Muslims in England were able to pray shoulder to shoulder for the first time since the start of the pandemic after social distancing restrictions were eased just in time for the start of Eid al-Adha.
“We’re actually having two celebrations in one: one is the Eid celebration, the other one is freedom – to be able to come together, stand shoulder to shoulder, and see friends and family that people haven’t seen for a long, long time,” said Mohammed Arif from the Walsall Union of Muslim Organisations, which is putting on an Eid-in-the-park event for the first time to bring worshippers outside where infection risk is reduced.
Thousands were expected at Leicester’s Victoria Park Eid prayers, but in Birmingham, the annual Eid celebration in Small Heath Park which usually attracts up to 60,000 people was cancelled again, with organisers Green Lane Masjid instead hosting four separate congregational prayers onsite and one outdoor event for 500 people.
Children ride the dodgems while families celebrate Eid al-Adha in Southall Park on Tuesday. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
“We had discussions with Public Health England, some of our doctors who are on the frontline seeing rising infections and with the council, and we decided that it was probably not in the public interest for us to do it just yet,” said the mosque’s CEO, Kamran Hussain.
But after over a year of socially distanced prayer, he said it was an unusual but welcome feeling for people to be praying in close proximity again. “It’s a bit strange after such a long time for everybody to be praying shoulder to shoulder and obviously we’ve created space for people who still want to social distance,” he said, adding masks and hand sanitising would still be encouraged.
“The lifting of restrictions has come just at the right time for us. This is the fourth Eid prayer during Covid, and this is the first one where we’re getting some real level of normality now.”
Eid al-Adha, meaning “festival of the sacrifice”, falls on Tuesday for most Muslims although some are marking it on 21 July. It comes after Eid al-Fitr, which took place under Covid restrictions in May.
“We’ve taken some comfort from football and cricket games where there have been large crowds but we are asking people to still to take precautions, people can still bring masks if they wish,” said Arif. He added that a vaccination bus would be onsite at the prayers to encourage younger people to get the jab if they haven’t already.
At London Central mosque, leaders said they didn’t plan on changing their policies much, despite the government’s rollback of all Covid restrictions.
“We’re still going to follow the restrictions even after ‘freedom day’ – we’re not all of a sudden just open doors and everything’s back to normal, even though technically that’s allowed,” said a mosque spokesperson, Monir Ahmad.
“We’re just doing the best practice to stay safe because we know the numbers are going up and ethnic communities are more adversely affected.”
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