Malaysia's Perlis cancels Friday prayers amid coronavirus fears; other states continue

Tourists outside a mosque in Putrajaya, Malaysia, on Jan 28, 2020. The decision to close was made following a decree from the Raja of Perlis based on the recommendations of the Health Ministry. PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's northern state Perlis cancelled prayers on Friday (March 13), while the Federal Territories announced that it would go on with minor adjustments, after several attendees of an Islamic meeting in Kuala Lumpur were tested positive for the coronavirus.

In a statement on Friday, Crown Prince of Perlis Syed Faizuddin Putra Syed Sirajuddin Jamalullail said the decision was made following a decree from state's ruler based on the recommendations of the Health Ministry.

Islamic Affairs Minister Zukifli Mohamad, meanwhile, announced that the obligatory Friday weekly prayers would continue, urging those with possible coronavirus symptoms to refrain from attending.

The minister recommended the shortening the Friday sermon and for people to do their ablutions at home, so that congregants would not be crowding round taps in the mosque to wash themselves before the prayers.

"It is also proposed for the mosque to provide hand sanitiser and mask as the safety and preventive measure," Datuk Seri Zulkifli said in a statement on Friday.

One reason the federal government might not have issued a blanket cancellation of the Friday prayers is that Islamic affairs are under the direct jurisdiction of each state ruler and considered a sensitive matter for the central government to intervene.

Menwhile, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, after chairing a senior-level meeting to discuss the pandemic, said on Friday that all big gatherings such as international meets, sporting, social and religious events will be cancelled or postponed until April 30.

In Singapore, all 70 mosques will be closed for five days for cleaning from Friday, and no congregational prayers held as a preventive measure to curb the spread of the coronavirus following the infection of two Singaporeans who attended the Islamic mass gathering in Selangor, on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur.

Singapore said it was investigating and identifying its 95 citizens who attended the Malaysian meeting that was attended by some 16,000 people including 1,500 foreign citizens.

In Brunei, 11 of the cases linked to the meeting have cropped up in people who attended the Selangor meeting - Brunei's first cases of the coronavirus. Some 90 people from Brunei attended the gathering.

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Brunei's first case was a 53-year-old man who returned from Kuala Lumpur on March 3 and started showing symptoms four days later, its Health Ministry said.

The 12th case linked to the Kuala Lumpur meeting is a Malaysian, a health official said.

Meanwhile, Malaysian authorities are currently tracking around 14,500 of its citizens who were at the gathering and who are believed to have dispersed across the country.

On Thursday, the Catholic Bishops of Peninsular Malaysia also announced that all weekend and weekday public masses will be suspended from March 14 to March 29.

"This coincides with the public school holidays. We therefore exempt all Catholics from fulfilling their Sunday obligation of assisting and attending mass during this period," the bishops said in a statement, adding that the suspension could serve as a form of spiritual "devotion".

As of Thursday, a total of 158 cases of Covid-19 have been recorded in the country.

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