Ireland’s Muslim leaders prepare for Friday prayers amid Covid-19 concerns

Mosque at Mecca closed for first time in 1,400 years to avoid spreading infection

Stringent measures are being taken in Ireland’s mosques today to protect worshippers attending Friday prayers.

Dr Umar al Qadri, head Imam at the Islamic Centre of Ireland, said its mosque in Blanchardstown is attended on Fridays by over 400 people and the size of such a gathering had become a concern in the context of the coronavirus situation. This "very close interaction" of such a large number was "something of major concern in mosques", he said.

In Mecca it has meant “they have closed the whole mosque for the first time in 1,400 years”.

“ Nobody is allowed worship and they have disinfected the whole area,” he said.

At the mosque in Blanchardstown “all towels have been removed” and when people wash before prayers “they dry themselves with disposable towels and use soap dispensers or hand sanitizers”.

If necessary, and should the Government decide to ban large gatherings in the context, then the obligation to attend Friday prayers would be removed where Muslims were concerned, he said.

Ali Selim, spokesman for the Clonskeagh mosque in south Dublin, said they expected upwards of 1,300 people to attend there for Friday prayers today , as usual, but that worshippers were being asked "to apply all necessary precautions."

He pointed to a notice issued by the Irish Council of Imams, representing 35 imams all over the island of Ireland, concerning precautions where the coronavirus is concerned.

It stated that “hygiene is not only an act of worship but also an obligation. A Muslim’s prayer is not accepted unless the place where one prays is pure, the dress wherein one prays is pure and her/his body is pure.”

Such “body purity” is made possible by washing the face and hands, a practice repeated five times a day by Muslims before prayer.

The Council urged Imams “to save no efforts to prevent the spread of this epidemic, contribute to raising awareness and avoid spreading rumours. Congregational prayers and Friday’s prayers may not be established and schools and universities may be closed, if needed,” they said.

It further pointed out that “the obligation of Friday’s prayers and attending congregational prayers is removed by illness and fear for one’s life or the life of a family member.” Such attendance at Friday prayers, it emphasised, only “become an obligation when one is healthy.”

Muslims pray five times a day a day, but the most important prayer of the week is “jumah,” or the day of gathering on Friday. The Qur’an invokes the importance of Friday as a sacred day of worship in a chapter called “Al-Jumah,” which is also the word for Friday in Arabic.

Muslims believe Friday was chosen by God as a dedicated day of worship. In addition to the prayer itself, which is shorter than the usual midday prayers, Friday services include a sermon.

Muslim men are required to attend Friday prayers as long as they not travelling, while women have the option to attend, given their traditional role when Islam was established.