Mosques suspend congregational activities in the fight against coronavirus

24th Mar 2020
Mosques suspend congregational activities in the fight against coronavirus

Photo: Officials, wearing protective suits, disinfect the mosques as part of precautions against Covid-19 , on March 18 in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.  (Credit: Samır Jordamovıc/Anadolu Agency)

Harun Nasrullah

The Muslim News surveyed over 700 mosques and Islamic centres across the UK on March 12, on what steps they are taking to limit the spread of the Coronavirus (Covid-19). The result was mixed.

The majority of mosques took a lead to excuse all seniors and worshippers with chronic illnesses not to attend congregational prayers before the Government issued similar advice. While others stopped all congregational prayers, including Jum’ah (Friday) prayers and closed Qur’an classes for children. Those who normally hold extracurricular activities like sport were also closed. Some continue to hold congregational prayers but place restrictions on that worshippers should do Wuḍūʾ [ablution] at home. All showed concern about the spread of Coronavirus. While some voiced frustration at the lack of guidance from central and local government.

A week later after our survey, mosques across the UK were advised to suspend all congregational services including the Jum’ah prayers to protect worshippers from Covid-19 pandemic which has (as of March 20) killed 144 people in the country.

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), which has over 500 member mosques, issued the suspension recommendation on March 16, following the latest advice on the virus. MCB Secretary-General, Harun Khan, said it is “imperative” that the “extraordinary step” is taken to ensure the safety of communities.

The advice to suspend congregational prayers was echoed by the many of the Council for Mosques bodies who also called for mosques to perform funeral prayers at the cemetery.

The unprecedented step comes after Public Health England advice of stopping “non-essential contact” with others and the Chief Scientific Advisers told the public to avoid gatherings “big or small.”

The advice came a day after news broke that two congregants from Edinburgh Blackhall Mosque and Annandale Mosque (also in Edinburgh) tested positive for Covid-19.

A message by Edinburgh Blackhall Mosque Facebook page reads: ‘We would like to inform you we have had our 1st case of the Coronavirus. The member has been asked by doctors to self isolate at home.’

‘Edinburgh Blackhall Mosque is now closed to the public until further notice. This decision has been taken to allow premises to be disinfected.’ It came as another person at the Annandale Mosque in the city’s Leith area was said to have returned a positive Covid-19 test, although this has not been confirmed.

The Zia-UI-Quran Mosque Glasgow’s Facebook page posted an update: ‘Positive case of Coronavirus has been confirmed at Blackhall Mosque (Edinburgh) and another positive case from Annandale Mosque (Edinburgh). We request people of the age of 60+ and those with underlining health issues not to attend the mosque. Please make sure you bring your prayer mats and do Wuḍūʾ at home.’

Health Secretary, Matt Hancock confirmed that the Government’s new social distancing guidelines apply to places of worship. Robin Millar, Conservative MP for Aberconwy, asked the Secretary of State if he would, “offer some guidance to a large number of religious communities — churches, mosques, gurdwaras — on what constitutes a large gathering of people?” In reply, Hancock said it was with “the heaviest of heart” that religious communities are included in the guidance.

“We address that in the advice, and this is a very important point. We have taken advice on how to respond to the crisis, including from our ethics committee, which includes representatives of the major religious faiths,” he told the House of Commons.

A spokesman for MCB said, “The obligation for Friday prayers is very important to Muslims up and down the country. Given the overwhelming majority of Muslims identify with their local mosque, its centrality to communal activities should not be understated. The choice, therefore, is to suspend all congregational activities, is not one that has been taken lightly.”

In a statement to The Muslim News, Cambridge Central Mosque confirmed that the mosque will be closed until further notice from March 17, “in keeping with the Islamic principle that ‘there must be no harm and no mutual harm.”’ They added that Janāzah (funeral) prayers will continue with all “attendees to be wearing water-resistant surgical masks.”

Many of the mosques surveyed by The Muslim News had closed their Madrasahs (Islamic classes) on the day the World Health Organization labelled the outbreak a pandemic, a week before the Government announced the closure of schools in England and Wales. A few mosques had already shut down all services during our survey.

Chairman of Southerland Street Islamic Centre and the Central Mosque on Conduit Street, Mohammed Salim Malik, told The Muslim News that they had not suspended congregational prayers but had placed some restrictions on the worshippers. “We have advised people over 60 not to come to the mosque and that they should do Wuḍū at home as we have closed all wudu facilities. We are also generally not encouraging people to attend congregational prayers.”

“We cannot close the [congregational] prayers altogether,” adding that they are “monitoring to see how the situation develops” before suspending congregational prayers, including Friday prayers.

However, Malik said that they had suspended all children classes and other activities from March 20.

“Following the latest Islamic rulings (fatwa) from many reputable scholars, several Shari’ah Boards, as well as the latest UK Governmental guidance and advice from medical organisations, the undersigned mosques have taken the unprecedented and difficult move to suspend all congregational services and activities,” said a statement from 39 Sunni Mosques, headed by London Central Mosque.

Some mosque officials told The Muslim News they received little to no direct guidance from central and local government. “We did not receive any communication from the Government. All [the information] we are collecting is from media and news,” said Mohammad Kibria, Spokesman for

Essex Jamme Masjid. Maqsood Anwar of UKIM Madinah Masjid in Luton said the mosque received “hardly anything from local or central government. More advice was received from MCB and BIMA [British Islamic Medical Association], and also Luton Council of Mosques.”

A spokesman for the Belfast Islamic Centre told The Muslim News they requested specific guidance from Public Health adding that “as of March 12 we have not decided what to do. Considering restrictions, as all mosques in the Republic of Ireland (different jurisdiction) have closed, but the UK/Northern Irish guidelines have not yet stopped gatherings.”

Many Shia mosques and Islamic centres closed earlier in the month, including the Hujjat Islamic Centre in Stanmore which closed on March 3, following Covid-19 concern. In all, twenty-four Shia Islamic centres across the country closed around March 13.

On March 12, the British Board of Scholars and Imams and the Mosques and Imams National

Advisory Board issued joint interim community guidance for Covid-19 pandemic. The bodies ruled that it is wājib (obligatory) for anyone diagnosed with Covid-19 to self-isolate ‘Preventing harm, especially to others, takes precedence over attaining benefit.’

They also advised congregants to make ablution at home and bring their prayer mats. Mosques were also told to institute a regular cleaning schedule of their buildings. Pay specific attention to cleaning carpets and the entire prayer area.

Those mosques who suspended the congregational prayers assured the worshippers that it was according to Islamic law and guidance. They quoted from the Qur’an and Prophet Muhammad’s sayings (hadith).

“And Ayyūb, when he called to his Lord, saying ‘Harm has inflicted me and You are the Most Merciful.

“So We answered him and removed his affliction, and We gave him, his family and the like of them with them, as a mercy from Us and a reminder to Worshippers.” (Qur’an, 21:83, 84)

This is in relation to Prophet Ayyūb (Job) who lost all his family, wealth and suffered a long and severe illness.

His story is synonymous with patience. This verse of the Qur’an reminds us that with patience and perseverance, one can get through difficult and challenging times as we are going through now.

Prophet Muhammad (p) responding to a follower who asked him whether to travel to a place where there was a plague, he replied: “If you hear that there is a plague in a land, do not enter it; and if it (plague) visits a land while you are therein, do not go out of it.” [ Sahihs of Imams Al-Bukhari and Muslim]

Mosques around the world

Governments and religious authorities across the Muslim world have moved to suspend or limit weekly prayer gatherings to help prevent the spread of Covid-19. Several Muslim majority countries suspended all congregational prayers.

Saudi Arabia banned its citizens from making pilgrimages to Makkah, having already banned foreigners from coming amid fears it was spreading the virus. Starting March 15 the Kingdom suspended international flights for two weeks, meaning the hundreds of thousands of Muslims will now cancel their planned Umrah (non-mandatory) pilgrimage.

The central courtyard of the Great Mosque of Makkah was completely closed on March 5 as workers disinfected it in an attempt to slow the spread of Covid-19. Photos and videos showed the area around the Ka’abah — Islam’s holiest site — deserted. On March 17 Saudi Arabia decided to suspend congregational prayers across all mosques in the Kingdom, except for the Two Holy Mosques in Makkah and Madinah. However, on March 19, Saudi Arabia announced that “prayers have been temporarily cancelled in the courtyards at the Grand Mosque [in Makkah] and the Prophet’s Mosque [in Madinah] as a precautionary measure to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus.”

In Palestine, the Islamic Waqf which oversees holy sites in Jerusalem has announced that the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock will close to worshippers, adding that outdoor prayers will still be allowed at the complex that houses Islam’s third holiest site.

Authorities in Kuwait cancelled communal prayers on March 14, with mosques across the country broadcasting an altered call to prayer telling believers to “pray in your homes.”

Iraq’s most influential Shia scholar, Grand Ayatullah Ali al-Sistani, urged people to abide by a ban on mass prayers. In Lebanon, Jum’ah prayers have been temporarily suspended in all Shia mosques. And the country’s top Sunni authority has said it is forbidden for anyone with a contagious disease to attend prayers and has urged elderly people and those with weakened immune systems to pray at home.

Qatar announced suspending congregational prayers in mosques beginning March 17 as the number of Covid-19 cases in the country jumped to 439.

Away from the Middle East, mosques in Malaysia ceased all activities for 10 days amid a sharp rise in the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in the country, the de facto minister in charge of religious affairs said on March 16.

Malaysia warned of a fresh wave of Covid-19 infections if people did not follow two-week movement restrictions after cases in the country spiked to the highest in Southeast Asia. It has so far reported two Covid-19 deaths, including a man who attended a mass Muslim gathering linked to nearly two-thirds of the country’s 673 infections. Thousands of the attendees remain to be tested, raising the risk of an even greater spread of the virus.

On March 16 Singapore’s Islamic Religious Council announced all the country’s mosques will remain closed until March 26.

Turkey suspended collective mosque prayers on March 16 until further notice. Head of Turkey’s religious affairs authority, Ali Erbas, said, “It is necessary to suspend collective prayers at mosques for a period.” Around 90,000 mosques will, however, remain open to individuals who wish to pray individually.

Many mosques in Bosnia and Herzegovina were widely disinfected. By March 17, the number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the country rose to 38 on after the Federation and Serb Republic entities registered a total of four new cases, local media reported. The Bosnian Minister of Security, Fahrudin Radoncic, banned entry to the country for nationals coming from areas with the highest number of Covid-19 cases.

Algeria temporarily closed all mosques. Minister of Religious Affairs and Endowments, Youcef Belmehdi, announced the decision on March 17. Algeria has reported four deaths from Covid-19 and 48 confirmed cases, mostly of people who recently visited Europe.

Some mosques in South Africa’s tourism city of Cape Town will temporarily close their doors to worshipers in a bid to curtail the spread of Covid-19 that has infected 62 people in the country. The Imam of Masjidul Quds in Cape Town, Sheikh Abdurahmaan Alexander, said the mosque would temporarily close beginning March 17.

 

 

NOTICE: This story was written last week, prior to the UK Government announcement of a nation-wide lockdown.

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