Mosque to remain closed for now

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Place of prayer . . . Otago Muslim Association chairman Mohammed Rizwan outside the Al Huda mosque in North Dunedin on Tuesday. PHOTO: SHAWN MCAVINUE

Dunedin’s churches and religious communities have had to find new ways to worship and support their people during the Covid-19 crisis. For some, the internet has proven a boon, while others have focused on prayer at home. The Star reporters asked how congregations have handled the crisis and the 10-person limit on gatherings. The Government will review its Alert Level 2 restrictions on Monday.

The doors of Dunedin’s only mosque remain closed as Muslims wait patiently for the Government to lift restrictions.

Otago Muslim Association chairman Mohammed Rizwan, of Dunedin, said usually the doors at the Al Huda mosque would be open for prayer every day.

Muslims prayed daily at set times and Fridays , when up to 500 people could pray in the North Dunedin mosque, were the most popular, Dr Rizwan said.

When the first case of Covid-19 hit New Zealand, the association committee decided to stop Friday prayer, despite the Government allowing gatherings of up to 500 people at the time.

“We wanted to act responsibly.”

The committee decided to open the mosque doors only at set prayer times on days other than Friday because they traditionally attracted fewer than 100 people, so it was easier to manage social distancing.

The day before the nation entered Level 4, the committee closed the mosque to all activity and asked people to pray from home.

Islamic scholars had advised that in situations such as a pandemic, people got “the same rewards” when they prayed at home as when they prayed in a mosque.

The mosque remains closed, despite Level 2 allowing up to 10 people at religious services.

“Who are we to choose who is going to come in and pray? It’s a privilege to come and pray in the mosque. I’m not going to stand outside and tell the 11th person they are not allowed in.”

The announcement religious services were limited to 10, when other venues such as restaurants and cinemas were permitted to have up to 100, was greeted with “sadness”.

The Government had failed to appreciate mosque-goers’ ability to stick to the measures while praying, Dr Rizwan said.

“Cleanliness is part of our faith Government sets a guideline then we will do it. They never gave us a chance.”

When asked about Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s statement about religious services being unsafe because those attending were more likely to mingle and hug, he said: “In my religion, I’m meant to shake hands and hug my brother but we haven’t been doing that because we know the consequences.”

Despite being “passionate” about returning to pray in the mosque, the congregation had been “very patient”.

The congregation trusted the Government and would keep the mosque closed until the restrictions were lifted.

“It’s the will of Allah the will of God. There are certain things beyond our control, so we just go with it.”

Ramadan – observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of fasting, prayer, reflection and community – finishes this weekend.