Ramadan and Eid-ul-Fitr is over for this time. Next year, we hope to be back to normal ways again and that the corona pandemic will be over. Yet, we may also take with us a few good experiences from the way we celebrated this year – and even some knowledge about the HIV/AIDS pandemic from the 1980s. Since the mosques this year were closed in most countries, and Iftar gatherings could only be in small groups, the role of the family became even more important than usual. When everyone had to pray at home, as most women always do, the gender differences became smaller. That was a positive experience.

In March and April, when the Christian month of fasting was held, ending with Easter, churches were closed and rules about gatherings and social distancing were similar to or even stricter than during the Muslim holy month. Many religious services were only transmitted on TV and the Internet. But that led to people who usually don’t attend church, to tune in. That was a positive experience. However, it should be underlined that online events can never fully replace the real events. We human beings need to see and talk to people, even if not hugging and shaking hands.

Let me note that it was a positive experience when a church in Berlin, Germany, next door to a mosque, opened its room for Muslims to use for their prayers since the mosque had become too small due to the social distancing measures needed. In future, I hope that Christians and Muslims can cooperate more, and also other religious associations.

In my home country Norway, the Muslim community is young, just about two generations, in an otherwise Christian or culturally Christian country. Muslim immigrants have often had to use makeshift rooms for mosques instead of a room designated for prayer, confession, preaching, and community. At the same time, many churches and prayer houses are being closed since the number of active Christians is diminishing. In Norway, there are about 200,000 in a population of 5.3 million. Why could not churches and prayer houses and rooms be used by members of other religions, indeed Muslims?

I also believe that it should be possible for believers in different religions to share facilities, of course with necessary changes of symbols and more relevant to the specific religion. For example, a church could on Fridays, and even other days, be converted to a holy room for Muslims, and on Sundays for Christians. Let me add, many of the churches in Europe and elsewhere are magnificent and spacious buildings, they are God’s house, and should belong to us all. Naturally, there should also be more purpose-built mosques in Europe.

Last Sunday on Eid Day, a large number of Norwegian Muslims celebrated in different ways than usual due to the Corona pandemic. At Tryvann Hill on the West End outskirts of Oslo, the Rabita Mosque organised a memorable drive-in Eid celebration with hundreds of cars at a spacious parking area. After the prayer section, there was a lighter programme. During Easter, Christians held similar drive-in religious services.

Some years ago, when I worked in Kenya, I had the opportunity to visit the impressive Starehe Boys Centre and School several times. It is a school and home for poor, gifted orphan boys. They do not pay fees, but a third of the students are from wealthy families, whose fees cover the expenses for all the students, plus contributions from voluntary sponsors. But what I wanted to tell you is that the main assembly hall and prayer room, is so you unique; the hall is divided into a triangle, each with a large window with symbols from each of the main religions in the land; Christianity, Islam and Hinduism. The hall symbolises that God is one and for all, and that we can pray side by side.

We all remember the British Princess Diana! She died tragically in a car accident in Paris in 1997 at the young age of 37, leaving behind two young sons of 15 and 12, the eldest in line to become king one day. Princess Diana experienced difficulties in her otherwise privileged life, but she also had become a spokesperson for several important causes; including the abolition of landmines, and how to show inclusion of victims of the HIV/AIDS, a pandemic which started in the early 1980s, with similarities to corona. It has totally caused, or contributed to the death of over 30 million people. About 75 million have been infected, and almost 40 million live with the infection. In addition, stigma was and still is attached to HIV/AIDS since it is an acquired decease, often spread through sexual relations and drug abusers’ needles. Today, there are medicines that can keep the disease at bay; to begin with there was no cure When the disease started, people were afraid of shaking hands and touching, even when patients and next of kin were very ill and in their last weeks and days of life. A famous, moving book, also made into a TV drama, was written by Jonas Gardell, entitled, ‘Don’t Ever Wipe Tears Without Gloves’ (in Swedish, ‘Torka aldrig tårar utan handskar’). It came in 2012, but is set in the 1980s.

Princess Diana was that time one of the most sympathetic and powerful celebrities who wanted us to show more care for those who were ill, indeed not stigmatise them, helping the children and others left behind. Maybe she went a bit too far when she said that hugging has never had any side effects, but she just wanted us all to show care for people of all creeds, classes and colours. She was right about that, and we have to find the right ways of doing it. I believe Princess Diana would have reminded us of smelling the flowers this year, and of giving each other huge bouquets of flowers – as we must whether there is HIV/AIDS, corona or we just try to cope with life’s small or big challenges.