Over 350 religious organisations submit plans to expand activities

Muslims attending Friday congregational prayers at Al-Istighfar Mosque on June 26, 2020. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - There was a smooth resumption of services on Friday (June 26), when mosques, temples and other religious organisations opened their doors to larger groups of worshippers for the first time in at least two months.

Muslims returned for Friday congregational prayers, three months after they had been suspended to curb the spread of Covid-19.

For now, each prayer session will be limited to 50 people, and congregants have to reserve slots in an online prayer booking system developed by the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis).

At Al-Istighfar Mosque in Pasir Ris and Darul Ghufran Mosque in Tampines, a few tried to attend prayers without booking ahead, but they were turned away politely, said the mosques' respective executive chairmen, Mr Azman Ariffin and Mr Muhammad Faizal.

The afternoon sessions in both mosques proceeded without any hiccups.

"We feel blessed because we are now allowed to have Friday prayers. No doubt the numbers (for each session) are small, but at least we are allowed to do it and it is a small step forward," said Mr Azman.

Mosques had been closed since mid-March, and opened to individual private worship during phase one in the beginning of June, like other places of worship.

Since June 19, when phase two began, places of worship have been allowed to gradually resume other religious activities. Religious organisations have to submit their Safe Management Plans before starting Phase 2 activities.

To date, over 350 religious organisations have submitted their plans, the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) told The Straits Times. "Religious organisations are resuming religious activities at their own pace, depending on their readiness to implement the safe management practices," said an MCCY spokesman.

Catholic churches, for instance, will progressively open from July, and each church will inform congregants when its masses resume.

One of the main Hindu temples here, Sri Mariamman Temple, has been seeing an average of 50 devotees at any one time, said Mr S. Kathirasan, the temple's secretary.

Worshippers at the temple and Al-Istighfar Mosque were joyful at being able to return to their places of worship.

"It feels good to be back in a congregation, and I feel a bit emotional. Praying at home is different from praying together in a mosque, because here, you feel a sense of community and belonging," said Mr Amsyar Hanif, 27, a nurse.

Every Friday for the past two months, a devotee who wanted to be known as Mr Ayyavo, would stand outside Sri Mariamman temple's main gate to briefly pray and give respects.

"I am happy and satisfied that I can finally enter the temple," said the 73-year-old technical officer.

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