Lockdown won’t stop our faiths from uniting

Original artilce published in Evening Standard on 24th April 2020

Last night marked the start of Ramadan and of course Covid-19 is having a significant impact on it. The pandemic has affected the way all faith communities engage with important rituals and celebrations. This year there have been no large gatherings for the opening of the fast. Instead, the iftars will be virtual. We are lucky to have contributions from the Prince of Wales, Archbishop of Canterbury, Chief Rabbi and Cabinet figures — join tonight at nazlegacy.org.

Over the last few weeks we have seen Christians unable to gather for Easter mass; Jews for the Passover Seder meal; and Hindus and Sikhs for Vaisakhi. But these circumstances have enabled faith communities to display their adaptability and creativity. Places of worship have been quick to respond to the pandemic by closing their premises and using technology to reach out to congregations. It has been excellent to see them continuing to provide key services for their communities, whether it is Hindu temples translating the Government’s briefings into Gujarati, or mosques in Bolton offering to convert their premises into temporary hospitals.

In difficult times, people rely on their faith more than ever. it is crucial that institutions of worship do not close their doors spiritually, and find innovative ways of honouring timeless traditions. We’ve already seen virtual Easter and Seders. Initiatives like these boost spirits and nourish them with strength to keep going, as the lockdown shows no signs of letting up. During Ramadan, Muslims face 30 days of exacting fasts without the daily gatherings to break fast and pray which are so crucial to creating a sense of togetherness and solidarity. Virtual interfaith iftars will help all communities unite in our shared struggles and celebrate what we have in common. We want to revive the Ramadan spirit of togetherness and empathy for one another, and not just for Muslims: this ethos is needed across our country in these challenging times.

Events like the virtual Ramadan iftar, create new possibilities for people to connect across boundaries

Our world is increasingly driven by technology. Figures show that in recent weeks, many people have actually been in touch with family more than ever, because of the convenience of apps such as Zoom. One lesson from lockdown is that the tech so often blamed for creating distance and division can bring us together. Through virtual religious celebrations, perhaps we are creating new possibilities for people to connect across boundaries, even after lockdown is over.