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.

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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.


New coronavirus cases in Hong Kong raise concerns of local cluster

Updated 02 June 2020

New coronavirus cases in Hong Kong raise concerns of local cluster

  • The infected woman is a night-shift worker at a Kerry Logistics warehouse
  • The government was expected to extend a ban on group gatherings larger than eight later on Tuesday
HONG KONG: A cluster of nine coronavirus cases raised concerns in Hong Kong over renewed local transmission in a city that has been one of the most successful in keeping the pandemic under control. The first two cases in the cluster — a husband and wife — were confirmed on Sunday. Since then four neighbors, two of the wife’s work colleagues, and a fire department medical officer who had sent the woman to hospital have been confirmed to have been infected. None had been abroad recently.
“We are very concerned about this cluster of nine,” Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam told her weekly news conference on Tuesday, before an executive council meeting.
The infected woman is a night-shift worker at a Kerry Logistics warehouse, where she labels food items imported from Britain, local media reported.
The government was expected to extend a ban on group gatherings larger than eight later on Tuesday. It was due to expire at the end of Thursday, and has been extended several times for two-week periods.
The limits on the size of gatherings prompted police to reject for the first time an application of the annual vigil tens of thousands of Hong Kong people traditionally hold in a downtown park to commemorate pro-democracy protesters killed in and around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square 31 years ago.
A further extension is also likely to thwart plans for legally organizing anniversary marches of the anti-government protests that started in June last year and resumed recently after Beijing announced plans to impose national security laws on Hong Kong.
Lam has repeatedly said health measures had no political motive. On Tuesday, she said they were not about “taking away people’s freedom,” but about protecting people, adding that public health was “also part of national security.”
As of Monday, Hong Kong had reported 1,088 coronavirus cases and four deaths.