Mixed reaction to opening of religious institutions

Masjid As Sabr in Parkwood will remain closed during Level 3.

The Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) called to delay the opening of mosque doors for congregational prayers for at least another month, in a statement that was released on Thursday May 28.

This statement was released after Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, released the regulations governing lockdown level 3, which started on Monday June 1.

Dr Dlamini-Zuma said you may go to places of worship, such as churches and mosques, and that religious counselling had been declared an essential service, and religious gatherings, such as church services, would be permitted as long as there were fewer than 50 people attending.

While most mosque leaders agreed to keep the mosques closed, a church leader said they were excited to be going to church again. Since lockdown, which started on March 27, was announced by President Cyril Ramphosa, religious institutions had not been allowed to open. Muslims were confined to prayers in the comfort of their homes including the Friday (Jumuah) prayer which requires jamaa salaah (group prayer).

Moulana Dawood Sampson, imam of Masjid As Sabr in Parkwood, said their mosque would be closed and he suggested that Muslims pray at home. “For Cape Flats mosques it’s a daily costly affair to open mosques even only for daily prayer besides Jumuah. I’m sure most mosque committees would agree with the MJC stance.

“Imams, clergy, rabbis and other faithful citizens can for now continue their prayers from home, beseeching the Almighty to bring relief.”

Mr Sampson added: “Even hajj 2020 will have to make sabr (have patience) until next year or even within two years, subject to the virus. According to scholars and historians hajj stopped more than 40 times throughout history for different reasons – political turmoil, natural disasters, epidemic outbreaks and in one such epidemic, believed to have come from India, three quarters of pilgrims died.”

He said the coronavirus “challenged Muslims’ faith and changed our lives”.

He added: “Social distancing has been key to reducing the spread. Our Prophet taught Muslims not to harm themselves nor others.”

Mr Sampson said he had received notifications (which he sent to Southern Mail) of several mosques which were not going to open on June 1.

After consultation with its General Majlis and the Fatwa Department, the MJC have come to the following conclusions: it was reminded that the Western Cape remains the epicentre of the epidemic in South Africa and to date has the largest percentage of infections and deaths due to Covid-19 said its statement.

It said medical professionals who were working on the frontline and who were analysing the progression of the infection in the province, predicted that the peak would be reached at the end of June after which they predicted the level of infection to be maintained for a sustained period before sloping downward. “We also understand the movement from Level 4 lockdown to Level 3 is as a result of the socio-economic conditions in the province which potentially pose a greater risk to the population than the Covid-19 virus. Therefore, despite the move to Level 3, the risk of infection in the province remains a major concern.”

Meanwhile, church leader Pastor Malcolm Campbell of the Deep River Revival Worship Centre in Retreat, said they would definitely be opening their church on June 1. “We are super excited to be able to go back to church even though there was political discourse against it where people are saying we are mad to go to church. Our president asked us to pray (for safety against the virus). How can we be asked to pray and not go to church or mosques?

“Obviously 50 people (regulation) is ridiculous because our membership is 350 and it will be quite a challenge getting a service down to 50 people. I already had calls (from church members) asking if they are going to be the first 50 people to come to church.”

Previously, Mr Campbell said, when they had funerals at church they had to limit it to 50 people and “it left for deeply aggrieved people because they were not on that list of 50 people”.

He said they would be meeting to discuss how they were going to structure their services “even if we have to do two or three services a day”. He said they would also be having live recordings/ broadcasts, so there will be the 50 people at church while others watch from home.

Dr Dlamini-Zuma said places of worship would have to maintain a 1.5 metre physical distance between congregants, masks have to be worn at all times, and hands have to be washed. Places of worship must screen all participants attending, and must be regularly sanitised.

Dr Dlamini-Zuma encouraged those older than 60 not to attend worship services as they were at high-risk of contracting the virus, especially if they had co-morbidities (underlying health conditions) such as diabetes, hypertension or cardiac disease.