Between Relief and Caution: the Ease of Lockdown for French Muslims

On May the 23rd a decree  published in The Journal Officiel, has allowed religious services to resume. This decision followed the recommendation of the Conseil d’Etat, the highest legal French court, which qualified the prohibition of religious activities as “disproportionate”.  The organization of Eid el-Fitr, which took place on May the 24th, has raised several questions .

Despite lockdown easing, a call for cautiousness from religious leaders

The French Council of Muslim Faith (CFCM – Conseil Français du Culte Musulman in French), urged people not to go to mosques, but instead to pray and celebrate Eid-el Fitr at home. The CFCM explained this  position by arguint that some time    was necessary to prepare for a return of the mosques to  normal  activities. Similarly, a vast majority of Muslim leaders urged believers to stay at home for the Eid prayer. These objections are due to the fact that  drastic sanitary guidelines would be enforced, such as respecting social distancing (one meter between each prayer), wearing a mask and using hydro alcoholic gel. Within the building, worshipers would have to follow a strict “running direction”, to bring their own prayer rugs, and to make their ablutions at home. For that purpose, the platform L.E.S Musulmans published an online tool kit for imams and mosques. The Minister of  Interior, Christophe Castaner, explained that each religious authority would be responsible to adapt its own liturgy to sanitary restrictions.

Two initiatives of outdoor collective prayers organized with the authorization of local authorities took place near Paris,  where 2000 worshipers gathered  in an open-air stadium, as reported by  the national newspaper, France Bleu. Participants were spaced from each other by one meter with the assistance of volunteers and were obliged to wash their hands before reaching the stadium. The added difficulty is that   the sanitary situation is  uneven across French regions: some are  considered as green zones, meaning safe, while others are still labelled as red or orange zones. For example, the newspaper Libération  mentioned that in Alsace, one of the region most affected by COVID19,  no decision has  been taken  yet  for the reopening of places of worship.

A forthcoming consultation on French Mosques in times of pandemic

The newspapers Saphirnews published the results of a consultation conducted among 152 mosques to learn more on their day-to-day challenges during the quarantine. The panel, which has gathered more than 109 000 participants, aimed at being a representative sampling of mosques across the countries. They were selected according to three criteria: their affiliation (or not) to a national Muslim Federation, their geographical location, and the size of their prayer room (in other words, the number of worshipers they can host). The article  pointed out that a majority of the  selected mosques  were not affiliated to any Federation (55% vs. 42%) while 3% preferred not to answer this question. Every French region was represented, including French overseas departments. The biggest mosque included in the panel has a maximal capacity of 5000 people, while the smallest cannot gather more than 20 people.

Some general trends emerged from that survey.60% of the respondents  recognized  that they would not have been able to carry on Eid al-Fitr celebrations in compliance with the sanitary guidelines. Despite their enthusiasm to reopen their doors, mosque leaders expressed caution:  67% consider sanitary risks too high at the moment. According to this survey, it appears that in their vast majority mosques worked hand in hand with public authorities – from the national to the local level – during the sanitary crisis and were at the frontline to implement sanitary guidelines. Furthermore, mosques played a crucial role in terms of local solidarity as more than 73% of them hosted charitable activities, throughout the lockdown  especially during the month Ramadan.

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