Italy’s mosques could come out of lockdown within weeks

People wear masks to protect against the coronavirus as they sit next to a protective plastic window in a restaurant in Bozen, Italy, on Monday. (AP)
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Updated 12 May 2020

Italy’s mosques could come out of lockdown within weeks

  • Genoa’s Muslim community has continued to help the needy during Ramadan despite the lockdown, with the imam going to prison every week for Friday prayers and taking dates to Muslim inmates there

ROME: Italy’s mosques could reopen within weeks, as the country begins the second phase of its exit from a tough and lengthy lockdown.
Catholic churches are set to resume their services with worshippers in attendance on May 18, and the country’s Muslim communities have been stepping up their dialogue with the Interior Ministry in the hope that mosques can follow suit and open their doors again to gatherings and congregational prayers.
Italy’s lockdown began on March 9, with mosques closing that same date.
While there are almost 2.5 million Muslims in Italy, the issue with most of the country’s mosques is their size. There are almost 100 mosques in the capital but half of them are significantly smaller than the Great Mosque of Rome, which is considered to be the biggest in Europe, and they do not belong to any of the national Islamic associations.
Yassine Lafram is president of the Union of Italian Islamic Communities, which represents 163 mosques nationwide. He was concerned that small and medium-sized mosques may not be able to guarantee government requirements for social distancing.
“Most of them do not belong to national association bodies,” he told the Ofcs.report news website. “This is why I tell all the Italian mosques: Once a date will be decided please open only if you will be able to guarantee the safety of the congregation. Otherwise, please stay closed.”
Hussein Salah is imam for a community of around 12,000 Muslims in the port city of Genoa. He said that Ramadan had begun during the lockdown, meaning worshippers had been unable to gather for evening prayers.
“I fear that it will not be possible to celebrate Eid Al-Fitr, a crucial moment for our religion and our community,” he told the Italian regional newspaper Il Secolo XIX.
There is no mosque in the city, despite discussions for years about opening one as the community is growing, but the lockdown forced the closure of 14 prayer rooms.
“Even before the lockdown, we had already recommended not to go to Friday prayers because the gathering could have aided the infection to spread,” he said. “I believe it was an appropriate choice. On the other hand, the Islamic religion gives great relevance to rites related to purification and personal hygiene. The fact of washing hands, nose and mouth frequently is part of our culture and this has certainly helped.”
But there remain questions, and a call for clarification of how to reopen mosques in line with the government’s phase two “unlock” strategy.
“The community is awaiting clarification,” Salah added. “Everything is being discussed at the Interior Ministry in Rome with the representatives of all the confessions, but we still must understand what we can do. We have to see if only individual prayers or meditations will be allowed or we will have a green light also for bigger gatherings of the faithful. That makes a huge difference to us. Of course there are moments of individual prayer, meditations, lessons. But collective prayer requires that people stay close, one next to the other, as a sign of unity and equality between human beings. Needless to say, as 1-meter minimum social distancing is required this will be difficult to do.”
Genoa’s Muslim community has continued to help the needy during Ramadan despite the lockdown, with the imam going to prison every week for Friday prayers and taking dates to Muslim inmates there as a symbol of sharing during the holy month.
Salah said that Muslims were meeting virtually, through online platforms, to share iftars and for other occasions. “Of course it is not the same as we would normally do, but it allowed us to comply with the restrictions of the pandemic in a serene way.”
A first draft with security measures to support the reopening of places of worship has already been submitted.
It includes sanitizing places of worship before and after religious services are held; using outdoor spaces wherever possible to respect social distancing; the mandatory use of face masks, gloves and disinfectant for the congregation, as well as strict discipline for access and outflow from the place of prayer.
“We are working on an ‘ad hoc’ protocol, but we do not have a date for reopening yet,” said Lafram. “Prudence and precaution must prevail. We want to reopen but safely. We hope we will reach a specific solution for May 24 at the latest for the end of Ramadan.”
There have been 30,560 deaths recorded in Italy and confirmed cases in excess of 219,000, according to data from John Hopkins University.


Pakistan PM Khan slams ‘oppressor’ India on Kashmir anniversary

Updated 05 August 2020

Pakistan PM Khan slams ‘oppressor’ India on Kashmir anniversary

  • Solidarity marches were held in all major Pakistani cities to mark the anniversary of New Delhi stripping Muslim-majority Indian Kashmir of its semi-autonomous status
  • Kashmir, a disputed Himalayan territory, has been split since 1947 between India and Pakistan, both of which claim it in full and have fought wars over it

MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan: Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan branded India an “oppressor and aggressor” on Wednesday, a year after New Delhi imposed direct rule on Indian-administered Kashmir.
Solidarity marches were held in all major Pakistani cities to mark the anniversary of New Delhi stripping Muslim-majority Indian Kashmir of its semi-autonomous status, a move that outraged Islamabad.
Kashmir, a disputed Himalayan territory, has been split since 1947 between India and Pakistan, both of which claim it in full and have fought wars over it.
“India stands exposed before the world, yet again, as an oppressor and aggressor,” Khan said in a statement.
“Its so-called secular and democratic credentials stand fully discredited,” he added, calling India’s action last year a “crime against humanity.”
Khan led a march through Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-administered-Kashmir, before addressing the region’s legislative assembly.
Across the city, more than 2,000 people turned out at a series of anti-India protests.
“We ask the world to give Kashmiris their right of self-determination, otherwise we will cross the Line of Control and help our brothers on the other side with arms,,” Arslan Ahmad, a refugee who fled Indian-administered Kashmir, told AFP.
“Half of my family is under siege in Indian-occupied Kashmir, my mother is dying to meet her sister, this dispute has left our generations torn apart,” 31-year old Usman Mir added.
Police were enforcing tight restrictions in Indian-administered Kashmir on Wednesday, where religious and political groups had called on residents to observe a “black day.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government had promised the move would bring peace and prosperity to Indian Kashmir after three decades of violence sparked by an anti-India uprising.
Pakistan, however, has alleged it is a violation of the rights of Kashmiri people.
Khan accused India of trying to turn Kashmir’s Muslim majority into a minority by ending restrictions on outsiders buying up property “in blatant violation of... UN Security Council Resolutions and international laws.”
The change in rules has sparked fears that the Modi government is pursuing an Israel-style “settler” project.
A referendum in Kashmir mandated by a UN resolution in 1948 has never taken place.
“India has learned from Israel how to change the demography (of Kashmir),” President Arif Alvi told a rally in the Pakistani capital Islamabad, which observed a one-minute silence.
Hundreds of billboards and banners displayed graphic images purportedly of human rights violations by Indian authorities in Kashmir.
On Tuesday, Pakistan released a new official map showing all of Kashmir as its territory.
The Pakistan military, meanwhile, said Indian troops had fired a shell across the de-facto border, killing a young woman and wounding six other people.
Such exchanges are common along the Kashmir demarcation line, with shells blasted in both directions.