Spring 2020 is a time for festivals — as well as Easter (12 April) and the Jewish celebration of Passover (8-16 April), Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, begins on 23 April. These religious celebrations have all been very different than usual this year though, with lockdown in full swing and social distancing the order of the day.
As Ramadan approaches, however, some right-wing voices in the UK have been expressing concern that there will be a rise in Covid-19 cases during Ramadan, suggesting that some Muslims will not follow government advice, and instead congregate to celebrate.
On Twitter, via his account @toryboypierce, Daily Mail journalist Andrew Pierce stated on 12 April : ‘If families gather for holy month of Ramadan will there be a huge spike in Covid cases. Doctors are very worried.’
Pierce’s tweet caused a backlash to say the least, with 2.2k comments on his original tweet. Many were quick to point out that he was in fact worrying about Ramadan on Easter Sunday, and ignoring the possible effect of Easter gatherings on Coronavirus cases. In response to his opinion that ‘doctors are very worried’, many doctors on Twitter stated that they were, in fact, not worried.
The intention of Ramadan seems to have also passed Pierce by — one Twitter-user, also a doctor, wrote that ‘fasting is about personal reflection’, and so Muslims can do that alone. Writer Lisa Holdsworth (of Call the Midwife and New Tricks fame), replying to Pierce’s statement said: ‘A lot of those doctors (and nurses and other frontline staff) are Muslims. I suspect they are also worried about the annual tradition of ramping up hatred against them during Ramadan. I see you’re getting an early start, Andrew.’
As recent reports have stated, it is clear that black, Asian and ethnic minority (BAME) individuals are more at risk from Covid-19. At Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, roughly four out of ten Covid-19 patients are from BAME backgrounds. A consultant at the hospital, Dr Adnan Sharif, commented that ‘anything that leads to more social interaction is a big worry’, adding that Ramadan’s traditional sundown gathering, where Muslims congregate to break the day’s fast, ‘could cause a big spike in infections.’
SOAS academic Suriyah Bi has concerns over the possible anti-islamist stance of such suggestions. Suriyah is currently conducting research into how British Muslims are coping with Covid-19, and has surveyed almost 300 people. Speaking to Al Jazeera, she commented: “Blaming Muslims for the spread of the virus is absolutely unfounded, as our ongoing study demonstrates that 100 percent of British Muslims who have thus far taken part in the study are strongly adhering to social distancing measures and are not attending religious and social gatherings.”
The first three doctors in the UK to have died were Muslim. A huge number of key workers, supermarket staff, bus drivers — who are all keeping the nation going –are Muslim. This seems to have passed a few people by: instead, the fictional risk of Ramadan is centre stage.