The government has announced that from Monday June 15 places of worship in England, including mosques, will be permitted to open for individual prayer in line with social distancing guidelines.
This decision follows discussions between the Government and representatives of major faiths through the Places of Worship Taskforce which Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick has chaired.
The taskforce has one Muslim member, Shaykh Dr Asim Yusuf of The British Board of Scholars and Imams.
British mosques have been closed for several months due to the coronavirus crisis.
The government says the move recognises the spiritual and mental health benefits for people being able to pray in their place of worship, and that for some people this cannot be replicated by praying at home.
But they say openings can only occur with thorough cleaning of shared spaces, hand cleansing at entry and exit, and asking worshippers to bring their own prayer mat or religious text instead of using communal ones.
But communally-led prayer, worship or devotion will not be possible at this stage.
Robert Jenrick MP said: “Ensuring places of worship can open again, beginning with individual prayer has been my priority. Their contribution to the common good of our country is clear, as places of solace, comfort, stability and dignity. And the need for them is all the greater as we weather the uncertainties of the pandemic.”
Faith Minister Lord Greenhalgh added: “It’s our hope that this is the first step in places of worship reopening fully, when the science supports it. I look forward to continuing to discuss with the Taskforce how to address ongoing practical safety issues in the coming weeks.
“Places of worship still have discretion over when they consider it safe to open and may decide to remain closed or reopen at a slower pace if they wish.”
And the British Board of Scholars and Imams said in a statement: “It should be noted, however, that this positive step comes with challenges. Foremost of these is ensuring that attendance at our mosques is safe. We are seeking clarification from the government about the health and safety regulations that will permit the safe use of places of worship, along with any accompanying guidance. This is so mosques and communities can plan their next steps in line with regulations, and also so we can feedback comments and suggestions to the government.
“Equally important is the ability of individual mosques to ensure that worshippers keep to statutory requirements, which we recognise will be a significant challenge for some. We continue to be mindful that the Muslim community has suffered disproportionately from the COVID pandemic, and remind all that our eagerness to return to the mosques should not be at the expense of the lives of our congregants or their families.”
Meanwhile, the Muslim Council of Britain has said the government guidance lacks clarity for Muslims.
Harun Khan, Secretary General of the MCB said: “Mosques are provisioned primarily for congregational worship, so there is currently significant uncertainty and concern from mosque leaders on how the new regulations can actually be implemented.
“MCB has been consulting and engaging closely with hundreds of mosques and dozens of regional and national Muslim associations in the past few weeks on this topic, and it is clear that Muslim communities have been proactively planning and thinking about the challenges faced in re-opening mosques, ahead of official UK Government guidelines to confirm their plans.
“We urge the government to give clear and unambiguous guidance, so that mosque trustees, staff, volunteers and others with leadership responsibilities have the clarity they need to plan effectively to ensure the safety and wellbeing of everyone.”