SINGAPORE: Mosques will be closed until further notice amid a “heightened risk” of COVID-19 transmission in the community, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) announced on Tuesday (Mar 24).

“As the risk to the community remains high, the Fatwa committee has recommended the continued closure of mosques and the suspension of Friday prayers until further notice, until the situation improves,” MUIS said in a statement.

The committee, chaired by Mufti Nazirudin Mohd Nasir and comprising senior religious scholars and leaders, provides religious opinions on important Islamic matters in Singapore.

As for the congregational Friday prayers, which is obligatory for Muslim men, MUIS said the committee observed that Muslim law recognises illness and fear for one’s safety as valid reasons to not hold or attend the prayers.

“There is also no issue of missing three consecutive Friday prayers, as it is not obligatory under these circumstances,” it added.

READ: All events, gatherings with 250 participants or more must be suspended to reduce further COVID-19 spread: MOH

READ: Mosques to remain closed until Mar 26 amid risk of large COVID-19 cluster forming from Malaysia gathering

The latest announcement by MUIS comes after the Ministry of Health said last Friday that all events and gatherings, including religious ones, must be limited to fewer than 250 participants to reduce the risk of local COVID-19 transmission.

Mosques were supposed to open on Friday after MUIS had announced a first round of closures on Mar 12 for at least five days for cleaning, after infected persons returning from a religious event in Malaysia – later found to be the source of a large COVID-19 cluster – had visited several mosques in Singapore.

Four days later, MUIS announced that it would extend the closure to break the cycle of transmission, after contact tracing revealed that five infected individuals had visited at least 10 mosques in Singapore.

READ: 2 Singaporeans who attended religious event in Malaysia confirmed to have COVID-19; MUIS closes mosques, suspends Friday prayers

READ: Mosques to remain closed until Mar 26 amid risk of large COVID-19 cluster forming from Malaysia gathering 

Dr Nazirudin said on Tuesday that the number of COVID-19 cases in Singapore has more than doubled since the first announcement, showing that the situation “clearly has not improved, but as it stands, worsened”.

“The situation is much more dire in other parts of the world, where both the number of infections and deaths have risen in sharp spikes, including in the Sri Petaling mosque in Selangor,” he said, referring to the venue of the religious event in Malaysia.

“There is a need for mosques to remain closed and for congregational prayers to remain suspended until there are significant improvements as advised by the Ministry of Health.”

When asked for an indication as to when MUIS might re-open mosques, Dr Nazirudin said “we need to see that this trend (of a rising number of cases) is no longer the case”.

“We must be prepared for all scenarios, whether it’s a very prolonged or short closure. What is important for us is to prepare the community as well as to adapt to these changing circumstances,” he added.

“MUIS will consult various parties to make that assessment (on re-opening), and as to whether all the necessary precautions can be implemented so that we can ensure the safety of all our congregants.”

MOSQUE KINDERGARTENS CLOSED

Meanwhile, MUIS said the weekly kindergarten classes at mosques will continue to be suspended, adding that lessons will shift online for home-based learning.

Mosques will continue to provide “essential services” to the community while closed, MUIS said. For instance, it will make more mosque programmes and talks available on online platforms.

Safe distancing maintained between each individual during prayers at Al-Istighfar mosque on Mar 23. (Photo: Hanidah Amin)

Social development officers and mosque befrienders will also continue to reach out to low-income households and the elderly who are recipients of zakat financial assistance.

“Zakat financial assistance will remain available at the 31 social development mosques,” MUIS said, adding that new applicants can still call in to make an appointment.

“Necessary measures are put in place to protect the health and safety of both clients and mosque staff. For instance, all client interviews for the application of zakat financial assistance will be done through telephone.”

PRECAUTIONARY MEASURES UPON RE-OPENING

When mosques eventually re-open, MUIS had said on Mar 16 that some mosques will trial having two congregational Friday prayers, instead of one.

The duration of these prayers will be limited to 30 minutes, with shorter sermons delivered. Technology will be used to inform congregants of overcrowding at certain mosques.

Additional measures include contact tracing, requiring congregants to bring personal prayer items, and conducting physical health checks like temperature taking.

READ: ‘Small areas’ of 19 mosques to be opened for afternoon prayers from Mar 23-26, ahead of full reopening

MUIS had also revealed on Sunday that it will open up small spaces for individual day-time prayers at 19 mosques across the island. This is to cater to working Muslims like taxi and private hire drivers as well as delivery drivers and riders who need to pray on the go.

The spaces have been open since Monday.

“These spaces also allow the mosques to build up their precautionary capabilities in preparation for eventual reopening, as well as encourage the community to practise the new normals of safe distancing, reduced duration, bringing your own prayer items and not shaking hands,” MUIS said on Tuesday.

SURVEY INDICATES ACCEPTANCE OF MEASURES

According to a community readiness survey of 32,000 respondents conducted by MUIS, majority said they were open to measures like having their contacts traced, stopping all physical contact and being turned away if unwell.

In particular, 47 per cent agreed that vulnerable groups should refrain from visiting mosques. Thirty-six per cent said they were neutral and 12 per cent disagreed.

Social distancing in mosque 2

Not more than 20 people at a time performing their two afternoon prayers are seen at Darul Ghufran mosque on Mar 23, to minimise the spread of COVID-19. (Photo: Hanidah Amin)

“MUIS will take this opportunity of mosque closure to embark on a public education campaign over TV and radio to socialise new normals in the community … to prevent further transmission of the virus,” it said.

READ: ‘It’s really sad’: Some turn up to pray even as mosques closed for cleaning due to COVID-19

MUIS chief executive Esa Masood said it was important to gain the community’s acceptance of these measures and over time achieve a shift in mindsets.

“Many may not be used to queuing up or waiting a few minutes to clear the various procedures,” he added, noting that mosques have always been open spaces where people can come and go. “There are also segments of the community like the elderly and less IT-savvy (that need more help).”

Dr Nazirudin said the Fatwa committee stands with the Muslim community “in feeling a deep sense of loss and longing for congregation, because being together in worship is a very important part of our religious lives”.

“Indeed in times of uncertainty and crisis, many draw closer to religion as a form of comfort, but we do not have a choice in this regard. We must adapt to the difficult circumstances that we are in,” he added.

“I hope the community does not see this decision as denying them the opportunity to pray in our mosques, but instead as part of their social responsibility to help keep everyone safe.”

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