The virus and subsequent lockdowns led to a huge sudden “out of the blue” change for many sections of society, including our local church and mosque congregations who had to see all doors closed to communal worship.
In a special feature for the Reporter series, the Kirklees Faith Network looks at how the pandemic lockdown restrictions over the past year affected our local Muslim faith communities and maddrassahs in Dewsbury, Batley and Heckmondwike.
Practising Muslims are supposed to pray five times a day throughout the whole Islamic calendar year. Under normal circumstances, it is customary for men to join congregational “Namaz” prayers at the mosque.
Yet worshippers were immediately advised by community leaders and imams to stay at home and to pray at home as soon as last year’s first lockdown was announced - only three weeks before the important holy month of fasting - Ramadhan - was due to start.
For the faithful and devout, it was a huge sudden change in their cultural and religious way of life to be told there would be no communal prayers at the local mosque. Walking to and from the actual place of worship itself was a good exercise for many people, especially the elderly who now found themselves losing touch with friends and fellow worshippers.
The children also found out at the start of the first lockdown their maddrassah classes were to be closed too - until further notice.
Muslim children are enrolled at a young age in neighbourhood-based “after-school” maddrassahs which they attend Monday to Friday evenings. Here they are taught to read the Koran with Arabic “Tajweed” pronunciation.
But local imams and maddrassah staff were quickly able to adapt to the new situation while the summer weeks rolled on. Technology began to play an important role as Koranic study classes through Zoom became a popular learning tool for pupils.
Meanwhile a number of mosques in Batley and Dewsbury set up food banks to deliver free tinned fruit, canned soup and biscuits, along with other essential items to those seen as the most vulnerable or the most hard to reach isolated residents.
There seemed to be light at the end of the tunnel from September onwards as restrictions were gradually beginning to get relaxed. Schools slowly re-opened - and so did the maddrassahs, but in a cautious way.
Mosques were also allowed to re-open for prayers. But there was a big difference. Every individual keen to worship had to bring his own prayer mat from home, along with a carrier bag for placing shoes inside. No footwear was allowed to be put on any shoe racks. People’s temperature was also checked before entering the place of worship. Face masks obviously had to be worn inside the prayer halls.
There was of course strict social distancing during the congregational prayers. Standing side by side, shoulder to shoulder, in neat disciplined lines, as is the traditional custom in mosques, was forbidden to help prevent infections. So the lines were broken apart with two metre gaps
The relaxing of restrictions came just in time as Sufi Muslims across Kirklees were cautiously getting ready to mark Eid-Milad festivities celebrating prophet Mohammad’s birthday. This festival was the third Eid of 2020 and it coincided with the autumn school half-term holidays.
Circumstances for the first two Eid festivals of 2020 - Eid-Ul-Fitr celebrated in May and Eid-Ul-Adha in July - had not allowed families to come together. Muslim households were not surprisingly holding their breath.
Some of the mosques organised hasty Eid-Milad playschemes for pupils - thanks to Covid-19 safety guidance given by Kirklees Council. Others ran half-term reading bookclubs or arts and crafts workshops for local youngsters. The activities could happen, but children were to turn up in no more than groups of 13 at different times. Sanitisers were made available and the kids had to regularly wash hands.
A year on and our mosques continue to provide a lifeline to their communities by doing lots of valuable work in some difficult times.
Senior Muslim scholar of Kirklees, Imam Mufti Shamsul-Huda Khan Misbahi, from the Kanzul-Iman Jamia Mosque in Heckmondwike, said: “There are many unsung heroes in our local Muslim communities who have stood out to help those most in need. Their efforts must be recognised.
“But to me, the most important unsung heroes have been our Muslim children who have gone through the last twelve months without being able to celebrate three Eid festivals with their grandparents, uncles or aunts.
"These boys and girls were not even able to go out with parents to do their Eid shopping. They have also seen long gaps in their daytime schooling as well as in their evening maddrassah education.
“The patience of all these kids is worthy of a big salute.”