Maintaining Prayers in the Pandemic
A recent story in the UK media focused on women complaining about being excluded from mosques during Ramadan; this and the pandemic situation in the past year has made me think about women, mosques and adapting the way we pray together. I've never felt excluded, as Ahmadi Muslim mosques have always had space for women, but since the Covid-19 pandemic hit early last year, I haven't set foot inside a mosque.
My local mosque is in Tilford, near Farnham, and I have been going to it for many years - especially for Friday Prayers and to meet with my local women's group. Dropping my daughter at school one Friday, I commented to another mother how busy Fridays were with Jumma, the congregational Friday Prayer; she responded that women didn’t go for prayers at her mosque. I couldn't imagine being in that situation, so I felt very fortunate to have a space in my mosque and appreciated it all the more. When the purpose built Mubarak Mosque opened in Spring 2019, I would go several days a week as well as for Friday Prayer; it is such a special feeling to be in the same room as the Imam, in this case His Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad, head of the worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim community.
In Islam the instruction to go to the mosque for congregational prayer is principally for men, while women have been given the choice to go to the mosque or to pray at home. In fact, women don’t perform the daily prayers at all while on their periods, because Islam recognises a woman’s extreme discomfort during this time and makes allowances for it – something which is not the case in the day
to day lives of female students and employees in general and so they may feel the negative impact if it affects their work. But for a Muslim woman not being able to pray or not praying in a mosque, in no way lessens the blessings they earn.
Praying in the mosque quickly became routine, so when the first lockdown happened it was a shock to all of us because suddenly we were unable to go. Instead, we prayed in congregation at home which was nothing new for my family, as we have done so for many years; what was strange was holding the Friday Prayer at home, rather than just reading the normal five daily prayers together.
Fortunately, we were able to stay connected with our community through the usual live broadcast of His Holiness’s Friday Sermon. This became normal over the rest of the year as our home became our only mosque.
When places of worship began to reopen, a limited number of men under the age of 60, showing no symptoms and wearing masks, were allowed back for prayers. This was the first time there had been any restriction on going to the mosque, and it was only because of the dangerous condition caused by the pandemic; none of my female friends and family felt discriminated against in this situation, as we all knew that as soon as it was safe we would return to attending the mosque, praying, and holding events as usual.
Covid-19 itself struck my home over Christmas and New Year; four of us became ill at different times while two didn’t get it, and so we found ourselves isolating in separate rooms. It appeared as if congregational prayers would have to stop for the duration of this time. However, Islam embraces the modern world, and we were able to continue congregational prayers in isolation from our different rooms around the house, connected through our mobile phones. As well as suffering physical symptoms, it was a highly stressful and emotional time, so the ability to be together for prayers was a great comfort.
For a Muslim, a mosque is the principal place to worship, but unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures and God does not only live inside a mosque. He is all around us. We adapted the way we prayed according to the situation throughout the pandemic, and this kept us close to God in the same way as going to a mosque would have done, and will do, once the situation is safe enough to fully open mosques again.
This reminds me of the line by Marvin Gaye, “Wherever I lay my hat, that’s my home”. Well, I can empathise because “wherever I lay my prayer mat, that’s my mosque.”
Sameea Jonnud is a UK mother and blogger with a background in pharmacy and complementary health. She volunteers, promotes community relations and has an interest in history, literature, women's issues and observing life. Tweets: @Zoya_o1