SINGAPORE - The closure of all 70 mosques here, initially planned for just two weeks, will be extended indefinitely in order to prevent any further spread of the coronavirus, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) announced on Tuesday (March 24).
Singapore's highest Islamic authority, Mufti Nazirudin Mohd Nasir, said at a press conference that when mosque closures were first announced on March 12, Muis had said that mosques would only be reopened when it was responsible and safe to do so.
"At that time, there were less than 200 cases in Singapore. But the number now stands, as of yesterday, at 509 cases with two deaths," said Dr Nazirudin. "The situation clearly has not improved, but has instead worsened."
As the risk to the community remains high, the Fatwa Committee has recommended the continued closure of mosques until further notice, Muis added.
Dr Nazirudin heads the committee, which issues religious rulings for Muslims here, and was guided in its decision by the principle of avoiding harm, as well as closing all doors that lead to danger.
The closures mean that no congregational prayers, including Friday prayers, can be performed at mosques. The council said that under Muslim law, the possibility of becoming ill and fear for one's safety are valid reasons not to hold or attend such prayers.
Many Muslims believe Friday prayers should not be missed for three weeks in a row, and Muis said this is not an issue as they are not obligatory, given the situation.
"In particular, the Fatwa Committee also noted that under these circumstances, with the risk of infection still on the rise, it is the responsibility of every Muslim to help keep everyone safe," added Muis.
Muis had initially announced on March 12 the closure of all mosques for five days for cleaning after several congregants tested positive for the coronavirus after attending a mass religious gathering in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
On March 16, Muis announced that this would be extended by another nine days to complete one incubation period of the coronavirus.
But even as mosques here are closed indefinitely, a move first announced on Sunday to open small spaces for prayer in the afternoons to cater to congregants who need them remains.
Nineteen mosques across Singapore will be opened to provide a space for no more than 20 people at a time to perform their two afternoon prayers individually. These spaces will be open only between 1.15pm and 6pm.
Muis said the move comes after it had received feedback from congregants like taxi drivers and delivery riders that they face problems finding a place to pray during the day.
On Tuesday, Muis said that while mosques here remain closed, they will continue to provide essential services to the community via alternate means.
Religious lectures and talks will be carried out through online platforms and weekly religious classes will be replaced by e-learning.
Low-income households who are keen to apply for long-term zakat financial assistance can still do so at mosques too.
Muis also released the results of an online survey it conducted last Thursday and Friday to gauge the community's response to the closure of mosques, as well as its preparedness for additional precautionary measures when mosques eventually reopen.
Out of the 32,000 respondents, almost 80 per cent said that they were ready to bring their own personal prayer items, that they were comfortable to have their temperature taken and that they were agreeable to contact tracing being done.
Almost half of the respondents also said that vulnerable groups like the elderly should avoid visiting mosques during the Covid-19 situation.
Mosques are not the only religious institutions to stop their activities - the Catholic Church has said earlier this month that it would be suspending masses indefinitely in order to minimise the risk of coronavirus spread.
Last Thursday, the Anglican Diocese of Singapore said that all regular worship services and gatherings in Anglican parish churches islandwide have been suspended until April 3.
The Panguni Uthiram chariot and foot procession slated for April 6, which is part of the annual Panguni Uthiram festival that is celebrated by Hindus, has also been cancelled due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.