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Muslim families across the north-west of England were forced to change or cancel long-awaited Eid celebrations with just hours’ notice after new lockdown rules were imposed late on Thursday night.
Thousands awoke on Friday to find they were no longer able to see family or friends to mark the Muslim festival, because of new restrictions forbidding separate households from meeting each other in homes or private gardens.
The new rules – announced on Matt Hancock’s Twitter account, and which came into force at midnight – apply to Greater Manchester, East Lancashire and parts of West Yorkshire.
The news came as Muslim communities from across the region were preparing to mark Eid al-Adha, one of the holiest days in the Islamic calendar.
Dentistry student Maya, 19, had been looking forward to celebrating Eid in Manchester with a huge dinner alongside family and friends. Her mother had booked out an entire restaurant for the night, and had made sure all the tables were spaced two metres apart to maintain social distancing.
“We were all excited to see family and friends,” she told HuffPost UK. “Now we have had to cancel the whole booking as well as go-karting that was booked for the younger kids. We are going to stay at home like a normal day.
“It’s just sad – I wish they had given a week’s notice or even an actual full day’s notice. They literally left it to the night before Eid where everyone was excited.”
She found it “ridiculous” that households were banned from meeting each other indoors while at the same time pubs remained open.
“Honestly, I felt attacked,” she said. “If this was done on Christmas Eve people would be appalled and I really believe that this is motivated by Islamophobia.”
More than 800,000 Muslim people live in the regions affected by the new measures, according to figures from the Muslim Council of Britain.
On Friday Tory MP Craig Whittaker, claimed the “vast majority” of people breaking lockdown rules were from Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities, particularly those from Muslim backgrounds.
Speaking to LBC radio, the MP for Calder Valley – one of the areas affected by the new measures – said there were “sections of the community that are not taking the pandemic seriously”.
“If you look at the areas where we’ve seen rises and cases, the vast majority – but not by any stretch of the imagination all areas – it is the BAME communities that are not taking this seriously enough.”
Hasan Azram, from Manchester, said Whittaker was a “hypocrite” for making these allegations. “It is unfair to blame ethnic minorities,” he told HuffPost UK.
“There are a vast majority of groups breaking lockdown rules that including many white people who have been situated at beaches every bank holiday and every day when temperatures have been warm. Are they not to blame?”
Instead of going out to see family and friends as he had originally planned, Azram will spend Eid with only his immediate family at home.
“Now it has been put under lockdown again, it just means Eid is a much more private celebration whereas in the past it has been quite public, with lots of people involved.
“I do prioritise safety so I understand it’s necessary, but I think people not being allowed to meet in households but in pubs just shows the economy is more important than people’s lives.
“Actions speak louder than words and that is clear as day from the actions of the government.”
IT contractor Mo Congress, 29, said the last-minute lockdown measures had “ruined” his family’s plans to go out and celebrate Eid in Blackburn.
“We won’t be spending time with family no more,” he said. “Food has gone to waste. It’s put a real downer on the day.”
Congress was working with the local council to avoid a lockdown and said everyone had been left “extremely angry” by the news. “Not only were they ill-timed but we felt directly targeted and singled out.
“I was receiving calls after calls – we were unsure if Eid prayer would still be going ahead in the mosque. It caused huge panic.”
“It is really upsetting as the community has come together and worked extremely hard. Tthe majority whom I have seen have been abiding by the guidelines.
“We spent last Eid in lockdown and this Eid was taken from us at the very last minute, which is extremely frustrating. We feel really let down.”
He was “furious” when he heard Whittaker’s comments and said they were “a middle finger” to people in the BAME communities.
“He is pushing the blame on to Muslims and minorities as we’re easy targets,” he told HuffPost UK. “It is a kick in the backside after all the efforts Muslims have put in.”
Health secretary Matt Hancock has denied the new regulations were aimed at targeting Eid celebrations, claiming his “heart goes out to the Muslim community”. Critics have suggested otherwise.
“I was stunned,” said Aisha, 29, from Greater Manchester. “I really tried to consider why the government [would do] this but I can only conclude it was done specifically to target Muslims.”
She had planned to visit her in-laws with her husband and two young children on Friday, and then spend Saturday with her parents who are shielding.
“The plan was for everyone to cook one dish and I already made an enormous amount of biscuits and cakes to take with me,” she said.
Aisha initially thought she would have to cancel all her Eid plans, but after a closer look at the new rules decided to continue with meeting her in-laws on Friday and forgo visiting her parents.
“My kids were looking forward to seeing their maternal grandparents,” she told HuffPost UK. “I’ve only seen my dad once since March as he is high risk. A lot of people have had their hopes up.”
Keeping the pubs open “just doesn’t make logical sense”, Aisha said. “I joked to my family that we should all meet up at the pub and just order orange juice all round!”
She said she was “shocked” by Whittaker’s comments. “There’s no evidence or statistics to back up this ridiculous claim. It’s plain, unambiguous racism.
“In Islam, following the law of the land is important. Breaking the law in any way is sinful for Muslims.
“It’s Islamophobia. They want us to bend the rules so they can blame us when there’s a second wave.
“We’re the convenient scapegoats.”