Muslim leaders hit out at new coronavirus restrictions on eve of Eid

The streets of Whalley Range would normally be bustling with people heading into the sweet shops, milkshake cafes and colourful fruit stalls along the winding route into the town centre, but the shutters were down and the streets quiet.

“It is a joke – no matter how the Government dress it up, it is obvious that these new measures were brought in for the start of Eid,” said a 19-year-old student, who wanted to be identified only as Abhr.

“I’m really angry – once again the Asian community gets blamed, but they can’t stop us. My mum is 65 and she’s made lots of food for Eid, so I’ll be going to her house to celebrate. It would be unthinkable not to see my mum and share food with her during Eid, and many others will be doing the same, going to relations’ houses.

“People are angry and some are frightened. Yet I don’t hear anybody talking about the hundreds of people in pubs not self-distancing, or the thousands of Liverpool fans celebrating winning the league.

“I went to the mosque this morning and I prayed in the car park, with everybody socially distancing. People are making an effort here, but why are the pubs not shut in Blackburn today? It seems to be one rule for one community and one rule for another.”

Saima Afzal, a community inclusion activist and Blackburn councillor, said: “People need to be a bit more empathetic, step back from making this a race or religious issue.

“I have heard lots of judgmental narrative about how multi- generational households are a ‘problem’, that we Asians have large families and so our lifestyle is causing the disease to spread. It’s just really unfortunate that Eid is in the middle of it.”

Ali, a health worker from Blackburn, said the announcement had been made so late that it “has thrown a giant spanner into our Eid celebrations”.

“We will still celebrate, but at home with one family,” he said. “All the food is done, but it will be hard not meeting our friends and having a nice time.”

He said he did not think that Muslims or the Asian community had been “singled out”, adding: “The national statistics are what they are, and the coronavirus infections are the most prominent in our community. 

“These areas have to be targeted – it is for our own health and well-being. Our community must stick together and adhere to the rules.”

Asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme whether the measures were aimed at putting a stop to Eid celebrations, Mr Hancock said: “No. My heart goes out to the Muslim communities in these areas, because I know how important the Eid celebrations are.

“I’m very grateful to the local Muslim leaders, the imams in fact, across the country who’ve been working so hard to find a way to have Covid-secure celebrations.”

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