Maumoon: Congregational prayers performed with social distancing 'valid' amid outbreak

Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayyoom. (Sun File Photo/Fayaz Moosa)

Former Maldivian President and Islamic scholar Maumoon Abdul Gayoom said on Saturday that while the ideal practice is to stand in close proximity while performing congregational prayers under normal circumstances, prayers performed while observing social distancing under exceptional circumstances such as the coronavirus outbreak will remain valid.

The ban on congregational prayers in mosques in the greater Male’ region – the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in Maldives – has been lifted, and worshippers in the capital observed the first Friday prayer in three months last Friday.

While other Islamic nations are observing strict social distancing in performing congregational prayers in mosques, worshippers in Male’ City last Friday, though they wore masks, did not observe social distancing.

The lack of observance of social distancing in congregational prayers has sparked concern amid a spike in daily infections with the relaxation of many of the stricter coronavirus restrictions.

Opinion over observance of social distancing in congregational prayers is divided among local Islamic scholars.

In a tweet on Saturday, Maumoon said that congregational prayers performed by observing social distancing are valid under exception circumstances, and that the coronavirus outbreak falls within the “exceptional circumstances”.

“Other Islamic nations are also forming rows for congregational prayers in line with the social distancing policy at present,” he said.

Mosques in the capital were closed for congregational prayer on March 18.

While mosques had initially been open for individual worshippers to perform their prayers, mosques were completely closed with the emergence of the community spread of the new coronavirus in the capital in mid-April.

They were reopened once again for individual worshippers with strict instructions to maintain physical distancing and other coronavirus control measures on June 14.

The ban on congregational prayers was finally lifted on July 1, but the performance of Friday prayer had remained suspended until last Friday.

Maldives has 2,617 confirmed coronavirus cases, out of whom 2,238 have recovered, while 13 have died from complications.