Karen Dabrowska

The Middle East Online...

Originally published: 13th May 2020

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Ramadan in Britain

Technology helps overcome the limitations of the lockdown

“Ramadan is not cancelled. We want to keep the spirit of Ramadan alive.” That was the message from Ahmad Afzal, the Head of Operations of Open Iftar which had to call off its scheduled 50 public events throughout the United Kingdom.

For the country’s estimated 2.6 million Muslims, Ramadan 2020 is a Ramadan facilitated by technology: Facebook Live, Instagram, Mixlr, GoMeet, Zoom, the Houseparty app, Webex, YouTube and others.

Some young Muslims are now listening to live streamed sermons from their local mosques, as opposed to the usual ‘social media’ scholars online. Google classroom is being used to teach the Quran. Virtual Ramadan prayers and funeral prayers are taking place via video conferences. There are also online counselling services and one-to-one chats with an imam. Other virtual initiatives include the Ramadan Tent Project, where people sign up to receive recipes, decorations and games and can participate in a virtual iftar via the Zoom app.

Ramadan online 1

In his online address to Muslims in the UK and around the world, Prince Charles paid tribute to a number of highly experienced and invaluable doctors and nurses from the Muslim community who have lost their lives due to the corona virus.

“To their families and colleagues, I can only convey my deepest possible sympathy, and to everyone on the frontline of whatever religion, I offer my profound admiration and heartfelt gratitude for all that they are doing for all of us,” Prince Charles said.

The London mayor, Sadiq Khan (below), actor Riz Ahmed and television presenter Konnie Huq are among the prominent British personalities who have collaborated on a new corona virus advice video for the #RamadanAtHome campaign.

Sadiq Khan

Traditionally Ramadan is a time for social interaction: family gatherings and meetings of friends and family during iftar. Mosques are spiritual hubs where Muslims come to recharge their faith. Now that they are closed the spiritual void is being filled by keeping in touch with worshippers through live streaming motivational lectures, courses and prayers. Increasing numbers of mosques are using conferencing apps to connect virtually with Muslims in lockdown, among them the Bury Park Jamie Masjid and Leagrave Hall Masjid in Luton.

Dr Saeed Shehabi, a trustee of the London-based Abrar Islamic Foundation told The Middle East that never in the memory of the living has Ramadan ever been lived under universal quarantine. “It is widely believed that the beauty of the month cannot be overshadowed by any event, however grim. But this year it is indeed different. Even those with the wildest imaginations did not anticipate that almost every corner of the world would be held in a total lockdown. We cannot meet others even our immediate family members to share iftar together,” Shehabi said

Even though the centre is closed, Abrar has continued its weekly programme on Thursday evenings. One of the speakers using Webex was Sayed Jaffar Fadlallah, son of late Ayautllah Mohammad Hussain Fadlullah of Lebanon who spoke about the Quran and life. Prayers followed the meeting. Abrar has continued to update its website (Abraronline.net) daily and also produces its English and Arabic newsletters online but hardcopies are no longer mailed to subscribers.

The Muslim Council of Britain has published guidelines on how to celebrate Ramadan in lockdown and describes how to arrange “virtual iftars” online with family, friends and community members by using video chat. It also encourage people to buy food for the iftar meal in advance to avoid multiple shopping trips.

Mohamed Ahmed a senior clinical pharmacist in Croydon, a large town in south London spends his nights in a local hotel. He does not want to go home in case he infects his elderly mother.

Muslim Pro app

Ather Hussein an Imam at Leicester’s Central Mosque said that health was more important than religious rituals and emphasised that those who had contracted the virus were not permitted to fast. “If people are not sure if they have the virus they can fast later – when God has given them good health.”

Some Muslims have decided to use their Zakat to help those finding it difficult to make ends meet pay for food and necessaries including medicine and covering the costs of funerals.

Previously Zakat money went mostly towards foreign aid to poorer countries but this pandemic has highlighted needs much closer to home, with many people losing their jobs and being furloughed. Many wholesalers and businesses are profiteering and food prices have risen.

Huge numbers of Muslim-led community initiatives have sprung up across the UK, from using mosques as foodbanks to delivering medication and essentials to vulnerable people. In Leicester mosque volunteers have placed food parcels outside the doors of vulnerable individuals and families. At Finsbury Park mosque, in north London iftar meals are being distributed to people in need or alone who would normally come in person . The National Zakat Foundation is providing hardship funds.

Qari Asim, an imam in Leeds, wrote on Twitter that “although emotionally challenging, we’ve an opportunity to truly understand the meaning of Ramadan and practise it in solitude and spiritually nourish our souls”.

In the United Kingdom and throughout the world, this Ramadan will go in history as the digitalised Ramadan.