Challenge ahead as Leeds Makkah Mosque prepares to reopen

Friday prayers would usually see 1,000 people collectively worship at Leeds' Makkah Mosque.

Yesterday, like for many weeks before, there was just one - Imam Qari Asim, sat with a computer and a radio transmitter, providing “spiritual nourishment” for his congregation.

As chairman of the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board, Mr Asim has been at the forefront of planning nationally for the reopening of mosques - something that presents real challenges, both logistically and spiritually.

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He said: “The way we interact with our places of worship and our mosques is going to have to be very different. The key challenge for us is that we worship collectively, we pray in a congregation.

Makkah Mosque in Leeds, would normally hold Friday prayers with around 1,000 people collectively worshiping in the building. Due to the Coronavirus lockdown the building is empty with only Imam Qari Asim present. Picture: James Hardisty

“The whole point is that we stand shoulder to shoulder, to show a human bond and brotherhood by collectively coming together.

“One of the challenges is that individual prayer may be allowed by collective prayer is not. As chair of the advisory board, we are trying to manage expectations and help people, by issuing religious advice to people to let them know that their prayers will still be valid if made individually.”

Risk assessments have also had to be made, and as a consequence, ablution, the act of washing before prayer, will be banned at mosques to keep contacts to a minimum.

Extra cleaning schedules will be brought in, with financial impacts - just one of many ways mosques have been hit financially.

Makkah Mosque in Leeds, would normally hold Friday prayers with around 1,000 people collectively worshiping in the building. Due to the Coronavirus lockdown the building is empty with only Imam Qari Asim present. Picture: James Hardisty

Lockdown also corresponded with the most spiritual time of year for muslims, Ramadan, when the faithful would gather at mosques more often.

“Ramadan has been extremely challenging,” Mr Asim said. “A lot of spiritual sacrifices have been made. But broadly speaking, the nation has come together in sacrifice, be it the teachers who have still been at school to care for the children of key workers, or bus drivers or bin men who have still worked.

“We have focused on turning challenging emotions into positives, by coming up with innovative ways to break fast together, such as virtual iftars, where people could join friends and relatives across the country. Or donating to food banks or elderly neighbours who might be shielding.”