Posted on Jun 22, 2020
By Danah Shuli
After spending Ramadan watching khutbahs online and often praying in jamaat (congregation) at home, many of us are more than ready to return to our masajid. But, many of us are also worried – how do we worship safely? What is our responsibility towards greater public health?
With states across the country opening up, businesses and institutions reopening their doors while taking the necessary measures, houses of worship across all religions are also in various stages of reopen – some are holding worship services with safety and social distancing measures in place while others are still closed and talking about how to reopen.
Muslim Community Center of Charlotte, NC, with it's empty interior due to COVID-19 shut down.
Many of us are thinking about how and when our masajid should reopen their doors to those of us whose hearts have longed to go back to our places of worship. I know many of us felt the void this Ramadan of missing tarwih prayers at the masjid and worshiping in our homes in quarantine (though a lot of good came of that as well), let alone not attending Salatul Jumu’ah (Friday prayers) or our weekly halaqas and youth groups.
But now comes a new challenge: How to safely open our masajid? Although things will not go back to normal for a while, what does responsibly returning to the masjid look like? How can our leaders and volunteers, along with the cooperation of the community, provide a safe prayer space for attendees?
The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) issued a “Joint Statement from the National Muslim Task Force on COVID-19 Regarding a Phased Reopening of Mosques across United States” in May of this year. The statement provides detailed information on the protocols masajid should follow in order to ensure the safety of community members as well as masjid staff.
Islamic Center & Mosque Reopening Checklist (based off of ISNA recommendations):
1. Develop a detailed reopening plan with review and feedback from Imam, mosque leadership and local public health experts.
2. Designate a dedicated cleaning staff with required training and protocols.
3. Provide plentiful hand sanitizing stations for strategic locations in the center.
4. Design and post signs and placards regarding the phased opening conditions and guidelines.
5. Have adequate PPE (e.g. masks) for staff and potential congregants.
6. Designate a screening team to perform temperature checks and protocols to assure limits and conditions for Friday prayer are met.
7. Educate employees/volunteers on symptoms, hygiene and cleaning protocols 8. Educate employees/volunteers on reopening protocols.
9. Inform community of reopening plans & protocols.
Inform community of protocols for salah as cited by the Fiqh councils.
While there are no enforceable rules on how to reopen mosques while cases (and deaths from) COVID-19 are still rising, putting safety measures in place should not be taken lightly and should be treated as an amanah.
I was curious about what this will look like in my own community, so I decided to reach out a local masjid, Muslim Community Center, Charlotte (MCC) to talk to one of their volunteers about their reopening plans.
“We would love for everything to go back to normal, but the safety of our congregants is our top priority,” says Maie, a friend of mine and the volunteer director at MCC. She explains that while MCC has not opened its doors since March, they have been brainstorming various execution plans during volunteer and board meetings as well as physically preparing the mosque by sanitizing all surfaces using EPA (Environmental Protection Agency)-approved disinfectants, setting up sanitizing stations as well as stocking up on disposable face masks and prayer mats for attendees who do not bring their own.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that all of the protocols MCC is planning on implementing align perfectly with the phased reopening of mosques statements issued by ISNA. Maie explains that the first phase of reopening MCC at this time would be strictly for Friday prayers with a tentative date of June 26, 2020. MCC plans on having two to three jamaats, in which community members will have to sign up via a link sent through the masjid mailing list.
A volunteer will be taking temperatures at the door, and those with acute respiratory symptoms or temperature above 100.1 will not be allowed inside the masjid. Maie further explains that congregants must wear face masks at all times and bring their own prayer rug. MCC will also require shoes to stay on and will provide shoe covers to be worn in the prayer area and inside the masjid.
The duration of the khutbah and salah will be shortened in order to minimize time spent in congregation. Attendees will also be instructed to exit immediately after prayers in order to avoid socializing. To further decrease the risk of transmitting respiratory droplets in the facility, all restrooms will remain closed, including wudu stations. In addition there will be signs to direct traffic and flow inside and outside of the masjid, one side for entry and one to exit.
MCC is also recommending that children and immunocompromised individuals refrain from attending Jumuah prayers for the time being. While cases in Mecklenburg county, North Carolina continue to peak, there are no plans to open the mosque for any other activities or daily prayers. Plans on reopening will take place once the county cases start to plateau.
Eid-ul-Fitr salah at Islamic Center of Richmond, Virginia, held outdoors with social distancing measures in place.
Other masajid in neighboring states have taken the same approach. In talking with my Haute Hijab blog editor Dilshad, she tells me that several masajid have opened where she lives in Richmond, Virginia. Most are following pretty much the same guidelines as MCC in Charlotte are proposing for their mosque.
Her closest masjid, the Islamic Center of Richmond (ICR), opened up before the end of Ramadan with all the rules listed above, including restricting elders past the age of 65, children under the age of 15 and women. (Other Richmond-area masajid are allowing women.)
Dilshad tells me that ICR initially only offered Friday prayers (with an online sign-up sheet) and all above listed precautions after consulting with their Shura board and three local physicians and recently have begun offering a few more daily prayers with several restrictions in place. They did cautiously hold a limited Eid salah, with congregants praying on their own prayer mats six feet apart in the parking lot. A recent program on racism among Muslim communities was also held with masks and social distancing measures in place in the masjid parking lot, while all other programming remains online.
Although it will take time to adapt to this new normal, the excitement in Maie’s voice about reopening MCC’s doors is evident and hopeful. She talked to me about MCC’s volunteer efforts since the pandemic started and throughout Ramadan. The masjid has been offering a grocery delivery service for anyone who asks for assistance as well as lending a hand financially to those in need during these unprecedented times, similar to what masajid across the country, like those in Detroit and Chicago among many other places, did.
In order to keep some type of Ramadan spirit alive in the masjid this year, MCC hosted weekly Ramadan iftar (and during the last 10 days) drive-throughs where food was prepackaged, and community members drove by the front door of the masjid, got their food boxes delivered to their car, and ate iftar at home.
For Eid the masjid held a live stream of the khutbah after Eid salah and a time slot for community members to pick up prepacked candy bags, drive through style. They even held a contest for the best decorated car for Eid! “The point is to make the kids happy and still make Eid a big deal,” says Maie.
With so many unknowns still in the forecast of this pandemic, one thing has shown to be so necessary, now more than ever, is to reflect and worship. There has been a plethora of resources and programs shared all over social media and the internet from various Islamic institutions that are easy to access and were most helpful especially during Ramadan this year. Many mosques and Muslim organizations around the country have transitioned post-Ramadan to continue to offer classes, lectures, programs and other online events.
MCC has also been offering, and will continue to offer, it’s own series of lectures, halaqas, Quran programs and youth groups via YouTube and video calls. Maie encourages everyone to continue to volunteer and stay in contact with their local mosques in any capacity they can as to not lose our connection with the houses of Allah (S).
Danah is wife to Kareem and mama to their daughter Kinzah (aka Kiki) and son Jude. She was born and raised in Charlotte, NC, and loves all things food, fashion, photography and home decor. After having Kinzah, she created her blog, Mother of Pearl, where she shares a glimpse into her life as she navigates motherhood and hopes to build a safe space for other mamas to connect. You can follow her on Instagram.