South Africa

Head of Grey Street Mosque in Durban slams call for Eid prayer concession during lockdown

Head of Grey Street Mosque in Durban slams call for Eid prayer concession during lockdown

The head of the largest mosque in the southern hemisphere has denounced a call to the government by a body of Muslim theologians requesting that a special mass Eid prayer be allowed.

Eid - expected to take place on Sunday - will be observed by Muslims around the world to mark the end of the month-long dawn-to-sunset fasting of Ramadan. 

The Jamiatul Ulama in KwaZulu-Natal made an appeal in a letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa to allow Muslims a concession on Eid to hold a post-sunrise prayer session in an open-air venue.

Secretary-general Moulana Rafiek Mohamed, who penned the letter, described this year's fast "as the most painful Ramadan we have experienced in our lives". 

"Normally during Ramadan much more time is dedicated to prayer in the mosque ... We were, with anguish and distress, forced to forego this in the greater good of the nation."

He said any concession would be subject to "strict compliance with all reasonable safety measures prescribed".

The call has angered AV Mahomed, chairman of the Grey Street Mosque in central Durban, who believes that a mass gathering of this kind would "put people at great risk".

"I don't believe in any mass gatherings. My reason is that they are difficult to manage. Knowing that the Eid prayers amount to between 3,000 and 4,000 worshippers, either in the mosque or in an open field, how do you manage entry and exits, social distancing and sanitising?

"If it is for all Muslims then I would be in favour, but we have the government regulations to contain the virus which we need to uphold and respect."

Under the current lockdown level 4, no religious gatherings are permitted.

"It's going to be detrimental to all worshipers, as some will be asked to worship and others not to worship.

"If you have a venue that can accommodate 4,000 people and you only bring 400 people aren't you doing a disservice to the others? If one can't pray then we all don't pray. A limited number means discrimination."

Mahomed said he closed the Grey Street Mosque on March 16 because he did not want worshippers to accuse him of discrimination when it came to limiting entry to the facility. 

The Islamic Burial Council issued a notice to the community this week that all Muslim cemeteries would be closed on Eid.​

"This is in accordance with the national lockdown regulations," it said.

Mahomed said normally on Eid thousands of Muslims would visit cemeteries to pray for their loved ones.