Eid celebrations to go virtual as UK Muslims urged to stay at home

Amy Walker
Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Muslims across Britain are preparing to celebrate Eid al-Fitr remotely this weekend, with many mosques set to host virtual prayers during continued lockdown measures.

The religious festival marking the end of Ramadan usually brings families and friends together for communal prayers, food and to exchange gifts.

But this year community leaders have encouraged people to stay at home and adhere to physical distancing measures to curb the spread of Covid-19.

Shaz Saleem, the secretary of Dudley Central mosque in the West Midlands, said Eid prayers would be held virtually via a WhatsApp group.

“Our only guidance to people has been to stay at home, stay safe. There’s nothing stopping people from having a little garden thing at home with their household, but it’s not the same thing,” he said.

“It’s like our Christmas, and it’s an excuse for all families to get together. We’ve got elderly relatives, and we can’t go and see them because we don’t want to pose a risk to them. It’s quite unfortunate and sad in that respect.”

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The mosque has been hosting virtual prayers throughout Ramadan and Saleem said that although celebrating remotely was the right thing to do this year, not being able to see loved ones would be a test for the community after an already difficult few months.

Dozens from the Muslim community in Dudley have died after contracting coronavirus. A banner has been pinned on a wall outside the mosque thanking frontline NHS staff for “protecting us all”.

Qari Asim, a senior imam at Makkah mosque in Leeds, said he would deliver an online sermon on the morning of Eid, send well-wishes to his congregation on Facebook and drop off cakes, baked at home with his family, to people in the community.

He said the situation was “really surreal” but that Muslims had no other choice.

“There is a palpable sense of sadness in the community given that usually mosques are jam-packed with people on this auspicious day,” he added.

Other mosques, including the Islamic Centre in Nottingham, have offered guidance to people on how to celebrate Eid at home via Facebook videos. Some, such as the Khidmat Centre in Bradford, have handed out gift packs to children whose families are struggling financially.

At a Downing Street press conference on Thursday, the UK’s chief medical officer, Prof Chris Whitty, urged Muslims to “adapt the celebrations” around physical distancing rules.

“The reason we must all do that is, this is to protect the whole community, all communities and all of us must find ways around this, of whatever faith,” said Whitty.

“I know that all Muslim colleagues and friends of mine are adapting as every other faith has adapted over this period to make sure they can maintain both the celebration but also maintain the social distancing, which is absolutely critical to keeping the R [number] below one, and the transmission rates going down across the whole of the UK.”

The Muslim Council of Britain has issued specific guidance for each nation, and urged people to celebrate Eid “in the same way as Ramadan: from home, and virtually with friends and family”.