Kuala Lumpur, 13 March 2020 — The recent statement issued by the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department for Religious Affairs, Datuk Dr. Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri, permitting the continuation of Friday prayer should be viewed with serious concern.
Friday prayer involves hundreds of people gathering in thousands of mosques, large and small, across the country. It is typically an hour long and worshipers are seated or standing close together, shoulder to shoulder.
Permitting these communal prayers, in particular, to continue during the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak, exposes people to increased risk and potentially helps the spread of the disease.
There is no realistic possibility of screening for each worshipper who could be sick or feverish. There is little chance of mosque committees being able to afford or even obtain hand sanitizers and face masks in sufficient quantity for their congregation.
The daily congregational prayers, mosque activities such as lectures, ceramahs and tazkirahs, are also potential risks.
The Ministry of Health in its advisory yesterday, has already called for the postponement of all mass gatherings due to the outbreak. Friday prayers are mass gatherings.
The health authorities have already rightly advised non-Muslim religious events to postpone their communal activities. In response, the Malaysian Catholic community has already cancelled all catechism classes, meetings, and other church events till the end of the month. They have introduced pastoral and safety measures to combat the Covid-19 outbreak.
The other religious bodies should follow suit, and temporarily halt communal prayers, events and activities. We cannot afford to wait until the situation worsens before implementing such measures.
We can follow Perlis and Singapore’s lead in taking similar precautionary measures. Today, Perlis announced that Friday prayers would be replaced with Zohor prayers which could be performed at home. The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) announced that they have suspended all mosque centric activities till the end of the month.
Religious bodies in Malaysia must realise that this is more than just about members of their faith and congregation. These are hard and disruptive decisions to make, but the outbreak affects us all, regardless if one is a believer or non-believer.
We need to work together to support the Ministry of Health’s efforts to mitigate the outbreak by making transmission of the virus harder.
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