UAE’s first socially-distanced prayers were offered on July 1 – with Covid-19 safety measures.
It was a strangely familiar feeling as I stepped inside a mosque in Dubai after 107 days. The strangeness of having to carry my own prayer mat to the mosque and wearing masks and gloves while praying was offset by the familiar calm I felt when the imam began the dawn prayer.
The UAE’s first socially-distanced prayers were offered on Wednesday, July 1, as mosques across the country reopened at 30 per cent capacity.
At exactly 4.03am, the call for prayer (Azan) wafted through the dawn. However, after over three months of sending out a ‘pray-at-home’ message through the Azan, the muezzin welcomed people to the mosque.
The clock struck 4. My heart raced as I went through my checklist. Mask, check. Gloves, check. Own prayer mat, check. Soap included in the ablution ritual, check. It was time to leave. As I stepped into the dark, humid outdoors, I felt relaxed.
Outside the mosque in Al Quoz, the first person I saw was our friendly imam. Even though we couldn’t see each other’s faces because of the masks, the recognition was instant. “Assalamualaikum (peace be unto you),” he greeted. And just like that, the awkwardness of not meeting a fellow human being for months just vanished. My first instinct was to shake the hand of the man I used to meet at least five times a day as he led the neighbourhood in prayers, but we chatted from a safe distance. We packed in almost four months of catching up in a minute-long conversation. I was touched when he kept the door open for me so I could avoid touching the knob.
It takes a moment for the experience of a socially-distanced congregational prayer to sink in. Every second row was left empty. The mosque I go to has 11 rows and only five of them had worshippers. Each row, which could fit in at least 20, had just five. A 100-person capacity mosque was ‘full’ with just 25.
There were no handshakes or worshippers stopping outside the mosques for chitchat. No one needed to be reminded to follow the rules; none of them took off their masks or gloves; they didn’t stay at the mosque a minute longer than was required; and they consciously maintained social distancing.
To be honest, the whole experience felt safe, almost normal. Maybe this was the new normal for prayers.
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