COVID-19 challenge increases as Muslims, Christians set to gather

Agence France-Presse . Jakarta | Published: 13:12, May 24,2020


Pope Francis stands next to Grand Imam of al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb during a visit at Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, in February 2020. — Reuters file photo

Muslims and Christians around the world gathered on Sunday to celebrate their faith as Eid-ul-Fitr begins and churches reopen from lockdowns, presenting fresh challenges for authorities trying to curb the coronavirus.

The faithful were preparing for worship from Asia to Europe, where the exit from virus restrictions accelerated with Spain announcing a resumption of foreign tourism and its top football league.

French churches were preparing to hold their first Sunday masses in more than two months after the government bowed to a ruling that they should be reopened –provided proper precautions were taken.

Nearly two weeks into the relaxation of its shutdown, France finally allowed mosques, synagogues and churches to reopen, but priests, pastors, rabbis and imams will still have to ensure the correct safety measures were in force.

Worshippers will have to wear masks, disinfectant gel must be on hand and seating will need to be organised to ensure people keep a safe distance from each other.

‘My cell phone is crackling with messages!’ Father Pierre Amar, a priest in Versailles, told AFP.

France’s mosques nevertheless called on Muslims to stay at home to mark the Eid-ul-Fitr holiday marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. They said that they would gradually resume services from June 3.

In Saudi Arabia, Eid prayers will be held at the two holy mosques in the cities of Mecca and Medina ‘without worshippers’, authorities said on Saturday as the kingdom began a five-day curfew after infections quadrupled since the start of Ramadan.

While for Christians in Jerusalem the Church of the Holy Sepulchre will reopen on Sunday but with tight restrictions.

The virus is still a cause for concern in the region, with tightly packed Gaza registering its first death on Saturday.

Some Muslims in Indonesia were taking radical steps to reunite with loved ones for Eid, with people in the world’s most populous Muslim majority country scrambling to get around lockdown rules.

Want stories like this in your inbox?

Sign up to exclusive daily email