National Mosque Bilal in a call of azan during Friday prayers at the National Mosque in Kuala Lumpur May 15, 2020. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, May 16 ― For Muslims, celebrating Ramadan under the many phases of the movement control order (MCO) and its strict restrictions now, under conditioned SOPs, shows a stark reality as to how the country faces new norms following the Covid-19 outbreak.

None is more affected than religious institutions, including community mosques and suraus which are often filled to the brim with congregants, standing shoulder to shoulder to conduct tarawih prayers during the month of Ramadan, among other activities.

For Ahmad Saufi Mustaffa, 36, who is the head Imam and a Naquib (officer) at the At-Taqwa Mosque in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, adjusting to the new normal is very important to safeguard the life of his fellow congregants.

Although in previous Ramadans, the At-Taqwa mosque has seen attendance between 1,600 to 1,800 every night, last night the mosque had only 14 congregants, all of whom, stood nearly two metres apart from each other while performing the tarawih prayers.

“We took the time to explain to our community that we can only fit 30 people at a time. That included members of the mosque committee such as the imam, the mosque officers, and custodians, for example.

“Only after that, we allow for other congregants to fill in the available space. We have to take a ‘first come, first serve’ basis approach, which is very odd to say on allowing people to perform their prayers at the mosque. However, at the moment, it is the fairest way.

National Mosque High Priest Ehsan Mohd Husni leads Friday prayers at the National Mosque in Kuala Lumpur May 15, 2020. — Picture by Hari Anggara

“But it is important for us to ensure we observe the strict procedures put in place. Thankfully the community understands and appreciates what is needed to be done,” he said to Malay Mail.

On May 14, Putrajaya announced that the national fatwa committee has decided to permit congregational prayers, including weekly Friday, nightly tarawih, and the Aidilfitri prayers in Federal Territories, under strict conditions.

This includes for territories dubbed as Covid-19 green zones, and that each congregation cannot exceed 30 people not including the imam.

Other conditions also include measuring body temperatures, overseeing hand sanitisation and record attendance.

Those aged between 15 and 70 are allowed to attend, and the doors to the mosques can only be opened up an hour before the azan, or the call to prayer, and closed after the prayers are done.

For tarawih, prayers are limited to eight rakaat and an additional three rakaat for witir or extra prayers after performing the tarawih.

Congregants are also asked to return homes as soon as they are done with their prayers.

This is in stark contrast where Muslims were likely to perform up to 20 rakaat and three witir in previous Ramadans.

Despite strict procedures, mosque administrators like Ahmad Saufi acknowledge that seeing only double-digit attendance for Friday and tarawih prayers would be the new normal in the foreseeable future.

“It’s something that we all have to get used to after all. It is the new normal,” he said.

Muslims perform Friday prayers outside the National Mosque in Kuala Lumpur May 15, 2020. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

Ahmad Saufi also recalled that many of his congregants above the age of 70 have expressed their sadness for being away from the mosque, especially during Ramadan.

“I feel for them, I really do. Many expressed sadness that they are away from the mosque for far too long. But they understand that they are among the most vulnerable,” he said.

Checks done by Malay Mail at mosques and suraus in Cheras and Bandar Tun Razak showed that they are still not open due to the area not being listed in the green zones.

Most of them are quiet, with only the essential congregations of three are seen for the daily prayers.

This is similar to mosques and suraus in Selangor, with the exception of a select few where 12-member congregations consisting of their respective mosque or suraus committees are allowed to perform the tarawih prayers.

Malaysia now enters phase five of the MCO, which started on May 4, dubbed as the conditional MCO.

On May 10, Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin also announced that the CMCO has been extended to June 9.

Muslims in the country are expected to celebrate Hari Raya Aidilfitri on May 24.

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