There was cautious optimism on Wednesday as religious leaders welcomed the announcement by President Cyril Ramaphosa that places of worship can open under level three of the national lockdown. Ramaphosa addressed the nation after consulting with religious leaders last week and called on the country to join in a national day of prayer and meditation on 31 May. It comes after various interfaith communities last week implored the president to ease the regulations around congregational prayer, given the distress caused by the pandemic. Ramaphosa made it clear that strict safety measures must be in place and only 50 people may gather at a time.
“Churches, synagogues, mosques, temples and other recognised places of worship may resume services, but these will be limited in size to 50 people or less depending on the space available. Social distancing will have to be observed and all worshippers and participants will have to wear face masks in line with the current regulations. All religious organisations must put protocols in place for, among other things, thoroughly cleaning and sanitising places for worship before and after services.”
Ramaphosa said faith communities must ensure that any religious rituals that carry even the slightest possibility of exposing worshippers to risk should be avoided, and that where they form an essential part of religious practice, that sanitisation is paramount.
“Our religious leaders will be recognised as essential religious frontline workers for purposes of spiritual counselling to members of their faith organisations. Religious leaders will continue to officiate at funerals of no more than 50 people.”
In a statement released by the MJC, they have urged all masajid to ensure strict protocols are ensured at all times. The MJC will consult with medical professionals on the current developments.
“Cape Town remains the epicentre of the epidemic and will require of communities to proceed with absolute caution. It is therefore paramount that Masajid ensures that strict regulations are employed to ensure the safety of congregants,” said the ulema body in a statement.
Jamiat SA secretary-general Ml Ebrahim Bham said while the lockdown and prohibition of congregational prayer had been extremely difficult, the real challenge lies ahead with the reopening of masajid.
“We all knew that one day a time was going to come where this is going to be lifted and it was never going to be indefinite. No one had ever assumed that the lockdown is going to be indefinite. Thereafter came the situation where the very same medical expert said that now there is a need to ease because of the flattening of the curve and Alhamdulillah we thank Allah for that,” he told Radio Islam.
Maulana Bham conceded that the limit of 50 placed on masajid would be challenging, as there is now a deep desire for Muslims to return to the masjid.
“We must make this very clear. On behalf of the Jamiatul Ulama South Africa, we are calling that every masjid must take it upon itself to have the necessary discipline and responsibility to adhere by the government regulations, in terms of having sanitizers, only allowing people who come with face masks and also to have the social distancing in the masaajid.”
The CTIEC Cape Town Ulama Board said they are in discussions deliberating with key members and organisations.
“We are looking into a plan of action guided by the principles of the Shari’ah. We will need to take into account the pros and cons of our plans and the ramifications that it will have, before making our call. With our infrastructure, we are asking questions like, will it be possible to enforce the correct measures to ensure our Masajid are compliant? Are we ready to continue services on one hand and make sure that we still continue to slow down the spread of the virus on the other? We do not want to release a premature judgement. Sacred Lives are at stake,” said Mufti Sayed Haroon Al Azhari.
Maulana Yusuf Patel from the United Ulema Council of South Africa (UUCSA) said the president’s announcement brought a great sense of relief for Muslims as the masjid is the bedrock of Islamic life.
“We express our gratitude to Allah for once again inviting us back to his house. It was certainly a very painful and testing time for all Muslims. We will now certainly enter the masjid with a sense of greater appreciation,” he told Radio Islam.
However, Patel reminded the Muslim community that there remains an even greater responsibility on Muslims to safeguard against the virus as the pandemic has not reached its peak.
“The need to act responsibly as we go back to the masjid is as important as ever. We call upon congregants to to act responsibly and abide by the protocols that will be put in place.”