THE lives of everyone has been changed in this time of pandemic, lockdown and social distancing, and none of us yet knows that the ‘new normal’ will look like.

Covid-19 is shifting perceptions about everything in our lives – from how we’ll work in future, to how our children will be educated. The new normal will come about from a fundamental re-evaluation of every aspect of society and how we live our lives.

That’s particularly true of people of faith, who have had to cope with a country with closed churches, mosques, and temples. These are the places where the faithful have always congregated and connected with the divine.

This month, the coronavirus is having a particular impact on the Muslim community, for whom May is the holy month of Ramadhan, and in which many Muslims fast between daybreak and sunset.

After breaking fast, they would normally congregate at their local mosque for special prayers called Taraweeh, but not this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. To comply with health regulations, they now do this at home and pray only with their family.

But in relation to Ramadhan, the Quran only mentions sawm which essentially means self-discipline. It can mean fasting, but not exclusively so, and definitely not as a daily ritual for 30 days.

The evidence of this is in the story of Mary, the mother of Jesus, who the Quran says took sawm upon herself but, as the mother of a new-born baby, was still eating and drinking. Surely if sawm means fasting, then why would Mary, whom the Quran calls a righteous woman, do something in conflict with a Quranic decree?

The answer is that she wasn’t doing anything in conflict with the Quran, which means that the ritual of fasting during Ramadhan is a cultural phenomenon and not a Quranic decree.

And that’s the trouble with modern Islam, because many Muslims still fall back on superstition as a substitute for the real teachings of the Quran. Simply, what some Muslims believe in and what is in the Quran can be two totally different things.

It’s the reason why I’ve just published a new book Everything you wanted to know about Radical Islam but were too afraid to ask which sets out the many misconceptions about Islam and the Quran, and is available from the website or from Amazon.

To take another example, many Muslims will already have arranged to visit Mecca for the annual Hajj pilgrimage, in July and August, and where up three million people come together at the largest mass gathering in the world. Socially distanced it can’t be.

Muslims therefore now fear that the Saudi government may cancel this year’s Hajj, which Muslims are expected to take at least once in their lives, and which will have a financial impact on millions. I know that some will see cancellation, not as a public health measure, but as a sign that Judgment Day is drawing near, although the Quran doesn’t mention such doomsday events.

But, quite frankly, the Hajj pilgrimage is another aspect of ‘Muslim’ life that is in conflict with the Quran. The Quran decrees that people should become benefactors of humanity. It does not decree Muslims should make a pilgrimage to Mecca.

Hajj is all well and good for those who can afford it, to travel to Islam’s holiest site and the birthplace of Muhammad. But why should the Hajj be a requirement on all Muslims, particularly those who can least afford it, and how does such a pilgrimage benefit their own communities, let alone humanity?

In addition, many pilgrims are from under-developed countries and their Hajj money could better be spent on schools, infrastructure and heath - especially in the current precarious environment. That really would be benefitting humanity.

It also saddens me that Muslims in Europe are often poorly integrated into mainstream society, instead maintaining a mindset of exclusion – that Western influences are corrupting and that, to keep faith with their own culture and religion, they should socially distance themselves.

It’s ironic that, now that we’re all socially distancing, there are Muslims who have been practicing it for years and who will no doubt go back to practicing it again when this pandemic is over. Those distancing strategies take many forms but include strict rules on dress, food and social contact.

It is therefore ironic and sad that none of those social distancing rules are based on the Quran. It would appear that many modern Muslims have in fact abandoned the Quran, while truly believing they have not.

More positively, awareness and interest in Islam have increased tremendously over the past twenty years of so, making it an opportunity to go back to our roots and redefine what Islam really is.

It is an opportunity to discard the superstitions and corrupt traditions that have given Islam its medieval and backward reputation. The Quran speaks not of rituals and traditions, but of enduring universal values of justice, compassion, equality and inclusion - all of which we need more than ever in the diverse community of many cultures and ethnicities that make up modern Britain, Europe and the world.

Rather, in this most difficult of times, Muslims should perhaps use Ramadhan to revaluate their beliefs and turn to the Quran as their one and true guide.

It only has messages of faith, hope and peace between countries, peoples and different cultures. It speaks of equality between the sexes, not of onerous dress codes; it and it doesn’t speak about month-long fasting or expensive pilgrimages.

It only speaks of righteous things that have resonance for everyone, whatever their religion or none. If Covid-19 gives Muslims pause to reflect on the real meaning of the Quran then, just maybe, some good will come out of it.

Paigham Mustafa

IT is good to know that the new Governor of the Bank of England is now supporting Modern Monetary Theory (interview with Robert Peston ITN).

He has stated that there is no need for austerity despite a huge increase in government borrowing since it is the central bank buying the state debt and there is no need for repayment for a very long time. With substantial slack in the economy, there is no urgent inflation problem. He was accepting the fact that they were just printing money.

We need to start thinking of taxation as a way of managing inflation, currency value, social inequality and other public objectives. The state can make the money to pay for services. This is not a simple approach but it is an accurate one which changes perspective.

What this means for independence is that it is essential that Scotland has its own currency from the start and has its own central bank. The Growth Commission recommendations were always wrong. Now they are an absolute dead-end and are to the right of the current Tory approach. We cannot afford to spare anyone’s blushes. We need an honest clean break. If current leaders can’t offer this and encourage new thinking, they need to move over.

Isobel Lindsay

REGARDING the problems at the National Trust for Scotland, in particular as they apply to the future of Bute House as the First Minister’s official residence, what happened to the proposals a few years ago to refurbish the Old Calton Jail Governor’s House adjacent to St Andrew’s House to form an official residence for the FM?

Gus Coutts