Christchurch Muslim community back together as COVID-19 restrictions ease

A row of shoes lined the entry to a Christchurch mosque or the first time in 10 weeks as easing coronavirus restrictions meant old friends could catch up again in person.

The limits on gatherings increased from 10 to 100 people at noon on Friday.

Groups across the country have been eagerly awaiting the change, with religious figures previously calling for the Prime Minister to increase the limits.

Imam Gamal Fouda leads Friday prayers at An-Nur Masjid in Christchurch after coronavirus gathering restrictions eased.

Imam Gamal Fouda leads Friday prayers at An-Nur Masjid in Christchurch after coronavirus gathering restrictions eased.

Friday was the first time Canterbury’s Muslim community was able to gather together in numbers since Ramadan (a holy month of fasting and prayer) and Eid (a celebration feast that marks its end), as both happened during the coronavirus lockdown.

An extra Friday prayer session was held at the Masjid An-Nur, with prayers also running at the Hei Hei Community Centre to accommodate the coronavirus gathering restrictions. Women and children were not able to attend, but will be able to from next Friday.

Normally, up to 400 people would pray shoulder-to-shoulder in the four prayer rooms, but the 100 attending each session on Friday had to follow marked out spacing so they maintained social distancing.
Mazharuddin Syed Ahmed says the mosque is about more than prayers.

Mazharuddin Syed Ahmed says the Mosque is about more than prayers.

Mazharuddin Syed Ahmed was one of the those who rolled out his prayer mat.

He said with prayers five times a day, their lives were connected to the mosque. There was a real excitement to be able to come back and pray.

“This place is much more than prayers. For us, it’s a wonderful place to catch up.”

He said despite the restricted numbers, it was lucky he was in New Zealand and able to come back to the mosque as not many countries had the privilege to gather in groups again.

Ahmed said Friday prayers were special and there would normally be groups of people standing outside and catching up after prayers.

Imam Gamal Fouda said the community was blessed to be able to come back.

“We are thankful it came after the Eid and Ramadan, people were longing for this for a long time.”

Those praying at An-Nur Masjid were required to space out and bring their own prayer mats.

Those praying at An-Nur Masjid were required to space out and bring their own prayer mats.

He said the mosque had put in place strict rules to meet coronavirus guidelines.

Those attending were asked to register online and were checked off at the door. Shaking hands, hugging and other forms of physical contact were not allowed, and everyone had to bring their own prayer mat.

Muslim Association of Canterbury secretary Feroze Ditta.

Muslim Association of Canterbury secretary Feroze Ditta.

Muslim Association of Canterbury secretary Feroze Ditta said the mosque was a hub for the community and people looked forward to both the prayers and catching up with friends.

The mosque usually catered for up tp 500 people breaking fast during Ramadan, and that had been missed over lockdown, he said.

Other faiths are also preparing to gather in numbers over the coming days.

Anglican Bishop Peter Carrell said there was a mixture of anticipation and anxiety about coming back to church, as people had become used to staying home and not all may be ready to go back yet.

He said churches had managed to have an amazing system of community through online meetings and phone calls, but there was no substitute for being in the presence of a person.

Carell said he it was important there was a note of thanksgiving in any gatherings. He thought Christians and people of faith were thankful the limits had been lifted.

Source: Stuff NZ

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