By Teddie Hall
The imposition of stricter lockdown rules in northern parts of England, including Greater Manchester and surrounding areas, on the eve of Eid al-Adha caused outcry from the Muslim community that they were being unfairly targeted, especially considering the short notice given. Eid al-Adha, meant to take place on 31st July, is a significant event in the Muslim calendar known as the Feast of Sacrifice in which Muslims would visit loved ones, share gifts and prepare large meals. A key aspect of this celebration involves travelling to meet family which is now prevented as part of restrictions, which prevent different households meeting inside homes, yet enables pubs and restaurants to remain open, adding to the feeling it is Eid celebrations that are being singled out. In addition, the areas ordered to tighten restrictions have higher Muslim populations, such as Bradford, in which a quarter of the population are Muslim and Manchester in which 15% are, resulting in thousands of disrupted Eid preparations.
The health secretary Matt Hancock denied that rules were brought into place to prevent the festival being celebrated, pointing to data from the test and trace program which indicates greatest transmission of Covid-19 is via friends and family meeting at home, yet this does not prevent Muslim communities feeling there is a double standard in how rules are enforced. This is accentuated by thousands of people ignoring social distancing, on the streets after Liverpool won the Premiership and crowding to beaches during sunny weather, which appears to have gone unnoticed in terms of consequences from the government. This has sparked debate over who is most responsible for the spread of the disease with Conservative MP Chris Whittaker for the Calder Valley in West Yorkshire claiming BAME communities, specifically Asian and immigrant, weren’t “taking this [… Covid-19] seriously enough”. Despite the fact that higher cases in the BAME community could be attributed to intrinsic factors, such as a link between BAME households and greater social and economic inequalities, these comments were not refuted by Prime Minister Boris Johnson when questioned about them, who instead highlighted everyone’s responsibility in tackling the virus.
In any case, the juxtaposition between Mosques which have extensive measures in place such as temperature checks, swab testing, wearing masks and social distancing, compared to, for example, VE day celebrations clearly flouting lockdown rules is stark. The governments’ seeming lack of equality in enforcing rules and repercussions may be linked to a lack of representation of ethnic minorities including the Muslim community; with only 19 Muslim candidates winning seats at the latest election of a possible 650, under representing the Muslim population of the UK and a total lack of representation at a cabinet level. Furthermore, potential disregard or simply lack of consideration for the Muslim community may not be completely surprising, considering the fact that that the Prime Minister has never apologised for remarks comparing Muslim women wearing burkas to “letter boxes”, widely regarded as a highly offensive islamophobic comment.
The key issue that many people found with the announcement was its last minute nature, coming only two hours before Eid was scheduled to begin and was aggravated by the means of communication which was via Twitter. This meant that plans such as meal preparation, travel and accommodation were severely disrupted causing not only food wastage and economic detriment but emotional distress, as many did not realise the new rules until the morning of Eid, partly due to the inaccessibility of the announcement. When comparatively in the Christian calendar Eid is the equivalent of Christmas, it is fairly easy to say such a decision would not have been made on Christmas Eve, demonstrating differential treatment. Although Hancock impresses the importance of swift action, as the virus can double every three days, especially given the greater vulnerability of this area due to the notable BAME population, more consideration could have been given to this decision than two hours notice.
While the British Muslim Council may criticise government actions, without greater diversity and structural change, it remains likely that the interests of ethnic minority groups may continue, to some extent, to be overlooked.
Image: U.S. Embassy Pakistan via Flickr