When the coronavirus pandemic compelled the government to close mosques more than three months ago to curb the spread of infections many worshippers were devastated. The azan, or call to prayer, was modified to include a verse that said “pray in your dwellings”. Now, to the relief and delight of worshippers, the call to prayer is back to normal. As of last Saturday prayers are once again allowed in mosques, though with new rules.
Worshippers must go with their own prayer mat, wear a mask, and stand at a distance from one another. In normal circumstances worshippers stand immediately next to each other and mosques are open all day. Now their doors open 10 minutes before prayer time, and close 10 minutes after prayers are finished.
The imam of a mosque in New Cairo told Al-Ahram Weekly that prayers begin immediately after the azan and the rules are displayed on a pillar for all to see. In normal circumstances, a short recess of 10 to 15 minutes is allowed after the call for prayers for people to get to the mosque. He said that ablutions should be performed at home as the bathrooms of mosques remain closed because of coronavirus.
Congregational Friday prayers, when mosques are normally packed, are not allowed yet, nor are memorial services and marriages.
Ahmed, a dentist who lives in Maadi, said that he stayed up on Friday night to catch Saturday’s dawn prayer. “I was overjoyed,” he said, adding that while dawn prayers normally attract few worshippers, since the reopening of his mosque things have been different.
That is not the case everywhere. The New Cairo imam says “the number of people coming to pray has declined drastically, it seems that people have become used to praying at home, or they are scared.”
He estimates that the total number of people coming is three quarters less than before the virus.
While some people feel the reopening of mosques is a good thing, others fear the consequences.
Ahmed Abdallah is delighted. He uses a chair to pray so does not need to take a prayer mat. However, he takes disinfectant and sprays the chair before using it. He also sprays his hands with alcohol as he leaves the mosques. “It is safe. We are positioned far from each other,” he says, adding that he had missed his mosque and now it is open again nothing will keep him away.
In contrast, Mohamed Mahmoud thinks the reopening of mosques “a bad idea”. He worries that the rules will not be applied properly, “which will definitely lead to more cases of infection and might undo the effects of the past three months’ quarantine”.
Others are more optimistic. “It is a good initiative for restoring the norms which existed prior to the spread of Covid-19,” says Magdi Abdallah.
Although mosques have reopened, they can only be accessed by men and remain closed to women. “I think it is the right thing to do for now,” says Soha Salah. “Women do not need to go to the mosque to pray like men do. It is better for them to pray at home and avoid any contact with people.
“Women interact with children more than men do. They must take care of themselves if they are going to take care of their families.”
*A version of this article appears in print in the 2 July, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly