Mosques shouldn’t rush to reopen for congregational prayers, say UK Muslim leaders

•As govt eases lockdown on places of worship

THE Muslim Council of Britain has advised mosques not to rush to reopen for congregational prayers despite government indications that they could reopen from July 4.

According to the council, the advice followed consultations with hundreds of mosques and dozens of regional and national Muslim associations in the past few weeks.

Following the consultations, the MCB produced detailed guidance on the safe and gradual reopening of mosques for congregational worship.

It paints a picture of what congregational worship is likely to look like “in our mosques over the next few months at least, with strict social distancing and other measures in place.”

Secretary General of the MCB, Harun Khan, said: “Though we as Muslims are longing to go back to our mosques and worship with our communities, it is essential that we do not rush. Coronavirus is still prevalent and dangerous, and mosque leaders must carefully plan and decide when they feel they can put the required controls in place to reopen in the safest way possible. These guidelines are designed to help mosque leaders achieve this.

“With BAME [black, Asian and minority ethnic] communities, including Muslims communities disproportionately impacted by coronavirus, we must prioritise the safety of our communities and focus on minimising the risk of infection transmission in our decision making. The preservation of life is paramount in Islam.

“Local coordination is also essential, and we encourage mosques leaders to implement a coordinated approach with other mosques in their town, city or borough, utilising local Councils of Mosques, regional Muslim forums and other platforms to share advice, best practice and resources.

“Regarding the United Kingdom government’s announcement that in England, places of worship can reopen for ‘individual worship’, while this may be suitable for church buildings, it is evident that implementing this for most mosques is considerably challenging and impractical. We recommend that it is more useful for mosque leaders to invest their time and efforts into preparing for safely resuming congregational prayers from as early as 4 July, with timeframes in Scotland and Wales to be announced.”

 

Leeds

Also, the Leeds Council of Mosques urged the city’s mosques to remain closed as the government eases lockdown measures on places of worship.

It was announced at the weekend that mosques and other places of worship could open for individual prayer from June 15.

But Faith Minister, Lord (Stephen) Greenhalgh, said communal prayer could not take place until July 4 at the earliest.

When asked on Tuesday when communal worship could return, Lord Greenhalgh told the Religion Media Centre’s (RMC) Zoom briefing: “The earliest possible moment would be at step three, which is July 4.

“We need to recognise that some form of collective or public worship is happening pretty much everywhere else apart from the United Kingdom and I think we just need to be ready by July 4, in terms of having the guidance ready to go.”

Leeds Council of Mosques said the decision to reopen places of worship for private prayer does not “go far enough” in recognising the practices of the Muslim community, many of which are centred around congregational prayers.

The body urged the city’s mosques to remain closed, warning that opening for individual prayer from June 15 would cause “significant challenges” for mosques and Imams in Leeds.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Leeds Council of Mosques said: “The government’s announcement to open places of worship from June 15 for individual prayer is welcome.

“But the decision does not go far enough in recognising the religious practices of the Muslim community.

“Mosques are first and foremost used for congregational prayers. Jama’at/congregational prayers, even with a small group of people, following social distancing and other preventative measures, will not be allowed in mosques from June 15.

“Accordingly, opening the mosques from June 15 will cause significant challenges for mosques and Imams as the expectation from the community will be to resume communal worship (Jama’at) for the public.

“The Leeds Council of Mosques’ strong advice is for mosques to remain closed until congregational prayers are allowed.

“Covid-19 is still present and poses a threat to life, with higher cases within BAME communities, and, therefore, appropriate steps must be taken to minimise risk to health when our mosques do open.”

 

Leicester

Similarly, mosques in Leicester are being advised to alter the way they run in order to adapt to social distancing guidelines.

Mosques primarily facilitate congregational prayer which is still not permitted under the latest government updates.

Mosques in Leicester will not be reopening with other places of worship on June 15 even though latest government updates have permitted so.

The Communities Secretary, Robert Jenrick, announced on June 7 that places of worship would be permitted to open on June 15 for individual prayer only and with social distancing measures in place.

In response, the Federation of Muslim Organisations based in Leicester announced that although they welcome the “positive step towards supporting faith communities,” mosques affiliated with the FMO will stay closed.

The spokesman for the Federation of Muslim Organisations, Suleman Nagdi, said: “We are of the view that the decision does not go far enough in accommodating the religious requirements of the Muslim community and other faith groups for whom a mosque or a public place of worship’s primary purpose is to facilitate led congregational or communal prayers.”

This means daily prayers in the mosque would still be restricted and Jummah (Friday prayers) would not be able to go ahead.

Nagdi said: “We believe the decision as it currently stands is impractical to manage for mosque committees that are largely made up of dedicated volunteers and will cause confusion and further dismay to worshippers who may misinterpret the guidance as the resumption of congregational prayers.”

In a statement, Nagdi paid tribute to the Muslim community “who have shown incredible patience, resilience and extraordinary generosity to the wider community over the course of the pandemic”.

He said: “Clearly, we are all treading in unchartered territory with new information emerging on almost a daily basis. We will, therefore, continue to assess events as they unfold and review our position accordingly in liaison with our affiliates and the relevant authorities to work towards the reopening of mosques in a safe and measured way.”

“However, preservation of life must be at the forefront of any local decisions, so in the meantime, we strongly recommend that all mosques across the city and county remain closed for congregational prayers and religious gatherings until the government has confirmed a date and issued clear guidance in relation to facilitating congregational prayers in public places of worship.”

 

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