Coronavirus and Religion update – 20 April

By Lianne Kolirin

UK

  • Startling images of the UK coronavirus death toll have emerged from inside a makeshift morgue at a Birmingham mosque.  Images published on the MailOnline show coffins stacked inside the mortuary built on the car park of Central Jamia Mosque Ghamkol Sharif in the city’s Small Heath district. Last week mosque trustee and volunteer Mohamid Zahid, 52, said volunteers had been transporting Muslim coronavirus victims from hospitals, before laying them to rest in accordance with the Islamic religion.
  • ‘Soultime’, the Christian wellness app endorsed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, is using Artificial Intelligence to provide bespoke support to people feeling low and anxious while living alone during the coronavirus pandemic. The app, firmly aimed at Christians, offers meditations, music and words of encouragement. AI enables it to track a person’s mood and alert their chosen social circle if a supportive phone call is needed.

GLOBAL

  • Last weekend was Easter in the Orthodox Christian calendar. They make up the world’s third largest group of Christian believers and celebrate Easter a week after Catholics and Protestants because they follow a different calendar. Usually there are large community commemorations and processions, but coronavirus restrictions have challenged church customs.
    The president of Belarus was one of many who flouted the ‘stay at home’ message by going to church to mark the Orthodox Christians’ Easter Sunday.  President Alexander Lukashenko, who has been widely criticised for his lax approach to containing the coronavirus, visited a church without a face mask yesterday.
    Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and Russia, who leads 150 million believers, held a service in Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Church without worshippers. In a televised address, the Patriarch lamented: “the terrible illness that has touched our people.”
    In Georgia, the government allowed churches to open despite a curfew, while in Bulgaria services were open but worshippers were required to wear masks and keep their distance.
    Churches were not open to the public in much of the wider Orthodox region including Greece and Serbia as well as minority communities in Turkey and Egypt.
  • In his first visit outside the Vatican for several weeks, the Pope said that the world must prepare for a “collective future” post-coronavirus where inequality is stamped out. Excluding the marginalised from the global recovery would be “an even worse virus, that of selfish indifference”.  “We are all frail, all equal, all precious,” he said. “It is time to eliminate inequalities and heal the injustices that are undermining the health of the whole human family.”
  • This year’s Holocaust Remembrance Day – or Yom Hashoah as it is known in Hebrew – will take place online.  Tonight will see a virtual National Holocaust Commemoration, marking the 75th anniversary of the end of the Holocaust and the liberation of Bergen Belsen.  In a normal year, symbolic events are organised at various locations, notably with survivors at the sites of former Nazi camps.  This year, testimonials from survivors will be streamed online and featured in a pre-recorded ceremony to be broadcast tonight in Israel by Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial centre, A series of online Holocaust education sessions will also take place tomorrow as part of the UK-based event.
  • Ramadan starts on April 23rd and poses challenges to Muslims around the world, as it is usually a time for community gatherings and collective worship.
    Saudi Arabia’s top religious body has urged Muslims not to congregate during Ramadan in order to curb the spread of coronavirus.  The Council of Senior Scholars said Muslims should “avoid gatherings, because they are the main cause of the spread of infection”.  Saudi Arabia has closed its mosques as part of measures taken.
    In Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei, has said Muslims are not required to fast during Ramadan if it poses a threat to health.
    In Pakistan, restrictions on congregational prayers have been eased, lifting a ban on prayer gatherings of no more than five people.  After talks with the president, clerics “agreed to conditionally allow prayer congregations,” the state radio broadcaster reported, according to the Daily Telegraph.  A list of 20 conditions have been issued, including the requirement to keep six feet apart, remove carpet and keep children and those over-50 at home.
  • A surge in coronavirus-related Islamophobia has led to the deaths of two newborn babies in India after their Muslim mothers were refused hospital care.  In Jharkhand state, a Muslim woman miscarried after she was barred from receiving treatment in the city of Jamshedpur. Earlier this month, a baby died in Rajasthan after a government hospital refused to admit the Muslim mother.
    Members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have blamed the spread of coronavirus on a Muslim missionary group meeting in New Delhi last month. Thousands of attendees traveled for the Tablighi Jamaat event, despite restrictions on gatherings of over 50 people. The Indian Government has said 30 per cent of its coronavirus cases are linked to the meeting.