Muslims have begun fasting on the first day of Ramadan, as mosques in England prepare to welcome worshippers in smaller groups due to Covid restrictions.
Much like last year, Ramadan will be drastically different from usual for Muslims, with many customs and practices changed due to the restrictions.
In 2020, Ramadan began almost a month into the first lockdown with mosques closed and people told to stay at home. As a result, many Muslims were not able to take part in congregational prayers and visit family and friends to break their fast together at sunset.
Unlike last spring, acts of communal worship were allowed throughout the winter lockdown in England, but with limits on the number of people and social distancing measures in place.
The East London Mosque and Muslim Centre, one of the largest mosques in Europe and the biggest in the UK – accommodating more than 7,000 worshippers on Fridays before the pandemic – is preparing to welcome people back for Ramadan prayers.
The mosque’s head imam, Shaykh Abdul Qayum, said they were “blessed” to be able to return: “However, we shouldn’t forget that we are still in a pandemic, and as such, the mosque has taken appropriate precautions to ensure that Ramadan in its premises is conducted in a safe way.”
The mosque will not open until 15 minutes before prayer starts, and everyone is asked to leave within 10 minutes of it ending. The prayers, usually two hours long, have also been shortened.
Worshippers have been told to bring their own prayer mats and bags for shoes, and that no one under 12 should attend. Sanitation stations have been placed throughout the building, in which a one-way system will operate.
Traditionally, the mosque hosts a big meal after sunset so that everyone can break their fast together, but this year, donations are being made to the mosque’s food bank instead.
Khizar Mohammad, the mosque’s communications manager, said: “The vast majority of people are very receptive to the rules. They understand the need for them because one of the key features of Islam is that it advocates the preservation of life, so that overrides a lot of rules.”
Zara Mohammed, the first female secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said she was looking forward to a more “health-conscious and sustainable” Ramadan when it came to breaking her own fast. “We are hoping that it will give everyone a renewed optimism, in a sense, to be grateful and come back again to the spiritual,” Mohammed said.
She said the month was one of the biggest charitable times for Muslim communities, adding: “My message would be to keep in mind, and pray for, those who are still going to have a quite difficult Ramadan because they are not going to be around their loved ones, whether they are shielding or have lost loved ones through this time.”