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Mosques should NOT close their doors

On Thursday 5th November, a large number of mosques closed their doors to congregational prayers in response to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement of a second England-wide lockdown.[1] The announcement was hastily made after reports that COVID-19 is spreading even faster than the reasonable worst-case scenario modelled by the Government’s scientific advisers.[2] The policy of regional three-tier lockdowns seems to have been ineffective in curtailing the spread of COVID-19. The new restrictions included a requirement that places of worship in England must now close for congregational worship, but can remain open for individual prayer.[3]

The lack of consultation and engagement with faith communities in general has been evident. The lack of understanding of the integral role of congregational prayers in the Muslim community has been acute. For Muslims, congregational prayer is not only an occasional ceremonial gathering, it is also an integral part of daily life. Many Muslims perform all of their five daily prayers in congregation in the mosque.

It is no secret that the Government’s response to COVID-19 has been disjointed and reactionary. The delay in the national lockdown earlier this year in March is considered by scientific experts to have cost thousands of lives.[4] Time will only tell how many lives the delay in the second national lockdown will cost. The most concerning issue is the ease with which mosque committees have capitulated and announced the closures of their mosques, which were never the main conduits for transmission. Most mosques observe some of the strictest safeguards against COVID-19 transmission. These include shoes being placed into carrier bags, individual prayer mats being used by every worshipper, mandatory face masks for all worshippers and staff, social distancing within prayer halls with carpet markings, and rigorous tracing systems with registers on entry. None of these restrictions are rigidly enforced in retail shops, schools, colleges, or public transport. So why did mosque committees rush to close their doors to worshippers?

Congregational prayer is from the fundamental symbols of Islam that should be maintained at all times. In times of war when the lives of Muslim forces are under mortal threat, there is a complex form of congregational prayer legislated where different platoons alternate their units of prayer while carrying their weapons.[5] If ever there was a time when congregational prayer could be abandoned whole sale, it would be in the heat of battle, yet even when lives are being lost, the institution of congregational prayer is maintained. In one narration, the Prophet Muhammad (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) wanted to announce the call for prayer and instructed one of the Companions to lead the prayer and then burn down the houses of all those who lived adjacent to the mosque who did not attend the congregational prayer.[6] This is the Prophet of Mercy – who always sought ease in religion for his followers – threatening to burn down the homes of the hypocrites who lived adjacent to the mosque but were satisfied with individual prayer.

It is not the prerogative of mosque committees to shut down a fundamental symbol of Islam. If they feel unable to meet the challenges of keeping places of worship open in a new era defined by the pandemic, perhaps they should seek to appoint new committee members who can meet this challenge. Mosques are not centrally funded by a diocese or government; they are funded by the hard-earned donations of the Muslim community, to whom mosque committees are answerable.

The Government announcement did not mandate that places of worship close. There was an allowance for individual prayer and community services such as funeral prayers, food banks, and counselling. So why take this extraordinary step of complete closure? What is the precedent being set here? Many governments would jump at the chance of closing down mosques and silencing what is effectively the beating heart of the Muslim community. Is all that it takes to achieve this a hastily prepared announcement by a prime minister one Saturday evening?

While we walk past mosques whose call to prayer and congregation have now been silenced, it will not take long to hear the shouts and screams from local primary and secondary schools that are fully functional with minimal restrictions. Face masks have only been made mandatory recently, and the stipulation for schools is not social distancing (which is not possible in a classroom or school corridor setting) but maintaining bubbles. Some of these bubbles consist of 30 students in a class interacting closely with each other, whilst others consist of 300 students in a year group. Schools and colleges are the transmission superhighways that enable viruses and infections to be passed between students and then back to their own families.

It was just over a month ago when Chancellor Rishi Sunak encouraged families to ‘eat out to help out’ with a 50% discount in restaurants. Enormous queues formed daily as people seized the opportunity of a discounted meal. Was there any concern for transmission of COVID-19 then? Was there a risk assessment of the effects of hundreds of people queuing in close proximity to each other and then being in confined spaces sitting and eating at the same tables?

If mosque committees close mosques with relative ease, the Houses of Allāh cease to become the lighthouses of humanity where people are brought back to the remembrance of Allāh. They become optional extras to be enjoyed in good times and easily ignored in difficult times. At the very least, it is the responsibility of mosque committee members to keep mosques open for individual prayer and community services. One of the most important functions of the mosque is as a hub where worshippers meet regularly and alleviate the very real mental health problems created by loneliness and loss of purpose. I do not for a moment underestimate the health crisis the country is facing – which has disproportionality affected Black and ethnic minority communities and the elderly (both of whom are heavily represented in mosques) – but I do strongly object to mosques closing as part of a token gesture in an incoherent and inconsistent national response to COVID-19.

Source: www.islam21c.com

Notes:

[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/prime-ministers-statement-on-coronavirus-covid-19-31-october-2020

[2] https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/pm-commons-statement-on-coronavirus-2-november

[3] https://mcb.org.uk/general/the-muslim-council-of-britain-calls-for-an-urgent-review-of-new-lockdown-restrictions-on-places-of-worship/

[4] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-52955034

[5] Bukhari

[6] Bukhari

The views expressed on Islam21c and its connected channels do not necessarily represent the views of the organisation.

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About Ustadh Abu Haneefah Sohail

Abu Haneefah is an educationalist and student of knowledge. He has worked extensively in community projects in the UK. He holds regular study circles on reflections on the Qur'ān and his field of expertise is the tarbiyya of young people.

7 comments

  1. I think that some of the objections to this article could be resolved by re-reading what the brother wrote, especially:

    “The Government announcement did not mandate that places of worship close. There was an allowance for individual prayer and community services such as funeral prayers, food banks, and counselling. So why take this extraordinary step of complete closure?”

    And before that, “If they [the mosque committees] feel unable to meet the challenges of keeping places of worship open in a new era defined by the pandemic, perhaps they should seek to appoint new committee members who can meet this challenge.”

    We often repeat the words that ‘Allah is watching us’ but sometimes I feel that the better words to use are that ‘Allah is observing us’: observing how we handle relatively small problems (when compared to the responsibility over the whole ummah), possibly to see if we deserve for the nasr to come through us. Mosques as well are usually ‘group based’ as they tend to be linked to a particular understanding of aqeedah and a particular way of seeing how the ummah should be helped. Each group believes that their way is the right way. More and more, I see groups of Muslims who don’t have the courage or the ability to take on relatively small local/national problems but have lots to say about global events and about groups of Muslims who seem to have more courage and more ability, despite the far bigger challenges they face.

  2. In the days of the Companions, bad weather would be enough for preventing the Sahabas from going to the Mosque. Jamaat can be done at home, and should be done at home at this time. I strongly and respectfully disagree.

  3. muhammad mushtaq mangat

    Must agree… Close to Almighty Allah will help fight against Covid 19

  4. Please convey this message to masjid Humera

  5. Jazaak Allahu khair. Many years ago, an imam who was teaching seerah would encourage linking the incidents and examples from seerah to our lives. It’s great to see a seerah teacher today do that for us, as many of us are unable to see how it is relevant in the less obvious and more subtle ways. We talk about needing role models today but it’s amazing how Islam can make people from 1000s of years ago (if you include other prophets too) be just as relevant today as they were then. Having this mindset also helps to ensure that we never again say that ‘we already know that story’ and so don’t need to listen to seerah. Different people find different lessons.

    Regarding the adverse affects of the lockdown on our physical and mental health, my advice would be that we should learn lessons from the first lockdown. I know that sisters (and probably brothers too) regret the health impact that the first lockdown had on them. Many put on weight which they were just beginning to get a hold on. Some, especially those with older children who can take care of themselves in the mornings, found themselves sleeping longer, contributing to weight gain, and it affected their mental well-being.

    With gyms and martial arts classes closing, it’s important that we maintain the momentum that we picked up after the first lockdown. I think that walking or using a treadmill at home can’t be underestimated. However, the advice that I would give, to couples especially, is that you really should try to ENSURE that your spouse gets the exercise they need. There’s no point just telling each other what you should be doing. Instead, help each other DO it. Find solutions and ensure that your spouse is putting them into practice. This means that you should sit down with them and figure out exactly what times they could go for a walk because the other spouse will take care of the children during that time. The children may not need it as much as they still have school. If cooking is an issue then there are foods that taste good even on the second day so plan ahead and help each other put things into practice. Maybe one spouse is reluctant to spend the family’s money on a treadmill for them self, so if you know that it won’t be too much of a financial burden then insist that they treat themself and get it.

    For those who are not married and are living with parents, please take care of them. In my area, the local aunties go for regular walks in the parks so if your mum is not one of them then encourage her to go. Offer to go with her. I’ve seen elderly uncles do sit ups in the park so convince your dads to walk too. I know that my mum feels very weak compared to how she was before and she gets out of breath easily. My dad id already worried about what he’ll do with his time because going to the mosque kept him busy.

    I think that what I’m trying to say is, this time there should be less talking and more ensuring that things get done.

  6. Salam’s.
    This article has some good points and in a Muslim country would make a lot of sense.
    But we are not in a Muslim country. If we kept musjid’s open for congregational prayers there would a massive backlash from restaurant, gym, pub and all sorts of places where different households can mix.
    The fact of the matter is the public; Muslim or non-Muslim cannot be trusted and a lockdown is needed before things get worse. All the places mentioned above are relatively safe but people are people.
    The Muslim leaders need to convince the government that musjids are a safe place while at the same time do it in a way where non Muslims can’t say ‘how comes they can all go to their musjids but we can’t go to our pubs’

    The committee’s are just following the law.

    Opening for individual prayers? Have you seen how many people attained non Jummah Salah in musjid’s? It’s probably less than 10%. What happens outside after salah, everyone stands around chatting for a bit. How would that look if the ring wing media came with journos?

    For the greater good of the country, Muslim and non-Muslim we need to close the musjids. We need to show solidarity that we’re all making sacrifices.

    Do I personally agree that musjids should be closed? No. Not for one second. The musjid is one of the safest places in the country. But how do I explain that to John, Terry and Sharon in Essex that their pub isn’t the same thing. It’s people in a room to them.

    If you don’t like having to follow the secular laws of this country then people should consider moving to Pakistan where the musjid took the same priority level as supermarkets. I don’t know the exact numbers but Pakistan’s Covid numbers were relatively low. It appears their way was blessed.

  7. I agree keeping thr losses open with single prayers is better then closing i think its better to keep the mosque open with individual prayers then the 2 meter congregation prayers which has been criticised by many scholars this one will have jo dispute

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