What it's like returning to mosque for prayers under lockdown level 3

05 June 2020 - 21:00 By Philani Nombembe
Worshippers gather to pray under the "new normal" in Cape Town.
Worshippers gather to pray under the "new normal" in Cape Town.
Image: Sunday Times/Esa Alexander

The Masjid Al Khair in Mitchells Plain, Cape Town, could easily be mistaken for a medical facility.

Congregants go through a thorough Covid-19 screening process at the entrance every time they enter the mosque.

They have their temperature taken, answer a list of questions about their personal health, age, interactions with others and have their hands sanitised.

The mosque is one of the places of worship that have resumed services under level 3 of the lockdown. Sheik Riad Faatar, the Imam of the mosque, said they are not leaving anything to chance.

“It’s easy to enforce social distancing in the mosque because we have rows which are staggered so that people are 1.5m from each other,” said Faatar.

“Only 50 congregants can attend at a time. We have five different prayers daily, one in the morning, one at midday, one in the afternoon and one in the evening and one late in the night.”

Faatar, who is also the second deputy president of the Muslim Judicial Council, said the mosque has a vibrant Covid-19 committee.

“We have a compliance officer, we have security at the gate and if you don’t have a mask and a prayer mat you are not going to come in,” he said.

“We do the whole screening process, we take the temperature, we ask if they have any illnesses and take their names. We do that on a Google sheet so that the information goes onto our PC and is recorded just in case the government asks for it.

“We make sure that they sanitise their hands when they come in and when they go out. They come in through one door, go out by another door.”

Churches in the city were, however, in no rush to open this week. Pastor Mervin Leedenberg of the Apostolic Faith Mission in Kensington said there were still several measures that needed to put in place before they would open.

“There is a lot of stuff that we need to put in place,” said Leedenberg. “So we are going to wait a little longer. The church must be sanitised and we are not yet ready.”

Jonathan Loggenberg, an elder at the Lutheran Church of SA in Mitchells Plain, said: “Our decision-making body is based in Kimberley. We abide by what they tell us. We are still waiting for directions from them, so we are still closed.”

Former bookkeeper Christine Petersen, who runs Skitterblink Cleaning Service, has donated her services to a number of churches in the city. Her small team has disinfected 10 churches in preparation for reopening — for free.

“The churches have indicated that they are prepared to welcome members from this week onwards,” said Petersen.

“I started by donating my services to my church, the Apostolic Faith Mission, in Mitchells Plain and the other branches came along and asked for the service.

“I have done two branches of the Lutheran Church in Athlone and Mitchells Plain. We have also done the Glory Restoration Assembly in Table View and one in Maitland, so it’s not only my church.”