Muslims wear protective masks while attending Friday prayers inside the Al-Azhar mosque in the ancient Islamic region of Cairo, while Egypt is stepping up efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Cairo, Egypt March 20, 2020. (Photo: Reuters)
Egypt's religious endowments ministry said in a statement on Thursday that an extensive campaign has been implemented to clean and sterilise mosques nationwide in preparation for the return of Friday prayers this week after a five-month hiatus.
Last week, Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly said that the state would allow Friday prayers in major mosques starting 28 August under strict preventive measures. He added that preventive measures will continue to be implemented during daily prayers, and that the weekly prayer’s sermon has been set at only 10 minutes.
The religious endowments ministry suspended prayers in all mosques on 21 March, in an unprecedented move aimed at curbing the outbreak of the coronavirus.
The move came days after the Council of Senior Scholars at Al-Azhar, Egypt's top Sunni Islamic institution, said that it is permitted under sharia law to suspend mass prayers, including the Friday prayer, to stem the spread of the disease.
"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 said.
The ministry on Thursday published photos of mosques being sterilised and cleaned and spacing marks being put in place.
The ministry moreover urged all worshippers in Thursday's statement to cooperate fully with the measures, and violations could lead to the closing of mosques and legal action against the transgressors.
The preventive measures include mandatory masks, maintaining social distancing, and the use of private prayer rugs only. Mosques will be open only 10 minutes ahead of prayers and will be closed immediately afterwards.
Al-Azhar International Fatwa Centre has urged those who have liver, kidney, heart, or chest diseases, immunity disorders, the flu, a high temperature, cough, shortness of breath, or a sore throat not to attend Friday prayers at mosques.
It also reiterated that worshippers may pray and attend the Friday sermon while wearing face masks.
In May, the religious endowments ministry, which is responsible for administering mosques nationwide, decided to allow Friday prayers every week at one mosque only, in the presence of only 20 worshippers. The sermon and prayers are livestreamed on television and social media platforms.
In June, mosques were allowed to reopen for daily prayers for the first time since March, but Friday prayer services remained off limits.