Mufti urges Muslims in Singapore to avoid large religious gatherings overseas

Pilgrims pray on a field where a mass congregation is supposed to be held in Gowa, South Sulawesi, Indonesia, on 19 March, 2020. (PHOTO: AP)

SINGAPORE —  Singapore's highest Islamic authority has urged Muslims here to avoid large religious gatherings overseas, in order to stop the spread of COVID-19.

In a post on the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) Facebook page on Thursday (March 19), Mufti Nazirudin Mohd Nasir called on Muslims to play their part and not to endanger themselves or others.

“I hear that some foreign religious organisers say that they fear God more than viruses and therefore, they continue with gatherings,” said Dr Nazirudin, adding that it is currently not the time to be “senseless and irresponsible”.

“We fear God by being responsible human beings. We fear God by not causing harm to others. We do not fear God by being reckless and by ignoring safety precautions,” Dr Nazirudin said.

His post was shared over 2,200 times in five hours since it was published.

On Thursday, Indonesia halted a mass congregation of nearly 9,000 Muslim pilgrims and began quarantining and checking their health.

Organiser Mustari Bahranuddin resisted the event’s closure for days despite pleas from authorities, even stating that "we are more afraid of God" than the coronavirus on Wednesday. He complied and said he would follow the directive to cancel the gathering the next day.

The four-day gathering at Gowa in the South Sulawesi province was organised by Jemaah Tabligh – or “Society for Spreading Faith” – a Muslim missionary movement that held a similar mass event in Kuala Lumpur’s Seri Petaling Mosque.

The Malaysian event, which ran from 27 February to 1 March, involved some 16,000 people, including 1,500 foreigners, and has been linked to hundreds of COVID-19 cases in several countries.

Social media posts show hundreds of men sitting tightly together in a huge tent or praying shoulder-to shoulder inside the mosque, while some guests posted selfies as they shared food on the same trays.

At least five out of 101 Singaporean attendees who have returned here tested positive for the virus. All mosques in Singapore remain closed for two weeks to curb the spread of the virus here.

To date, Singapore has 313 confirmed cases of the virus, with 117 fully recovered and discharged.

576 of Malaysia’s 900 cases are also linked to the gathering, including a 34-year-old Malaysian attendee who died on Tuesday after contracting the virus.

Three other countries have confirmed cases linked to the gathering - Brunei with 50, including its first cases of the virus, Cambodia with 13, and Thailand with at least two.

Related investigations in Indonesia, which had nearly 700 of its citizens attend the gathering, Vietnam, and the Philippines are ongoing.

It is not the only religious event linked to several COVID-19 cases: thousands in the South Korean city of Daegu are linked to services of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus.

Elsewhere in Indonesia on Thursday, a Christian gathering also went ahead with more than 1,000 people despite official discouragement of big religious meetings.

Separately, a prayer session in Bangladesh involving tens of thousands of Muslims sparked an outcry in the country the day before.

Organisers behind the mass gathering had not obtained permission from authorities to hold the session, which involved devotees gathering in an open field to pray "healing verses" from the Koran to rid the country of the virus.

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