Friday, January 21, 2022

Perlis mufti throws weight behind silent protest over ‘double standard’ in mosque SOPs

Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin says there appears to be an unfair assumption that mosques are breeding grounds for the Covid-19 virus.

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As Muslims nationwide observe the Friday prayers tomorrow under strict Covid-19 restrictions, a majority will have no choice but to skip the weekly congregation due to a requirement for physical distancing during prayer.

Physical distancing took away a key aspect of congregational prayers in Islam, where worshippers are required to stand shoulder to shoulder with no gaps between them.

But for the last two years, Muslim scholars have allowed this rule to be ignored as the World Health Organization called for physical distancing in public places, among unprecedented changes that left mosques worldwide empty including the cancellation of the massive haj gathering in Mecca.

But with daily lives re-opening since August and crowds thronging public places, an outspoken state mufti has questioned why mosques in Malaysia are still forced to abide by SOPs that have been eased in other places.

Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin.

Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin who is the mufti of Perlis asked if health authorities were practising double standards.

“If it’s allowed in other places, then it should also be allowed in the mosque,” Asri told MalaysiaNow.

“There should be no double standard,” he added.

His concern is seen as a reflection of growing criticism by some Muslims against Islamic authorities in the country over the refusal to ease crowd restrictions in mosques, while urging for a sense of normalcy to return for Islamic prayer activities in tandem with the reopening of other social activities.

Mosques were among the public places ordered shut in March 2020, when Malaysia declared the movement control order at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Prior to the lockdown and before any official health SOPs were introduced, the Seri Petaling Mosque in Selangor contributed to one of the country’s biggest Covid-19 clusters after it hosted the tabligh convention, an annual meeting that attracts Muslim missionaries from around the world.

Mosques finally re-opened to the Muslim public following the success of the vaccination programme this year, retaining a list of SOPs.

They include the compulsory use of face masks at all times, praying with physical distancing, and for worshippers to bring their own prayer mats.

Asri said he is not against SOPs as they are needed to curb Covid-19, but wants an explanation of why similar restrictions are absent in places such as stadiums, public transport and gatherings.

He said an excuse that mosques are not properly ventilated was merely an assumption, adding that spaces in public transport such as planes, buses and trains are much smaller.

Asri said a fatwa allowing Muslims to stand apart from each other during prayer can only be justified if the health ministry says that standing in close proximity could result in the spread of Covid-19.

“We relaxed it (the rule of standing in close proximity) because there was a strong reason,” he said.

“But that reason is not applied elsewhere, so why only for mosques?

“It seems to point to an unfair view that the spread of the pandemic only happens in mosques.”

Asri urged the health ministry to be forthcoming about the issue, adding that it should be fair to the religious community.

“The health ministry must come out openly because this is a public issue,” he said.

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