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Tuesday Apr 21 2020
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Ablution practice might have reduced COVID-19 risk in UK Muslims: report

LONDON: The Muslim practice of Wudhu five-times-a-day before the compulsory prayers may have played a major role in preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus in British Muslim communities.

According to a recent report by Professor Richard Webber from Newcastle University and former Labour Party politician Trevor Phillips, Muslims in the UK might be at a lower risk of the deadly coronavirus because they clean themselves five times a day.

According to the duo, performing Wudhu five times a day and frequent hand washing might have saved many Muslims from contracting COVID-19. Low employment, especially of Muslim women, also might have contributed to controlling the spread of the virus in areas where there are greater numbers of Muslims. Only 29% of British Muslim women are employed, according to the Young Foundation.

A lack of employment implies less use of public transport and travel in hotspots. The duo suggests that some cultural habits of Muslims similar to isolation might have saved from contracting the virus.

The report delves deeper into the coronavirus hotspots throughout the UK and deduces that the areas with a high concentration of Muslims aren't included in the top lists, even though areas with high Black and Ethnic Minorities (BAME) are the worst-hit.

Philips said that Blackburn, Bradford, Luton, Rochdale and Rotherham are “conspicuous by their absence” on the list of worst-hit places by the coronavirus, being both non-white and poor areas. All these areas have a high concentration of Muslims.

In an opinion article, Phillips wrote: “Were poverty the key determinant, we would expect the virus to be running rampant among Britain’s Pakistani and Bangladeshi Muslim communities.”

He gave the example of Tower Hamlets, in central London, which has more than a third Muslim population and is surrounded by coronavirus hotspots, but appears to be saved from it.

Tower Hamlets has 548 cases of COVID-19, compared to 859 in neighbouring Newham, and 1,075 in Southwark across the river. Surprisingly, both boroughs have high proportions of ethnic minority people, but fewer Muslims than the borough of Tower Hamlets.

Related: British Pakistani MP urges UK government to investigate coronavirus deaths in minority communities

While it cannot be ascertained whether cultural practices of some Muslim families have protected them for the virus, the data shows that Muslims have been less affected in many areas of the UK. While official statistics show that BAME communities are at a greater risk of contracting the virus because of a higher representation in the NHS and multiple generations living in the same house.

"Maybe there is a revelation to be had here; if one key to stopping transmission of the virus is hand washing, might a faith community many of whose members ritually wash before five-times-a-day prayers have something to teach the rest of us?" Phillips implied.

"And does an ethnic group where almost 40 per cent are economically inactive - and therefore not regularly using public transport, for example - merely underline the protective value of social isolation?" he further said in the report.