In a grimly historic move, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs temporarily suspended all congregational prayers in every mosque across Maldives until further notice, as a measure to contain the COVID-19 outbreak in the country.
According to the circular released by the government, the restriction will be enacted from sunset onwards, making Sunday's 'Maghrib ṣalāt' (locally called Namaadh) the last prayer to be performed en-masse until the safety measure is lifted.
Speaking at the National Emergency Operations Center (NEOC) press conference held online on Saturday, Minister of Islamic Affairs Dr Ahmed Zahir forewarned audiences that if the situation persisted or worsened, Tarawih prayers (additional ritual prayers that take place after the Isha prayer during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan) would have to be performed at home.
Ramadan, a time when Muslims around the world engage in fasting and frequent prayers, is also a month during which the number of Maldivians regularly attending mosques increases significantly. According to the lunar calendar, in 2020 (Hijri Year 1441) Ramadan 1 will fall on April 23.
On Saturday, the ministry announced its decision to temporarily suspend congregational prayers in mosques located in Addu City and Fuvahmulah City, the two southernmost atolls in the country.
Announcing that the same would follow should any other local islands be placed under lockdown, the Islamic Ministry announced the suspension of mass prayers in mosques located in the greater Male' region on March 18. After declaring a State of Public Health Emergency on March 12, the Health Protection Agency initially enforced a lockdown on April 15 across the greater Male' region which will last until May 1, unless further extended.
The tightening of these initially laid out restrictions to throughout the archipelago follows discoveries made via contact tracing, which identified people previously in direct contact with those now confirmed to be positive for COVID-19, had travelled to other local islands.
Presently, the Health Protection Agency (HPA) has placed seven local islands in the country's northernmost region, Haa Alifu Atoll, under monitoring.
Furthermore, Dr Zahir stressed on the importance given to public health and safety in Islam, assuring that the ministry was ready to take all the necessary precautions.
Urging people to proceed with prayers at home, the ministry advised the public to heed the instructions given by authorities, particularly the HPA and health care professionals, during these grim times.
As of now, Maldives records 51 confirmed and 35 active cases of COVID-19, with a total of 16 recoveries. Of the above, a total of 31 positive cases were found in capital city Male', one of the most densely populated areas in the world.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified the spread of COVID-19 as a global pandemic. The novel coronavirus has infected over 2.3 million people and claimed over 160,783 lives around the world. However, out of those infected, more than 599,997 people have recovered.