,” he tells HuffPost UK.
Amla says there has been an anti-negative rhetoric from the far-right and feels there is a disparity between how Eid is being spun in a negative light compared to the VE Day celebrations when many neighbours held street parties.
“It is important that everyone – including Muslim communities – stick to the lockdown restrictions as even though there has been a decline in deaths, coronavirus is still a very serious issue,” he says.
“There is already a far-right narrative out there blaming Muslims for the spread of coronavirus and there have been fictitious stories about Muslims going to mosques to pray which have been debunked.
“Let’s not give the far-right any ammunition and make sure we all stick to the lockdown restrictions on Eid as we have a duty to be safe.”
While Raisah Ahmed says she understands that messages need to be communicated to everyone, she finds some of the terminology and advice insulting – as if there is an assumption that Muslims will break lockdown.
“There are always going to be people who break the rules but that applies to every community, not just the Muslim community,” she says. “We are not going to sit outside on Eid having street parties. If this was happening at Christmas, would they put out the same messages they are putting out to Muslims?
“I feel people are abiding by the rules as they know how important and serious this is and they have elderly people in their communities who they desperately want to protect.
“I would encourage people to have a bit of compassion. This is probably our biggest festival of the year and not being able to see your family and friends and do the things you traditionally do is a big thing and will be traumatic for some people.
“We are all doing the best we can and are determined to have a happy Eid while sticking to the lockdown measures and keeping everyone safe.”