How Has Covid-19 Impacted Muslim Communities?20 Jul 2020
The Office of National Statistics (ONS) reported in late June that Muslim males had the highest Covid-19 mortality rate out of all religious groups in the United Kingdom. A considerably devastating figure of almost 200 deaths per 100,000 of the population, of which only gives the bleakest idea of the ways in which the community has been affected by the pandemic.
Along with being disproportionately more vulnerable to the virus itself, Muslims, like other religious groups, have had to endure a disruption to their usual congregational and spiritual lifestyles. With the doors to mosques being closed for months, an evolution may have occurred regarding the practices and shape of Islam in both private and public spheres.
Ramadan, of course, took a completely different form this year with pilgrimages and congregational celebrations being postponed due to the lockdown measures. As Muslims were restricted to their homes, this meant that many of the features that give Ramadan its distinctive shape were also restricted to the home. For Sunnis, attending taraweeh every night was one of these rituals that had to be reconfigured somehow.
Quite so, any religion being so abruptly transferred solely to the private sphere forces many of its congregants to rethink and reflect on the purpose of its rituals and practices. It may even intensify one’s rituals, especially with the pandemic producing brutal conditions for some.
The charitable giving that runs alongside Ramadan may have also taken on a new shape and meaning, especially due to the desperate economic situation created by Covid-19. The UK organisation Open Iftar, which usually commemorates Ramadan each year by hosting communal gatherings to provide food for people in need, changed their services this year in response to the pandemic by delivering meals directly to families and individuals. Although no official data confirms this, there may have been a more personal and localised turn in charity this Ramadan for the community that extends beyond just Muslims.
However, financial instability within Muslim communities may have been more significant due to Covid-19, with the rate of self-employment being higher amongst Muslims compared to the rest of the population in the UK, meaning that financial assistance from the government was slow to come.
However, a silver lining that could possibly offset quite a worrying reality for many Muslim families is another practice of Islam that has arguably been enhanced in its meaning amidst the pandemic. The power and utility that zakat has harnessed in helping the needy during lockdown has played a fundamental role in offering others financial relief. Most notable in Pakistan, zakat donations were used to go towards food and resources being delivered to impoverished areas, those hit hardest by the pandemic. This spirit of generosity, with many Pakistanis reportedly giving more than the obligatory 2.5% of their annual excess wealth, has managed to keep vulnerable people financially afloat during the crisis.
Such a trend has also been occurring in the UK, with the National Zakat Foundation’s relief grants doubling in the month of April. It may seem that, although materially devastating, the pandemic may have been far from spiritually devastating for Muslim communities. Certainly, Covid-19 has quite simply forced an adaptation in religious activity and its meaning. Many local imams and leaders are using social media to broadcast prayer and maintain congregational bonds, for example.
Moving forward, as places of worship started to open since July 14th as announced by the government, many mosques, although keen to return to normal, are working with communities to maintain a level of safety as the virus continues to linger. The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) welcomed the proposed opening, but urged mosques to take precautions, issuing a 9-step guide in reopening safely.
Although the closure of public places of worship has been difficult for many, especially for those who have lost loved ones and have been unable to mourn as a family with a proper funeral service, the adaptation of Islam into the private sphere may have provided other comforts and spiritual tools for people. Whether that may be through more time studying the Quran or individually performing dhikr, the pandemic may have found roads for one to engage in newer or different ways with their faith.