The Council of Senior Scholars at Al-Azhar, Egypt's top Sunni Islamic institution, has said that it is permitted under Sharia Law to suspend mass prayers, including the Friday prayer, to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
The Friday prayer is a congregational prayer that must be held and attended at mosques every Friday at noon. In Islam, group prayers (jama'ah) are considered preferable to praying by oneself.
All five daily prayers in Islam are also held as congregational prayers at mosques across the country, but it is not a religious duty for Muslims to perform all prayers in congregation.
"Due to the rapid spread of the virus, its lethality, and the lack of a cure, Muslims are exempted from attending the Friday prayer or mass prayers at mosques," the council's statement said.
"The council affirms that it is permissible for the state to legislate the temporary halting of Friday or congregation prayers whenever it sees that such gatherings will lead to the spread of this dangerous virus," it added.
The religious institution said that the move is necessary given that infected people might not show any symptoms of the virus and are thus likely to spread it everywhere they go.
Al-Azhar supported its decision by citing the Hadith (the Prophet Muhammad's sayings) and Islamic jurisprudence.
The council also urged officials to take every preventive measures to combat the spread of the virus, and called on the elderly and those suffering from other health problems to stay home and abide by the necessary precautionary procedures.
Following Al-Azhar's announcement, the Ministry of Endowments said that all mosques nationwide will remain open during the times of the five daily prayers
"Mosques throughout the country are open during the times of the five prayers and the ministry has not issued any directive to close them," the ministry said on its website. It added that Al-Azhar's decision is mainly about the permissibility of shutting down mosques "when necessary."Egypt’s Al-Azhar is a leading Sunni Islamic institution and the world's oldest Sunni school of learning.
On Saturday, the Egyptian Ministry of Endowments closed all mausoleums and shrines nationwide and suspended classes at Islamic cultural centres affiliated with the ministry for two weeks.
It said that mosques will be open only for daily prayers and the weekly Friday sermon, stressing that any other gatherings or events at mosques will be suspended.
The Coptic Orthodox Church has also announced the suspension of most of its activities for two weeks.
The Church said that the daily mass may be split up into several smaller services to avoid large gatherings, especially on days off and on special occasions. The Church also urged those suffering from high temperature or flu symptoms to not take part in masses and called on people to avoid shaking hands.
Egypt registered 17 new cases of coronavirus on Saturday, bringing the total of number of cases detected in the country to 110. The country has recorded two deaths so far: a 60-year-old Egyptian woman and a German tourist.
Since its outbreak in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, the coronavirus (COVID-19) has infected nearly 170,000 people globally and killed more than 5,900.