It’s Christmas Eve 2020: A glistening tree decorated with tinsel and fully working lights (miracle!) stands tall and bushy, hiding carefully wrapped gifts underneath and filling the living room with festive joy where countless Christmas movies will soon be watched with family. Arrangements have been made to visit grandparents and other family members you haven’t seen since Coronavirus seemed as negligible as swine flu.
It’s 9pm. You check the news and the Christmas candles blow out all at once: the government has announced a lockdown effective immediately. The excited look on the faces of loved ones opening gifts you’d bought weeks in advance has been replaced by unopened presents gathering dust, hugs replaced by static video calls, delicious food prepared the night before with a food waste bin.
Luckily enough, it doesn’t look like this will be the case. Boris Johnson, in an interview with ITV News Anglia, said he’ll do everything he can “to make Christmas as normal as possible”, this including a 4-week circuit breaker lockdown planned well in advance to minimize the risk of transmitting Covid as a bonus Christmas present.
For Muslims celebrating Eid however, this was their reality. Health Secretary Matt Hancock, just three hours before the festivities of Eid Al-Adha were due to begin, had reimposed restrictions in West Yorkshire, Greater Manchester and East Lancashire – all regions with dense Muslim populations.
Following a streak of insensitive comments from the Prime Minister comparing Muslim women to “letterboxes” and Conservative MP Craig Whittaker blaming BAME and Muslim communities for not “taking this pandemic seriously enough”, British Muslims would be right to feel disappointed by this government who has failed them yet again.
Matt Hancock defended his decision, saying it was “important to move fast”, but why was he incapable of giving even 24 hours notice, knowing the rise in cases and the importance of Eid? This decision was either incompetent or negligent. British Muslims should be commended for adhering so compliantly with the lockdown and proving Whittaker so wrong. Realistically, how many people do you think would abide by the restrictions if Christmas was cancelled?
However, I do not believe a double standard has been made for Christians. Easter, arguably the most important Christian festival, was not given any exemption from lockdown restrictions. Mosques were given exceptional permission to open during the festival if social distancing measures were followed, meaning Muslims could pray and celebrate Eid in their communities to some extent of normality. Christians were not given this exception and churches remained closed.
I also do not believe Christians have been given special treatment because it is wrong to think of Christmas solely as a religious festival. Celebrated also by atheists and members of other religious affiliations, Christmas serves many as a traditional and secular holiday which has been integral to UK culture for as long as I can remember.
And, after all, it is not only Christians who need jollification after the year we’ve had.