January 11, 2021 | Jumada Al-Awwal 27, 1442 AH
In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful
Abundant Peace, Blessings and Salutations upon the Prophet Muhammad
Dear Respected Shuyookh, Imams, Masajid Boards and Administrators,
Since the beginning of this pandemic, our task force has sought to bring you guidance and recommendations as soon as it is readily available to allow prompt and appropriate decision-making to protect the Canadian Muslim community. Our recent statements over the last four months have consistently and increasingly urged vigilance about a growing second wave of infections, which governments are now trying to temper with large-scale lockdowns and curfews across the country.
The Current State of the Pandemic
Canadian Muslims are at higher risk of developing severe COVID-19 disease. Most Muslims self-identify as members of racialized and ethnic communities that have been disproportionately impacted by this pandemic as documented not just here in Canada, but also in the United States, the United Kingdom, South Africa and elsewhere around the world. Across Canada, this second wave of the pandemic has led to much more cases than the first across most provinces and our hospitals are struggling to keep up with the influx of COVID-19 patients. Many of these individuals are acquiring infections from exposures at workplaces or in community settings - either from other family members who may be asymptomatic, or admittedly from gatherings with others who do not live with them - despite having some protective measures in place.
Across Canada, hospitals and intensive care units (ICUs) are overloaded, patients are being transferred to more peripheral hospitals, surgeries are being cancelled and there is an overwhelming increase in deaths due to COVID-19. Field hospitals are being set up in Burlington, ON and parking garages are being converted into patient care areas in Montreal, QC. Funeral homes are running out of spaces and bodies are being stored in refrigerated trucks. In the UK and California, patients are being left to die at home and Muslim funeral homes are struggling to keep up with burials.
New variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that spread 50-70% more easily from person to person have also been identified in the UK and South Africa. This will not only increase the risk of outbreaks occurring in gatherings and community settings, but also accelerate the number of people infected with COVID-19, hospital admissions and unfortunately deaths. Canada has recently enacted much stronger travel restrictions, but this is unfortunately too late as the UK variant has already been identified here.
How Masajid Can Preserve Life and Religion During Lockdowns
During such difficult times that have forever disrupted our societies and where many have lost loved ones to COVID-19, Muslims hold onto and look to their faith for guidance and spiritual support. Our masajid should therefore continue providing spiritual programming using the most accessible and safest means possible for our communities as we navigate this pandemic.
Some lockdown regions have allowed small groups of 10 (or other small number of) worshippers to gather and pray together. Even though masajid have not been a significant source of infections compared to other congregate settings, Alhamdulillah most masajid have demonstrated strong leadership by closing to the public. Besides eliminating the risk of outbreaks through such proactive action, this also clearly reinforces to community members the severity of the situation and the need to take the public health recommendations seriously in all aspects of our lives. We are immensely grateful to the masajid that have MashAllah embraced innovative technologies to support the ongoing spiritual needs of Canadian Muslims during lockdown with virtually broadcast khutbahs, halaqas, Quran and other programs. Although closed to the public, the rights of the masjid are maintained by the Imam and masjid administration without any hesitation and has been embraced by their congregations, similar to earlier lockdowns last year.
A handful of masajid have chosen to remain open to the public during lockdown and “cycle” numerous smaller jama’ah in quick succession. While some have claimed that this is a necessity for the spiritual needs of Muslims during such a calamity and one should take advantage of whatever is maximally permissible within the confines of the law, there are significant risks and unintended consequences of such actions. Not only do such operations directly contravene public health principles as they do not allow adequate time for cleaning and ventilatory air exchange between jama’ah, they cause confusion within the Muslim community where some masajid are open and others are closed.
Some Muslims may feel obligated to attend the masjid if it is open, a requirement that has been clearly lifted during the pandemic through fatawa issued by multiple fiqh bodies around the world. Despite having adequate screening and safety measures in place, when the prevalence of cases in the community is so high that a lockdown has been instituted, the risk of outbreaks increases. Not only may masajid be held responsible by public health or the community itself, the harm associated with even one person developing COVID-19 or the loss of a single life is not worth the benefit of a handful of community members praying at the masjid. Further, it is practically and ethically challenging to permit only select individuals from the public to be able to pray at the masjid, inviting scrutiny from those that have been turned away. Remaining open to the public also indicates to community members that gatherings outside the masjid are permissible, even if that is not intended.
Officials may also interpret such actions as representative of the entire Canadian Muslim community, whereby some are looking for gaps in recommendations rather than being proactive and cautious in accordance with Islam. There is nothing that prevents us as Muslims from taking preventative action to protect our communities. Remaining open during lockdown has already attracted negative attention from hate groups to some masajid, and in an evergrowing climate of Islamophobia, we must seriously consider the consequences of our decisions on the wider Canadian Muslim community. Masajid staying open must also be willing to accept negative media coverage and loss of community support in the event of an outbreak, as has been the case in several different houses of worship across Canada and internationally.
In accordance with our previously issued guidance and statements, our recommendations are important now more than ever:
Masajid within regions currently in lockdown should be completely closed to the public and not cycle small groups of worshippers (Phase A).
The rights of the masjid should be maintained by the Imam and administrative staff.
Congregations should be reminded that several fatawa have temporarily lifted obligations to attend the masjid during the pandemic.
All spiritual programming including Friday khutbahs, halaqas and classes should be completely virtual or online.
Masajid that are experiencing financial hardship may apply for government assistance, seek donations directly from their congregation, or participate in Islamic Relief Canada’s ‘Support Your Masjids’ campaign.
Preserving both life and religion during a pandemic requires a balanced and reasonable approach. This is why the CMCTF’s framework suggests less restrictions during periods of lower risk, stricter measures during periods of higher risk and closure to the public while in lockdown. Many of us have been distanced from our beloved masajid for almost a year and long to return as soon as possible InshaAllah. Unfortunately, we cannot afford to be complacent or make decisions out of emotion without due consideration. Ramadan is less than 100 days away and if the circumstances do not improve considerably, we may unfortunately have to observe it intimately within our homes again. While the COVID-19 vaccines are being rolled out this year, let’s continue to work together to protect the lives and support the spiritual needs of our communities, and encourage others to do the same.
May Allah (swt) protect us, grant us patience and keep us all healthy. Ameen.