Face masks and ‘prayer shifts’ as Italy’s Muslims return to mosque

Mosques in Italy are beginning to reopen their doors for the first time in months, implementing government measures to contain the spread of coronavirus. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 23 May 2020

Face masks and ‘prayer shifts’ as Italy’s Muslims return to mosque

  • Italy went into lockdown on March 9, with mosques closing that same date

ROME: Mosques in Italy are beginning to reopen their doors for the first time in months, implementing government measures to contain the spread of coronavirus.

Worshippers at Milan’s Via Meda Mosque are required to wear masks and there are ‘prayer shifts’ to avoid overcrowding.

“It is for our safety, for our good, so we must do as required,” one worshipper named Saleh told Arab News. “This way we reduce risks for us and our families. At least we are back here to pray together. It’s a really good thing. I have been waiting long for this moment. Now we hope the pandemic will finish soon and that we can all go back to our lives, to our habits and customs without fear.”

Italy went into lockdown on March 9, with mosques closing that same date, and restrictions were eased earlier this month as the country embarked on a phased return to normality.

The capacity of the Via Meda Mosque has decreased from 250 to just 70, and it has been decided that Muslims will pray in shifts until the pandemic ends.

Posters in Italian and Arabic at the mosque’s entrance and on its walls urge everyone to wear masks and socks.

Prayer mats are sanitized between shifts so that the next person can use them safely. Shoes are placed on racks outside the room in a well-spaced fashion to avoid a crush. Handshakes and hugs are forbidden, so people greet each other by putting their right hand on the heart.

FASTFACT

Mosques in Italy

Italy went into lockdown on March 9, with mosques closing that same date, and restrictions were eased earlier this month as the country embarked on a phased return to normality.

Imam Yaha Pallavicini used his sermon to thank Allah for the health of the whole community, and prayed that the last days of Ramadan could be lived “in a safe way so that physical and spiritual health of all the faithful, throughout Italy, may be preserved.”

In Vicenza, which is around 50 km from Venice, WhatsApp was used to ensure that social distancing could be maintained and that only those who could fit in the place of worship would attend. 

In Biella, an industrial city in the northwestern Piedmont region, authorities allowed the call to prayer to be transmitted on loudspeakers every Friday during Ramadan.

But most of Italy’s mosques remain closed until after the end of Ramadan following an appeal from the Union of Islamic Communities in Italy.

“We might not guarantee that the social distancing rules would be respected,” Imam Abdullah Tchina told Arab News, saying that a big turnout would be expected in the final part of the holy month. 

May 18, which was the date set for the reopening of mosques, coincided with this important period of Ramadan and discouraged many imams to hold prayers, especially in smaller places of worship. “We have thus been able to balance the need for physical health with the spiritual one,” Yusuf Abd Al-Hakim Carrara, from the national Italian Muslim association Coreis, told Arab News.

But the Grand Mosque in Rome, the largest in Europe, is “indefinitely closed” according to a note on its main gate.

Abdellah Redouane, secretary-general of the mosque’s Islamic Cultural Centre, invited Rome’s Muslims to keep complying with state rules about the containment of COVID-19 and to avoid gatherings. “Eid Al-Fitr can be naturally celebrated at home with families,” he said.


“We were all outraged,” says Arab owner of store at center of US protest firestorm

Updated 19 min 27 sec ago

“We were all outraged,” says Arab owner of store at center of US protest firestorm

  • Troops can go in ’very quickly,’ Trump says

CHICAGO: The firestorm of protest, arson and looting that has consumed the US for five days began at the counter of an Arab American grocery store.

Staff working for Mahmoud Abumayyaleh, the owner of Cup Foods, called Minneapolis police after George Floyd, 46, twice tried to use a counterfeit $20 bill to make a purchase.

Officers who arrested Floyd held him to the ground with a knee on his neck, as he pleaded that he could not breathe. He lost consciousness and died later in hospital. One officer has been charged with third-degree murder and further charges are expected.

“What took place outside … was not in our hands,” Abumayyaleh told US TV. “The murder and execution was something done by the police, and it was an abuse of power. The police brutality needs to stop.”

Abumayyaleh said he knew Floyd as a customer, and as someone who was always pleasant. He did not find out until the following morning that the man had died. “We were all outraged,” he said, and Floyd “may not have even known that the bill was counterfeit.”

The store owner and his sons, Samir, Adam and Mahmoud, have gone into hiding in the face of a wave of threats against them on social media. They took down their store’s Facebook page and its landline phone has been disconnected.

Minneapolis has more than 50 Arab- and Muslim-owned stores mostly north of where the incident occurred, all operating under statewide COVID-19 restrictions. Arab store owners said they feared speaking out publicly about the incident.

An unidentified man who answered the phone at one Arab-owned store told Arab News that both the killing of Floyd and vandalism against businesses “is wrong.”

Since Floyd died last Tuesday, protesters have vandalized, looted and burned down more than 200 stores in Minneapolis. On Friday and Saturday, the violence spread to New York, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Houston, Atlanta and Charlotte North Carolina.

In Minnesota, protesters maintained a daily vigil in front of the Cup Foods store at 3759 Chicago Avenue, painting walls and the street with murals and graffiti in memory of Floyd. After four nights of confrontations in the city, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz activated the state’s national guard on Saturday for the first time since the Second World War.

US President Donald Trump said troops could be deployed if local authorities requested their help. “We could have our military there very quickly,” he said.