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“Regardless of Faith”

Disclaimer: The views expressed are that of the individual author. All rights are reserved to the original authors of the materials consulted, which are identified in the footnotes below.


By Carolina Hughes



With the end of the second national lockdown lifting next Wednesday quickly approaching, much of the United Kingdom eagerly awaited the release of the Government’s Covid-19 Winter Plan,[1] publicising the rules regarding Christmas festivities this year. Government ministers declared that the plans would allow “[u]p to three households” to “form an exclusive ‘bubble’” for the period between the 23rd and 27th December, permitting family and friends to enjoy the holiday together.[2]


The announcement came with much censure, particularly from leading members within the science community, such as SAGE’s Andrew Hayward, who felt the decision would likely “lead to a third wave of infection… and more unnecessary deaths”.[3] The contradictory rules have not only been addressed by the scientific community but also critiqued by those who were denied religious celebrations of their own. The Government announced that the rules would cover the period around Christmas, a time that people, “[r]egardless of faith”, join together.[4] Though much of the country indeed takes time off during that period, Downing Street has given little notice to the sacrifices made regarding holy holidays in other religious calendars.


Though the UK’s population is predominantly of the Christian faith (around 60% of the population in England and Wales)[5], the number of citizens practising other religions is an important and integral part to the UK’s culture and should be recognised. The Muslim community now makes up around 6% of the population,[6] comprising of over 3 million people in the UK; Hindus around 1.5%; and just shy of 1% constitutes those of the Jewish faith.[7] A crucial element to these statistics however is the percentage of practising members of each religion; studies show a severe decline in practising Christians, with only around 10% of the population in the UK regularly attending church.[8] Contrarily, the number of Muslims attending a mosque at least once a week outnumbers those attending churches.[9]


The holiday still represents an important time for families and friends to congregate, yet it is highly doubted that the majority of those that celebrate Christmas actively do so in having the diligence to practising the Christian faith. As has been the trend for several decades, the Christmas holiday stands for very different values in comparison to other religious celebrations such as Rosh Hashanah, Diwali, and Eid al-Fitr. The decline of practising Christians and the growing capitalist feel to Christmas festivities has resulted in the holiday indicating a significant detachment from its religious foundations. It is therefore more insulting to the UK’s non-Christian population, who have forgone holidays which are central to the practising of their faith, that such efforts have gone into preserving a holiday predominantly for its commercial capacity, not its religious significance.


In stark contrast to the aforementioned derogation from the rules for Christmas, the Muslim community was given minimal forewarning to the statement released by Matt Hancock in July.[10] Stricter Coronavirus restrictions were reimposed in areas of the north of England, including Bradford – the area with the greatest Muslim concentration in the UK, hours before the commencement of Eid al-Fitr, signifying the end of Ramadan. Though Hancock denied that the restrictions were in a bid to curtail celebrations, households were banned from mixing indoors or in gardens, limiting many families from spending the holiday together. Similarly, Boris Johnson’s “rule of six” was publicised just days before the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.



Some members of the public, voicing their criticism of 10 Downing Street’s decision, have questioned as to why it believes “it’s acceptable” to secure relaxation of national rules around Christmas, having not “even considered” other religious holidays.[11] The actions taken are “a reflection of the… issue we have with diversity in politics”,[12] demonstrative of a “lack of religious literacy at the heart of the government”.[13]


Perhaps most difficult for these communities is the lack of recognition the Government has given. Gratitude for the religious sacrifices made by millions of non-Christian families has been minimal, with such disregard being exacerbated by the Government’s extensive efforts to “save Christmas”. Many families, regardless of their religious beliefs, will welcome the holiday period between the 23rd and 27th December. However, the arrangements issued by Johnson’s Cabinet demonstrates a fundamental lack of religious comprehension within the Commons and indeed, within UK politics itself. Such a blatant denial of other faiths cannot continue to exist in a nation where the diversity of religion and culture is inherent to its identity.


 

Sources [1] HM Government, Covid-19 Winter Plan [2020] (ISBN 978-1-5286-2264-6). [2] Cabinet Office, ‘Joint statement on UK-wide Christmas arrangements from the UK Government and Devolved Administrations’ [2020] <www.gov.uk/government/news/joint-statement-on-uk-wide-christmas-arrangements-from-the-uk-government-and-devolved-administrations> 26 November, 2020. [3] Emily Maitlis, Interview with Professor Andrew Hayward, a member of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) (Newsnight, BBC Two, 24 November 2020). [4] Winter Plan (n 1). [5] Office for National Statistics, ‘Exploring religion in England and Wales: February 2020’ [2020] <www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/culturalidentity/religion/articles/exploringreligioninenglandandwales/february2020> 26 November, 2020. [Though this number is believed to have declined since.] [6] British Social Attitudes, ‘Religion: Identity, behaviour and belief over two decades’ [2019] (ISBN 978-1-5272-4448-1, National Centre for Social Research) < www.bsa.natcen.ac.uk/latest-report/british-social-attitudes-36/religion.aspx> 26 November, 2020, 5. [7] ibid, 5. [8] Jacinta Ashworth and Ian Farthing, ‘Churchgoing in the UK’ [2007] (Tearfund) <https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=&ved=2ahUKEwia0Pj5xqHtAhVbRBUIHRcnB1kQFjACegQIBRAC&url=http%3A%2F%2Fnews.bbc.co.uk%2F2%2Fshared%2Fbsp%2Fhi%2Fpdfs%2F03_04_07_tearfundchurch.pdf&usg=AOvVaw0hTiU5J4GRE8XJ9wNv2VoQ> 26 November, 2020, 7. [Though this number is believed to have declined since.] [9] Maria Mackay, ‘New Study Finds Mosque Goers to Double Church Attendance’ [2005] (Christian Today) <https://web.archive.org/web/20121217052809/http://www.christiantoday.co.uk/article/new.study.finds.mosque.goers.to.double.church.attendance/3858.htm> 26 November 2020. Note Muslim sources claim many pray at home, therefore the number attending mosques does not represent the entire population of practising Muslims. [10] Matt Hancock, ‘Northern England local lockdown’ (Twitter, 30 July 2020) <https://twitter.com/MattHancock/status/1288931464168591371?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1288931464168591371%7Ctwgr%5E%7Ctwcon%5Es1_&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.itv.com%2Fnews%2Fcalendar%2F2020-07-30%2Fcoronavirus-tightening-of-lockdown-in-parts-of-west-yorkshire> 26 November, 2020. [11] Lauren Challoner, ‘Christmas v Other Religious Holidays’ (Twitter, 25 November 2020) <https://twitter.com/challonerlauren/status/1331688948729602048> 26 November, 2020. [12] Tahmina Begum, ‘I doubt it’d happen on 24 December’ [2020] (Independent) <www.independent.co.uk/independentpremium/lifestyle/coronavirus-christmas-cancel-eid-ramadan-rosh-hashanah-boris-johnson-b747213.html> 26 November, 2020. [13] ibid.

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