One of Britain’s leading imams has urged Muslims not to “drop the ball” and to continue to refrain from mixing households and hugging friends and family as Eid celebrations begin.
Qari Asim, chairman of the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board (Minab), was speaking on Wednesday evening as he led prayers at the end of Ramadan at the Makkah Masjid in Leeds, where he is senior imam.
Imam Asim told the PA news agency it will be “excruciatingly painful” to celebrate Eid without gathering in numbers and embracing loved ones, especially as the major relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions is just a few days away.
But he urged everyone to “take that one extra step”.
He said: “This Eid will be very different in the sense that we will not be able to greet each other in the traditional way of embracing each other, hugging and handshaking with each other.
“But I’m really hopeful that next Eid we will be able to be with each other and embrace each other and share a meal with our extended family and friends.
“We just have to take that one extra step to get us through this pandemic and make sure that we do not drop the ball before the restrictions are completely eased.”
Speaking at the mosque in the Hyde Park area of Leeds, Imam Asim said iftar – breaking the fast each day during Ramadan – would normally see around 200 people enjoying a three-course meal in the building.
But none of this has taken place this year as mosques have observed strict Covid regulations.
He said: “It’s been extremely challenging to follow the restrictions that have been in place but people have made incredible sacrifices and the Muslim community has strictly followed the guidelines given by the Government.”
The imam said that, as well doing this because because “life is the most important thing we have”, mosques have been “keen to ensure no opportunity is given to those who want to fan the flames of Islamophobia and point fingers towards Muslims saying, somehow, Muslims are breaking the rules more than any other community”.
Imam Asim said: “It’s excruciatingly painful because the easing of restrictions is taking place next week when we will be able to hug each other and we would be able the embrace each other.
“It’s quite difficult, especially if you try and explain that to young people or a child saying we cannot visit Grandma’s house or we cannot go and see Grandpa.”
The imam said that with different families unable to share meals at the end of each day, Ramadan instead saw mosques sharing food with vulnerable people in the community.
He said his mosque had handed out more than 7,000 food parcels in the local area during the month.
He added that one of the key messages of Ramadan was to encourage people to take up the Covid-19 vaccine, making it clear that to have the jab was not to break the fast.
Imam Asim said he believed the “tide has been turned” in challenging a lack of confidence in the vaccine in Asian and black communities.
He said: “This Eid is about thanksgiving to God Almighty, but also thanksgiving to all the frontline workers who got us through this pandemic and carried us through this extremely challenging and excruciatingly painful time.”
The imam said families would also be remembering those who had died, adding: “Many families will have at least one seat empty at their dinner table this Eid.
“There isn’t any congregant in my mosque who hasn’t lost a family member or friend.
“While we’ll be celebrating, we’ll also be remembering the lives that have been lost.”