Coronavirus worries for ultra-traditional faith minority communities in Hackney

jewish©DAfamily: © dragonfly 2 men with children walking boy Lea/Lee canal in Clapton, Hackney,140420
Orthodox Jews take Government-encouraged exercise by walking along the navigation canal in Clapton, Hackney E5, this week

FEARS ARE GROWING for traditional religious communities in Hackney that social-distancing failures are putting followers at coronavirus risk.

Celebrations of the Purim festival by Orthodox Jews in Stamford Hill in north Hackney last month involved contact at a level that would dismay outsiders. 

Ramadan starts on Thursday 23 April 2020 and may prove difficult for Muslims in a city ravaged by a socially restrictive pandemic. Both communities are often admired for their supportive extended-family networks, age-mixed gatherings and regular visits to places of worship.

Paradoxically, such links can, however, present extra difficulties. A London Jewish doctor described overcrowding in ultra-Orthodox homes as creating conditions “ideal” for spreading Covid-19. The death rate among them is, according to figures from the Board of Deputies of British Jews, out of proportion to their numbers.

Traditional: the clothing derives from the time of ancestors in eastern Europe. On this page the only photograph taken during the virus crisis is the one above

A whistleblowing health worker told the Jewish Chronicle that members of Stamford Hill’s “close-knit” ultra-Orthodox Haredi (also spelt as Charedi) community, as he termed it, were touching the same surfaces and prayer books, making them susceptible to coronavirus. 

Twenty British physicians of Jewish ancestry were so worried by Haredi vulnerability they circulated a pamphlet in the district, urging the ultra-Orthodox to follow social distancing. The medics added the harsh admonition: “You are fully responsible for deaths that occur as a result of ignoring this advice.”

The late Avroham Pinter with Mohammed Sidat of Medina mosque in Clapton

Avrohom Pinter, a Stamford Hill rabbi, claimed most people were social-distancing but the Government was, “to a certain degree, abdicating responsibility. People need to be told.” Sadly, he died of the virus this week. 

As for Muslims in the UK, the British Islamic Medical Association said in an open letter that followers “have certain characteristics that place [we Muslims] at higher risk than the general population”, partly because of an “increased incidence of long-term illnesses such as diabetes and high blood pressure”.

Madina mosque at Clapton roundabout is taking no chances

They referred also to the problems that can ensue from an “elderly population that often live with extended family”, regular gatherings and the frequency of “handshaking and hugging among congregants… prostration on carpets (the virus may remain infectious)… sharing ablution facilities”.

One of this country’s most vocal Islamic organisations, the Muslim Council of Britain issued a “strong recommendation for Muslim communities to suspend all congregational activities”. Its website opens with virus advice.

Scholars from the Deobandi movement, the UK’s biggest Islamic grouping, however, state that “the protection of faith supersedes the protection of one’s self”. 

David Altheer 150420

Popular: the Madina in Clapton is usually a busy mosque but the virus has closed it

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* Backstory: Muslim-Jewish musical; Stamford Hill keeps modernity at bay; Classy Klezmer in N16; Exodus, movement of Jaweh  people; Traditionalists resist Hackney plans for education progress 

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