CAIRO: Friday prayers returned to Cairo’s Al-Azhar Mosque, 66 days after being suspended as a precautionary measure to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Ahmed Hashem, a member of the Senior Scholars Committee in Al-Azhar, was the khatib, or preacher, for the first Friday prayers since the shutdown.
Only 20 worshippers from among the mosque’s imams and employees took part in the prayers. Regular worshippers were absent in line with virus restrictions.
“To all those working in the medical force, from doctors to nurses, work sincerely and know that in your work of treating the sick, you are conducting the best form of worship,” Hashem said during his sermon, addressing health-care workers.
“What we experienced with this pandemic, and being unable to find a cure despite the genius of modern science, is an indication that this universe has God,” he added.
The Friday prayer was broadcast on Egyptian TV and on Al-Azhar’s social media platforms.
Hashem told journalists earlier that praying in Al-Azhar Mosque was a good omen, saying he prayed to God to “lift the pandemic off humanity as a whole.”
A member of the Council of Senior Religious Scholars said that it was common knowledge among scholars that in Al-Azhar Mosque, prayers are answered.
Shoukry El-Gendy, undersecretary of the Religious Affairs Committee in Parliament, said the return of prayers in mosques will depend on worshippers following social distancing, especially in large venues.
Egypt’s mosques will follow protective guidelines when they reopen, with worshippers wearing face masks, keeping a safe distance and each having their own prayer mat.
The Friday prayers were the first to be held in Al-Azhar Mosque since the Grand Imam Ahmed Al-Tayyeb, sheikh of Al-Azhar, temporarily stopped public prayers on March 21 to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
The Ministry of Endowments confirmed that the next Friday prayer, on June 12, will be held in the Imam Hussein Mosque, and will include around 20 mosque employees and endowment workers.
The ministry would not provide any information on when daily prayers will be held in mosques across Egypt.
The Council of Ministers said that a coronavirus crisis management committee meeting next week will make a decision on the reopening of mosques. The committee is responsible for ensuring that government instructions on the virus are being implemented.
This was not the first time Al-Azhar Mosque stopped worshippers congregating. During the era of the Ayyubid state (1174-1250 AD), Salah Al-Din Al-Ayyubi overthrew the Fatimids at a time when the mosque was neglected.
During the rule of Egypt’s Ayyubid dynasty, Sadr Al-Din bin Derbas, a judge appointed by Salah Al-Din Al-Ayyubi, was prohibited from praying in it. Al-Hakim Mosque became the only mosque in which congregational prayers, including the Friday prayer and khutbah, took place.