By Sylvain Fezay
Galway Muslims have expressed concern that they will have to spend a second consecutive Ramadan in lockdown.
The Islamic holy month starts this year on April 13th and the local religious leader has outlined the impact it will have on the celebrations.
Sheikh Shakeel, Imam of the Riverside mosque and of the Galway Islamic Cultural Centre has expressed concern about the potential consequences that extended Level 5 restriction may have for Ramadan.
“The month of Ramadan is just coming up, only a month left. It is a very special month for the Muslims when they focus on gathering in the mosque, fasting for the whole month, breaking the fast, praying together.
“The last year we also were locked down in the month of Ramadan. We’re just hoping that hopefully in April they amend the restrictions,” he said.
Mr Shakeel pointed out that besides Ramadan, the mosque remained closed during the whole level five restrictions and it thus became impossible to hold daily and Friday prayers.
“It’s obviously been very difficult, not just for us or for everyone in general, with the Covid restriction and the mosques being closed. The government did advise that they move prayer online, but we, as Muslims, don’t pray online. We have to be congregated physically. So obviously, that is a big issue for us in the sense that the mosques being closed for so long,” he said.
Under the Level 3 restrictions, the mosque was open and people divided into small groups for the prayers.
Mr Shakeel said: “When we are in Level 3 restrictions, we are allowed to do the prayer, but there was a restriction of 50 people at a time. So, we were doing three sessions.”
However, under Level 5, the only remaining activities are the classes which take place online.
“Generally, we teach children in the evenings. So as children from the age of five, up to the age of 16, 18. We teach them the Arabic language, basic Islamic history, just some Islamic morals, etc.
“We have been doing this online, so that’s on a temporary basis that’s still OK because we’re able to manage the classes online,” the Imam said.
While the confinement was extended, Mr Shakeel has also been worried about people wellbeing as he received many calls from his community.
“I got many people calling, saying to me that they have many issues with their mental well-being. So that has a lot of negative effects on the Muslim community where we find that people experience depression.
“For a lot of people, socializing is important for them, for Muslims themselves to hold their religion is very important
“We generally pray five times a day in the mosque. So, when you don’t get to go 500 feet to the mosque mentally, that’s a lot of change for a person, just like some people are struggling with working at home because they have a routine,” he said.
Stressing the importance of religion to the Muslim community, the Iman said: “For a Christian to go to the church or for a Muslim to go to the mosque is just as essential as it is for a child to go to school.”