Egypt sets strict regulations for worshippers ahead of reopening of religious venues

Mohamed Soliman , Tuesday 23 Jun 2020

An Imam makes Adaan, a call to prayer, inside an empty mosque after the government banned all religious activities due to the coronavirus outbreak, in Cairo, Egypt, on April 29, 2020 AP

Egyptian mosques and churches are gearing up to open their doors to worshippers for the first time since March after the government said houses of worship would be allowed to reopen from Saturday under certain conditions.

Egypt had shut down mosques and churches three months ago to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mosques will be allowed to reopen for daily prayers, but will not be allowed to host Friday congregational prayers. Churches may open for prayers and mass services but will not be allowed to hold mass on Sunday, per the government’s new rules.

Religious Endowments Minister Mohamed Mokhtar, who is responsible for the country’s mosques, said in a statement on Tuesday that provincial directorates will determine the mosques that will open in what the government has said is the first stage of reopening.

The first stage will include major mosques, but not the smaller mosques known in Arabic as zawiya.

They will be restricted to hosting the five daily prayers, he added, and will be opened only ten minutes ahead of the call to prayer, and shut ten minutes after the prayers conclude. All mosques must close their doors 30 minutes at most after the call to prayer.

Mosque bathrooms and areas designated for ablution, a ritual cleansing that worshippers complete before prayer, will remain completely shut, as will areas designated for women to pray.

Funerals and marriage celebrations will remain suspended, according to the minister.

The same rules will be applied to Islamic shrines.

The minister ordered all doors leading to shrines be closed.

Muslims entering mosques to pray during the first stage must wear masks, bring their own prayer carpet, and abide by social distancing indicators.

The ministry warned that any mosque where the worshippers do not abide by the new rules would be “immediately closed.”

The Coptic Orthodox Church’s holy synod is set to convene next week to make a decision on the resumption of church services, in accordance with the government’s announcement.

“We will start [reopening churches] in the least affected governorates [by the coronavirus] and with limited numbers and strict precautions," said church spokesman Boulos Halim.

The vast majority of Egyptian Christians belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church.

The Coptic Catholic Church has announced the resumption of daily prayer services as of Saturday at all its churches.

The churches will be at a maximum 25 percent of capacity, and worshippers will keep 1.5 metres apart, at a minimum.

In accordance with the cabinet's decisions, the prayers will be restricted to priests only on Sundays and Fridays, while a limited number of worshippers will be allowed on the other days.

Halls and areas designated for funerals, weddings and baptisms will reopen at 25 percent capacity, and with the 1.5 metre distancing rule in place.

All other church activities, including weekly meetings, will remain suspended until further notice.

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