Italy’s mosques to stay shut for Eid, says Islamic organization

In this file picture members of the Muslim community in Italy leave Rome's mosque on Januray 20, 2005 after prayer on the first day of Eid Al-Adha, the Feast of the Sacrifice, Islam's most important holiday. (AFP)
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Updated 13 May 2020

Italy’s mosques to stay shut for Eid, says Islamic organization

  • “Mosques in Italy will remain closed until after Eid Al-Fitr,” said UCOII President Yassine Lafram in a statement

ROME: Italy’s mosques will stay closed for Eid Al-Fitr regardless of what the government might say about when they can reopen, a prominent Islamic organization in the country has said.
Mosques, prayer rooms and Islamic centers have been shut, along with other places of worship, since the start of the Italian lockdown on March 9.
Catholic churches are due to resume services with worshippers in attendance on May 18, as the government begins easing lockdown measures, and there were discussions with Rome about ways to reopen mosques as well.
But the Union of Islamic Communities in Italy (UCOII) issued a statement urging the faithful to adopt the “conscious choice dictated by the prudence of keeping prayer rooms closed” until Eid celebrations were over. The decision was made after discussions with the country’s most prominent Muslim leaders.
“Mosques in Italy will remain closed until after Eid Al-Fitr,” said UCOII President Yassine Lafram in a statement. “This is what our communities decided to do after they all responsibly expressed their position in our online meeting. We all consider people to be more sacred than the mosques themselves. No matter what the Interior Ministry may announce concerning the date for opening mosques in Phase 2 (of loosening the lockdown) we urge Islamic communities all over Italy to adopt this choice we have made in conscience. It is prudent to keep prayer rooms closed until Ramadan and the Eid Al-Fitr festivities are over.”
He said that a protocol with guidelines and security measures to support the safe reopening of places of worship had already been submitted to the government. 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 stringent discipline for entering and leaving in a safe and orderly way.
“We believe it is unlikely to organize, in a safe way, the large flow of the faithful wishing to be in prayer rooms and mosques during Ramadan and for Eid Al-Fitr especially,” added Lafram. “This is why we took, almost unanimously, the decision of a gradual reopening starting from the day after Eid Al-Fitr on May 24.”

Community leaders had agreed on the moral, ethical and religious duty of protecting human life as the basic principle of the Islamic faith, the statement said. “For this reason, the decision was taken not to jeopardize the many efforts made so far both by the government and by communities nationwide.”
Social distancing is a key measure in the fight against the spread of coronavirus, but the UCOII previously expressed concern that the country’s small and medium-sized mosques may not be able to guarantee the implementation or enforcement of the life-saving step.

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Islamic centers have been shut, along with other places of worship, since the start of the Italian lockdown on March 9.

The UCOII said that most mosques were not, for many reasons, in the right condition to adequately deal with the difficult situation.
“This is why the communities decided not to wait for any government decision on the opening. We continue to maintain a line of the utmost prudence adopted since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis.”
The union asked all Islamic communities to suspend every prayer and lesson inside mosques until after Eid Al-Fitr. Muslims were not to perform communal Eid prayers “even outdoors” and to avoid gatherings unless stated otherwise.
Lafram said the pain of not going to mosques would be alleviated by the conviction that the gesture of abstinence was itself a “gesture of adoration and prayer” in this difficult moment.
The gradual reopening of prayer rooms and mosques would be accompanied by a new set of rules that would serve as common ground for communities to safely reopen their places of worship, he added.


Russia says suspected mercenaries detained by Belarus were going to Latin America

Updated 54 min 13 sec ago

Russia says suspected mercenaries detained by Belarus were going to Latin America

  • Belarusian authorities have said they suspect the men entered their country to plot “acts of terrorism” and destabilize it before an Aug. 9 presidential election
  • Russia has close relations with a number of Latin American countries including Venezuela, and sent dozens of military personnel to Caracas last year

MOSCOW: A Russian diplomat said on Monday a group of more than 30 suspected Russian mercenaries detained in Belarus last week were only passing through Minsk and were on their way to an unnamed Latin American state.
Belarusian authorities have said they suspect the men entered their country to plot “acts of terrorism” and destabilize it before an Aug. 9 presidential election.
Russian officials have dismissed the accusation and described the men as employees of a private security firm. The Russian state says it does not use mercenaries.
The standoff could further strain relations between Minsk and its traditional ally Russia, which soured after the neighbors failed to agree on an oil supply contract for this year.
“Their final destination was one of the states in the Latin American region,” the diplomat, Kirill Pletnyev, was quoted as saying on Monday by the Russian RIA news agency.
Belarus granted Pletnyev consular access to the detained men, RIA added. His quotes did not name the Latin American country or give any more details on the identity of the men.
Russia has close relations with a number of Latin American countries including Venezuela, and sent dozens of military personnel to Caracas last year, describing them as military specialists.
On Friday, Alexander Agafonov, the head of the Belarusian investigative group that is handling the case, said the arrested men — some of whom were wearing army fatigues — had given “contradictory accounts” about their plans.
He was quoted as saying that 11 of the arrested men had told authorities they planned to fly on to Venezuela, 15 to Turkey, two to Cuba and one to Syria. Another said he did not know his destination, while three refused to make a statement.
Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko, who has said he wants a full explanation from Russia, faces his biggest electoral test in years on Aug. 9 as public anger swells over his handling of COVID-19, the economy and human rights.