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Ella Linskens

Mosques in England prepare to reopen for socially distanced group worship

Central Jamia Mosque Ghamkol Sharif in Birmingham will reopen from Saturday [AFP/Getty]

Date of publication: 3 July, 2020

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As eager congregants return to their local mosques across England for the first time in months they can expect some major changes.
Mosques across England are preparing to reopen their doors for large groups of worshippers from Saturday for the first time since a coronavirus lockdown began in March.

The UK government has given the green light for places of worship to reopen for groups of more than 30 people from July 4 as long as social distancing measures are in place.

As eager congregants return to their local mosques, they can expect there to be major changes to mosque layout and proceedings.

"Since the day the government announced that places of worship were allowed to be open, there has been major buzz, huge excitement, a reason to rejoice, and an enormous relief," Sheikh Mohammed Aslam from Birmingham's Central Jamia Mosque Ghamkol Sharif mosque told The New Arab.

"Even though things won't be entirely normal and there are restrictions in place, we have high hope that things are not far from returning to normality," he added.

Guidance published by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government this week said religious communities "should adapt religious services" to ensure the safety of worshippers.

This includes reconfiguring the space, keeping services as short as possible, removing communal resources and closing ablution areas.

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) welcomed the government guidelines. 

"Mosques must not feel rushed into re-opening, but should only take this step when they feel it is safe to do so within their individual context," Harun Khan, the Secretary General of the MCB, said in a statement on Monday.

"It is imperative that communities take all practical precautions, from members not attending if they are high risk, to mosque leaders not re-opening until they are able to put all the necessary measures to do this safely in place," he added.

The MCB has published a 9-step guide for the re-opening of mosques, with suggestions covering pre-prayer, prayer and post prayer times.

Health and safety

Mosques across England are now focusing on ensuring the proper safety measures are in place.

"Health and safety is of paramount importance," Sheikh Aslam told The New Arab. "Central Jamia Mosque Ghamkol Sharif have been preparing to open the mosque since the government announced that places of worships would be allowed to be open."

"We've ensured that government guidelines have been met and social distancing will be adhered to. The community have been told that they must attend the mosque with face masks and their own prayer mats," he added.

"Everyone's temperature will be checked upon entry and people will pray in congregation whilst adhering to social distance. The elderly and the vulnerable have been informed that they must stay at home."

Read more: How British Muslim charities took the lead in the Covid-19 response

Another mosque in Birmingham, Green Lane Masjid, is only allowing 70 - 80 worshippers to attend on Saturday, Birmingham Mail reported, whereas they would have previously expected more than 300.

One of the city's largest mosques, Green Lane Masjid is operating a phased reopening in which those wanting to come must register and receive an entry pass.

Those attending must wear a mask and bring their own prayer mat, Birmingham Mail reported, and are encouraged to perform ablutions at home.

"Those who are elderly, vulnerable or have symptoms of the virus or other viral illnesses must remain at home until the situation improves," Kamran Hussai from Green Lane Masjid told the news outlet.

"The Muslim community has shown great patience over the past few months, particularly with Ramadan and Eid, which has helped to keep the infection rates and deaths below the originally forecast numbers."

'Reunion and return'

Sheikh Aslam echoed these feelings. "The last three months have been exceptionally difficult and extremely testing for the entire community," he told The New Arab.

"With every passing day and every week that has gone, we prayed, supplicated, and had hope that the time for reunion and return was nigh."

Mosques and other religious sites in England were allowed to open for private worship on June 15. Saturday's changes mark the next phase in England's phased relaxation of lockdown measures.

The UK is one of the worst-hit countries by the pandemic, with more than 43,995 deaths attributed to Covid-19 as of July 1, according to the Department of Health and Social Care

Read more: Covid-19 lays bare Britain's entrenched racial inequalities

A May report on Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) deaths showed that the death rate from coronavirus among British people of Pakistani and black African origin is more than 2.5 times that of the white population.

Community organisations in the UK which contributed to a government report into the disparities in the effects of Covid-19 epidemic last month have condemned the removal of a section which discussed the reasons behind why BAME people are at higher risk.

The MCB released a statement saying it was "extremely concerning" that the report did not discuss the role of structural racism in the disproportionate number of BAME deaths from the virus. 

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