SINGAPORE — Singapore’s highest Islamic authority has assured Muslims that they are not neglecting their religious duties by missing Friday prayers in “situations of need”, as a shutdown of the country’s mosques is extended amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Addressing reporters on Monday (16 March), Dr Nazirudin Mohd Nasir, who oversees key religious rulings for Muslims here as the country’s Mufti, said that there is a “misperception” that missing Friday prayers, even in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, is a sin.
“In our context, we do not do the Friday prayers, clearly for a very strong reason, justified, accepted in religion,” said the 43-year-old, who was speaking at a conference organised by the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis). “So we will need to educate the community because there is also the possibility that we may need to extend the closure if things become worse.”
On Monday, Muis extended the temporary closure of mosques in the country for a further nine days until 26 March, following consultations with the Ministry of Health (MOH).
The ministry assessed that the risk of a large coronavirus cluster forming from the 101 Singaporean participants of a large religious gathering in Malaysia continues to be real. This is especially so as five individuals confirmed to be infected with COVID-19 frequented at least 10 mosques in Singapore during their infectious period.
The extension of the closure is therefore to complete one incubation period to break the cycle of transmission, and to “circuit break” it, according to Minister-in-Charge of Muslim Affairs Masagos Zulkifli at the same conference. The extended closure also means that Friday prayers on 20 March will be suspended.
Muslim authorities in countries such as Jordan and Kuwait have adopted similar measures in a bid to curb the spread of the virus.
Muis also unveiled a slew of preventive measures that will be rolled out once the mosques are re-opened, including conducting mandatory non-contact temperature taking for all congregants, with those unwell to be turned away; and requiring congregants to bring their own prayer mats.
Asked if turning away congregants who have already been unable to carry out Friday prayers for two weeks might spark friction, Masagos said, “I think when someone has temperature and we allow him to pray with other congregants, that is irresponsible on the part of the authority. And therefore, it is our duty to turn them away, no matter how angry they become even if they go to social media.”
He added, “Because the temperature is clear - you are 38 degrees and you want to pray with me, I don't want you to be beside me, because you first hurt me and then you hurt my children, you hurt my family and my friends. So I think that's social irresponsibility, and we must not succumb to accommodate such cases. And I think society will be with us if we were to turn them away.”