9th January 2021   •   opinion
Britain's big Mosques and Mandirs are staying closed in lockdown. Why not Gurdwaras?

When UK Prime Minister said Britain was going into lockdown for the third time, there was one key difference: places of worship were allowed to stay open this time.

The UK government guidance states: "You can attend places of worship for a service. However, you must not mingle with anyone outside of your household or support bubble. You should maintain strict social distancing at all times."

But some say even that is risky. The new UK variant of the Coronavirus is far more transmissible: between 56% and 70% more contagious according to scientists. That puts people more at risk even if they maintain their distance or take precautions.

Unsurprisingly, most places of worship, especially in London, have taken heed and stayed closed during this lockdown.

But many prominent British Sikh Gurdwaras have not. Why not? British Gurdwaras have been doing fantastic service during the pandemic to provide food to homeless / hungry people. But they can carry on providing langar (food) without being open for communal worship.

Last week, Jas Athwal, the leader of Redbridge Council in London and a turban-wearing Sikh, wrote a joint letter with other council leaders to ask people to avoid places of worship.

Now all councils are urging places of worship to close voluntarily

British Muslim response

The Muslim Council of Britain has urged mosques to, "re-assess safety measures if they choose to remain open," and added that if trustees did not think they were sufficient the mosque should "suspend communal worship."

Most of Britain's biggest mosques are staying closed, including across London (East London Mosque, Finsbury Park, Ilford Mosque, Folkestone, Balham and Tooting, Kingston). The new Cambridge Mosque and the historic Shah Jahan Masjid in Woking are closed too. A prominent exception is Manchester Central Mosque.

Miqdaad Versi from the MCB said many mosques didn't re-open and that many are "going beyond government guidance" to stay closed. He is maintaining a list of mosques that have voluntarily closed.

Leeds mosque imam Qari Asim recently tweeted: "Voluntary closure of mosques should be considered...where risk assessments suggest remaining open will pose a serious risk to health.… None should feel pressured to attend a mosque during this pandemic."

British Hindu response

Most of Britain's key mandirs will also stay closed too, with few exceptions.

Neasden Temple - aka the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir - confirmed to Barfi Culture it will remain closed during lockdown.

The Shree Sanatan Mandir and Community Centre - the biggest mandir in Leicester - also confirmed it was staying closed during lockdown. A representative said most mandirs across Britain should currently be closed. However, Bhaktivedanta Manor in Watford is staying open with strict conditions.

British Sikh response

But many prominent British Gurdwaras are staying open to communal worship, including GNG in Smethwick (West Midlands), the two prominent Gurdwaras in West London (Havelock Road & Park Avenue), Guru Maneyo Granth Gurdwara in Slough - are all staying open. Leamington Spa's prominent Gurdwara says its closed however.

Some British Sikh groups are pleased. Last week the Sikh Network tweeted: "It’s welcome news that Gurdwara’s (sic) and other places of worship can and will remain open to the Sangat. It’s at times like these that faith is needed to most."

That message was retweeted by the Sikh Council UK. Its general-secretary Gurpreet Singh Anand told Barfi Culture: "The Sikh Council UK has provided Gurdwaras with guidance on how they can operate safely in line with the government's guidance. Those Gurdwaras that have adapted and are able to operate safely within government guidelines can take the decision based on their local situation and needs whether they choose to remain open."

However Lord Singh, the director of Network of Sikh Organisations was more cautious: "There should be caution about the existing exemption from closure for places of worship. In the current circumstances, it would be sensible to keep services to a bare minimum, or better still provide them remotely where at all possible."

Recent studies have shown that Britons of Asian heritage are more likely to die from Covid-19 than white Britons.
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Sunny Hundal has been a journalist and commentator since 2004. He is editor-in-chief of Barfi Culture
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