Face masks and ‘prayer shifts’ as Italy’s Muslims return to mosque

Muslim men mark the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, as Italy eases some of the lockdown measures put in place during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Rome, Italy, May 24, 2020. REUTERS/Alberto Lingria

ROME (RAHNUMA): Mosques in Italy are beginning to reopen their doors for the first time in months, implementing government measures to contain the spread of coronavirus.
Worshippers at Milan’s Via Meda Mosque are required to wear masks and there are ‘prayer shifts’ to avoid overcrowding.

“It is for our safety, for our good, so we must do as required,” one worshipper named Saleh told Arab News. “This way we reduce risks for us and our families. At least we are back here to pray together. It’s a really good thing. I have been waiting long for this moment. Now we hope the pandemic will finish soon and that we can all go back to our lives, to our habits and customs without fear.”

Italy went into lockdown on March 9, with mosques closing that same date, and restrictions were eased earlier this month as the country embarked on a phased return to normality.

The capacity of the Via Meda Mosque has decreased from 250 to just 70, and it has been decided that Muslims will pray in shifts until the pandemic ends.

Posters in Italian and Arabic at the mosque’s entrance and on its walls urge everyone to wear masks and socks.

Prayer mats are sanitized between shifts so that the next person can use them safely. Shoes are placed on racks outside the room in a well-spaced fashion to avoid a crush. Handshakes and hugs are forbidden, so people greet each other by putting their right hand on the heart.

Imam Yaha Pallavicini used his sermon to thank Allah for the health of the whole community, and prayed that the last days of Ramadan could be lived “in a safe way so that physical and spiritual health of all the faithful, throughout Italy, may be preserved.”

In Vicenza, which is around 50 kilometres from Venice, WhatsApp was used to ensure that social distancing could be maintained and that only those who could fit in the place of worship would attend.

In Biella, an industrial city in the northwestern Piedmont region, authorities allowed the call to prayer to be transmitted on loudspeakers every Friday during Ramadan.

But most of Italy’s mosques remain closed until after the end of Ramadan following an appeal from the Union of Islamic Communities in Italy.

“We might not guarantee that the social distancing rules would be respected,” Imam Abdullah Tchina told Arab News, saying that a big turnout would be expected in the final part of the holy month.

May 18, which was the date set for the reopening of mosques, coincided with this important period of Ramadan and discouraged many imams to hold prayers, especially in smaller places of worship. “We have thus been able to balance the need for physical health with the spiritual one,” Yusuf Abd al-Hakim Carrara, from the national Italian Muslim association Coreis, told Arab News.

But the Grand Mosque in Rome, the largest in Europe, is “indefinitely closed” according to a note on its main gate.

Abdellah Redouane, secretary-general of the mosque’s Islamic Cultural Centre, invited Rome’s Muslims to keep complying with state rules about the containment of COVID-19 and to avoid gatherings. “Eid Al-Fitr can be naturally celebrated at home with families,” he said.

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