Most mosques close in UK as country moves towards shut down

A fatwa by British Muslim scholars appears to call for mosques to remain open.
Sunday 22/03/2020
Regents Park Mosque in London. (AFP)
Regents Park Mosque in London. (AFP)

LONDON--After the Muslim Council of Britain and the British Board of Scholars and Imams called for Muslim communities across the United Kingdom to suspend all “congregational activities,” most mosques in the country closed their doors.

However, not all Muslim leaders seemed to follow the advice. A fatwa by several British Muslim scholars called for mosques to remain open. “Masjids in the United Kingdom should remain open for congregational salah [prayers] until and unless the government places a total restriction on religious places,” a fatwa by Deobandi scholar Yusuf Shabbir said.

Shabbir’s fatwa was approved by Mufti Shabbir Ahmed of Darul Uloom Blackburn and Mufti Muhammad Tahir of Darul Uloom Bury.

“Those diagnosed with coronavirus or with its symptoms should perform salah [prayers] at home. Similarly, those with underlying health conditions, particularly the elderly, are excused from attending the masjid,” the fatwa said.

“We are aware of the advice of some organisations in relation to over 60s not attending masjids. However, over 60s should not be discouraged from attending the masjid if they do not have any underlying health conditions.

“It is recognised that there are mixed views in relation to masjids remaining open. These decisions are not taken lightly, and everyone recognises the severity of the pandemic. Those who wish to attend the Masjids should not be belittled or prevented from doing so,” the fatwa concluded.

The edict was issued March 17, one day before the British government ordered the closure of schools and universities and said this year’s academic exams would not take place in June as scheduled.

On the same day, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) — the largest umbrella group of Muslim associations and mosques in the United Kingdom — said it supported mosque closures to protect the community from coronavirus.

“We all have a public duty to protect one another from harm and it is evident the most effective way to do this now is to avoid social contact as much as possible. This includes all walks of life, whether social, work or the mosque,” said MCB Secretary-General Harun Khan.

“Whether it be at the mosques (particularly Friday prayers) that draw crowds, including the elderly, vulnerable and those at high risk, weddings, social events or simple day-to-day activities, it is imperative that this extraordinary step is taken to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our communities and our country as a whole,” he said.

A statement from the British Islamic Medical Association called on mosques to close over coronavirus fears.

“We must emphasise our strong concern that mosques and madrassahs… can contribute to significant viral transmission in our population,” the statement said. “We do not want our community to panic and act rashly, especially in our duty to Allah and his houses of worship and are aware of the comfort and security our community institutions and mosques offer us in times like these.

“But we must stress that it is unsafe and harmful to continue business as usual, or even with significant adjustments that some institutions have made to date.”

The statement concluded that continued congregational activity represented a major risk to Muslim communities, “especially our elders and those most vulnerable” and called on mosques to act.

Although most closed their doors, some remained open, raising questions among some people.

“I am not praying jummah (Friday) or other prayers in the mosque due to the spread of the coronavirus,” said Noor Dahri, director of the Islamic Theology of Counterterrorism think-tank.

“Mosques should be closed immediately for all prayers but imams are not taking the issue seriously. They are playing a blame game that other mosques are open so why should they close.”