Comment on places of worship remaining open in lockdown England

Image credit: Makkah Masjid

The government has allowed places of worship to remain open during this third lockdown in England, which has been called to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Imam Qari Asim, Chair of Mosques & Imams National Advisory Board (MINAB), said:

“Allowing the nation’s sacred spaces to remain open for communal prayer is welcome and we are grateful to the government for this considerate decision. Mosques are centres of hope and healing and keeping mosques open will play a huge role in protecting the mental well-being of communities.

However, covid-19 poses a serious threat to health and life, with higher cases within BAME communities, and therefore voluntary closure of mosques should be considered by those mosques where  risk assessments suggest that remaining open will pose a serious risk to the wellbeing of worshippers. Preservation of life is an important Islamic principle and we owe a duty of care to each other and the wider community.  None should feel pressured to attend a mosque during this pandemic as Islamic law (Shari’ah) provides dispensation for protection of life.

MINAB’s strong advice to mosques is to  undertake a further risk assessment in light of the continued rapid spread of the virus, and even more rigorously follow safety guidance, and increase social distancing where necessary. Mosques should continue to livestream their services and offer online teaching and pastoral care.

Those who are vulnerable and elderly should, in particular, pray at home. God Almighty judges us on our intentions and will reward us for our spiritual sacrifices even if we can’t participate in communal prayer. Our collective sacrifice during this pandemic is to defeat the virus together by taking care of each other.”

The Bishop of London, Sarah Mullaly, who chairs the Church of England’s Covid Recovery Group, said: 

“The Prime Minister’s words tonight underline the severity of the situation for the country, as the virus continues to spread rapidly. At a time like this, the Church is here to offer comfort and spiritual support to everyone. We have a duty to care for each other, but particularly those who are vulnerable or who may be most at risk.

“The Government has chosen not to suspend public worship in England at this time and we will continue to follow the guidance and ensure that churches remain as safe as possible. The Government guidance on the safe use of places of worship makes clear that those attending a place of worship must not mingle with anyone outside their household or support bubble.

“However, some may feel that it is currently better not to attend in person, and there will be parishes which decide to offer only digital services for the time-being. Clergy who have concerns, and others who are shielding, should take particular care and stay at home.

“I would urge everyone in our churches to pray for those on the front line in our public services – the NHS and those working in social care, for schools and many others on whom we depend; and for parents and carers of children at this anxious and stressful time.

“There is hope. The vaccination programme is underway and, as Christians, we have a deeper hope in God that comforts us beyond fear itself. As we have been remembering this Christmas Season, even in the midst of our darkest fears, that hope brings light.”

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, said:

“The regular practice of our faith in God is a well-established source of both personal resilience and dedicated service to those in need. Such resilience and enduring service are vital in these difficult circumstances.

“I am glad that no measures have been introduced that would obstruct or curtail this essential source of energy for the common good. Catholic parishes will continue to serve the needs of their local community.

“In one parish, for example, the provision of food for the needy has increased by 400% since March last year.”

Steven Wilson, Chief Executive, United Synagogue

“We will continue to support our shuls which have chosen to remain open and will be introducing further measures to keep our communities safe, particularly when attendances are higher. Shuls planning to hold services tomorrow can do so, while ensuring all our and government guidance is adhered to. As we have said before, nobody should feel pressured into attending a minyan. We will continue to support shuls who have chosen to close, and those now thinking of closing…And of course, in addition to the great range of programmes being offered locally by our communities, our on-demand video platform, continues to offer a wide range of entertaining and educational programmes.”

Harun Khan, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain, said:

Some mosques in England have voluntarily suspended communal activities in recent weeks out of precaution and many individuals are re-assessing whether they will go to their mosque to pray. The MCB calls for tremendous care for mosques choosing to remain open to public worship given the Alert Level 5 (highest Level), and from our guidance issued on 31 December, we urge mosques to re-assess their safety measures given the new strain and higher risk, and further restrict age limits to protect elderly attendees; open windows to ensure good ventilation; and increase to 2m social distancing.

If these or other additional safety measures are not deemed by mosque trustees as sufficient, our recommendation is for the mosque to suspend communal worship. Many community members who are choosing not to access the mosque physically, must be catered for through livestream services, virtual sessions and opportunities to make their charitable donations online. Care for those in need will be particularly important during this new lockdown, and it is important that mosques are able to provide support for those who need help and can signpost to mental health services where required.