Egypt's religious authority says holding prayers at mosques despite ban is 'forbidden' in Islam

Ahram Online , Sunday 22 Mar 2020

Egypt on Saturday announced shuttering mosques and churches nationwide in a bid to contain the spread of the coronavirus

A man wearing a protective face mask is seen after attending the Friday prayers inside Al-Azhar mosque in the old Islamic area of Cairo while Egypt ramps up its efforts to slow down the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Cairo, Egypt March 20, 2020. (Photo: Reuters)

Egypt’s Dar Al-Ifta, the central authority issuing religious rulings, has said that holding daily prayers or Friday congregations at mosques despite a recently announced ban over coronavirus fears is religiously "forbidden".

Egypt on Saturday ordered mosques and churches to shut to worshippers in an attempt to contain the spread of the coronavirus, joining other countries who have taken the same step.

"Insistence on holding Friday and mass prayers in mosques, under the pretext of practicing rituals and preserving obligatory [duties], despite authorities banning  them, is prohibited," Dar Al-Ifta said in a statement on Sunday.

The religious institution said that "preserving lives" is a main aspect of Islam while calling on the faithful to comply with preventative measures taken by the government.

Egypt has reported 294 confirmed coronavirus cases, including 10 deaths.

Egypt had earlier imposed restrictions on the time allocated for prayers and sermons, and religious authorities, including the top authority of Al-Azhar, said Muslims are "permitted" to pray at home to minimize the risk of virus transmission. But last Friday, believers crowded mosques during the weekly prayers.

Meanwhile, Egypt’s Ministry of Endowments said a special 'azan', call to Islamic prayer, would be broadcast on radio and TV starting Sunday noon.

The move to change to the "cataclysm azan" is aimed to "deliver an awareness message that we are in an emergency and exceptional situation that requires all of us to take the utmost care and caution in preventive and precautionary" measures, the ministry said.

Islamic scholars say the special azan was used during the time of natural disasters, pandemics, or at risk occasions at earlier times in the history of Islam when people were demanded to perform prayers at home.

The Friday prayer is a congregational prayer that must be held and attended at mosques every Friday at noon. In Islam, group prayers are considered preferable to praying by oneself.

All the customary five daily prayers in Islam are also held as congregational prayers at mosques across the country, but it is not an obligation.

Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church, to which the majority of Egypt's Christians belong, on Saturday shut all its churches and suspended masses for two weeks over coronavirus concerns. The church also closed condolences halls attached to churches and halted visits to monasteries.

The Coptic Catholic Church took the same measures.

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