Ramadan may be ‘cancelled’ but faiths will stay united

Original article published on 20th March in the Evening Standard https://www.standard.co.uk/comment/comment/ramadan-may-be-cancelled-but-faiths-will-stay-united-a4393206.html

Since the first wave of Muslimimmigrants arrived in London, Friday prayers in mosques and the celebration of Ramadan and Eid have become a feature of life here. But with the Government confirming that places of worship should follow advice not to hold mass gatherings, could we see Ramadan being “cancelled” this year?

There are more than a million Muslims living and working in London. Every Friday lunchtime more than half attend prayers at their local mosque. Many mosques will not be hosting them this week for the first time in their history, and many have already advised elderly worshippers and those at risk to stay at home. The risk of coronavirus affecting Muslim communities severely is great as many Muslims live with elderly family members under one roof. The danger of young, healthy people attending prayers and bringing the virus home is too great to ignore.

In the past five years, faith leaders, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of London, the Chief Rabbi, the Archbishop of Westminster and Imam Mohammed Mahmoud have joined Muslim communities in hosting their own interfaith youth iftars — the sunset breaking of the fast during Ramadan — venues including Lambeth Palace, Archbishop’s House, St John’s Wood Synagogue and, last year, at St Paul’s Cathedral. These events not only brought tens of thousands together, they worked to improve intercommunity relationships. This leadership by faith communities has been all the more important post-Brexit, when we have seen a rise in faith-hate crime, particularly directed towards Muslim women, and the rise of anti-Semitism. 

Interfaith iftars provide a unique way for people of all faiths and none to interact with Muslims and each other in a way that does not happen at any other time in the year. The loss of this moment of community spirit will be keenly felt by Muslims at a time when solidarity from other faith communities is sorely needed. Muslims will not be alone this year, however, with church services over Easter and Jewish Passover festivities being cancelled as well. This underlines the need for Muslims to do more to engage with other communities and their faith traditions throughout the year, much in the same way that Ramadan has been embraced by all Londoners.

And, once this global crisis is over, it is incumbent on all of us that we reconvene as faith communities. Gathering again, when it is safe to do so, to learn from and support each other after a period of time that will undoubtedly have seen many of us lose loved ones, and feel an overwhelming sense of isolation.

We are facing tough times ahead, but in the spirit of humanity and community we will rise to the challenge, and I am confident our faith leaders will pave the way to building a stronger and more connected London.