Malaysia's mosques are to close as confirmed coronavirus cases rise

A man wears a mask during Friday prayers at the National Mosque in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on March 13, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

KUALA LUMPUR - Mosques in Malaysia are to cease all activities for 10 days amid a sharp rise in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the country, the de facto minister in charge of religious affairs said on Monday (March 16)

"All activities at mosques and suraus (prayer houses) including Friday prayers and congregational prayers will be postponed beginning from 17-26 March 2020," Datuk Seri Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri said in a statement.

Mosque and surau committees are advised to clean and disinfect their premises to prevent infections, he added.

The decision was made following a briefing by the Health Ministry and a special meeting of Islamic leaders in Putrajaya on Sunday. It was announced on Monday after King Sultan Abdullah Ri'ayatuddin had granted his permission.

Datuk Seri Zulkifli said this decision applies to the Federal Territories, and it would be up to the Islamic authorities in the respective states to decide on the implementation of the 10-day suspension.

Matters of religion are under the purview of each of Malaysia's 13 states, with nine of these headed by Malay rulers who must be consulted before such decisions are made.

Negri Sembilan Mufti Datuk Mohd Yusof Ahmad had said earlier on Monday that mosques and suraus in the state will be closed from March 17 to 26 for cleaning and disinfecting. Negri Sembilan is the first Malaysian state to announce the suspension of all mosque and surau activities in the wake of the virus outbreak.

Perlis state had cancelled Friday prayers last week, saying that the decision was made based on the recommendations of the health ministry. On Monday, the state also announced it would suspend all mosque activities for two weeks from March 16 until 29.

In a significant departure from the norm, the call to prayer in Perlis will include an Arabic phrase which means "pray at your homes", instead of the usual call to "come to prayer."

Malaysia announced 125 more cases of coronavirus on Monday, bringing the total to 553 patients.

It recorded its highest-ever single-day jump in cases on Sunday, with 190 confirmed new infections. The bulk of the new cases are linked to a mass religious gathering by the Tabligh missionary group from Feb 27 to March 1, attended by some 16,000 people which included Singapore and Brunei nationals.

As of Monday, some 7,000 attendees have been tested for the virus. Ninety-five of them were tested positive on Monday, bringing the total cases linked to the gathering to 338.

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