LONDON: Muslim leaders in England have called for mosques to remain closed despite the government saying places of worship could open for “individual prayer.”
The plans to reopen churches, mosques and synagogues have been criticised by imams, who say they fail to take into account that prayers at mosques almost always take place in groups.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to announce on Tuesday the easing of restrictions for places of worship. Private prayer can take place from June 15, but weddings and other group activities will be restricted until at least July 4.
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Imam Qari Asim, chairman of the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board (MINAB), warned that taking this approach could “cause more challenges” due to the congregational nature of worship in mosques.
Imam Asim called on mosques not to reopen until it is safe to do so and they are able to hold congregational prayers.
“The fundamental difference between mosques and some other places of worship is that mosques are first and foremost used for congregational prayers,” he said.
“Individual prayers can be performed anywhere, primarily at homes. Accordingly, opening the mosques on 15 June will cause more challenges for mosques and imams as the expectation from the community will be to resume collective worship.”
The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) also expressed concern over the viability and safety of the government’s plan.
“Mosques are provisioned primarily for congregational worship, so there is currently significant uncertainty and concern from mosque leaders on how the new regulations can actually be implemented,” Harun Khan, secretary general of the MCB, said.
A statement released by the MCB warned of “significant uncertainty” surrounding the latest plans and urged the government to “give clear and unambiguous guidance to plan effectively to ensure the safety and wellbeing of everyone.”
The British government has prioritised the reopening of places of worship. Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said: “Their contribution to the common good of our country is clear, as places of solace, comfort, stability and dignity. And the need for them is all the greater as we weather the uncertainties of the pandemic.”
Mosques and other places of worship across the UK closed in March as coronavirus infections and fatalities in the country surged.
People of all faiths were forced to drastically change the way they celebrated religious holidays, with British Muslims embracing technology and coming up with creative ways to capture the spirit of Ramadan while under a strict lockdown.
MINAB aims to support Mosques and Islamic institutions to re-open as soon as and as safely as possible.
To this aim, MINAB has prepared interim guidelines for mosques to start thinking and putting processes in place about re-opening.