Mohammad Waqas, the president of the NT’s Islamic Society, says being able to pray in public is a huge boost to morale in the community. On account of the relaxed lockdown restrictions in the Northern Territory, the Darwin Mosque opened its doors for Friday prayes and Taweed on 15 May 2020.
The masjid in Darwin is very busy as people make the most of their chance to pray together for the first time in weeks. Each worshipper has brought their own mat to help stop any potential spread of COVID-19. A line of red tape cordons off the area where these worshippers would normally clean their faces.
It is the holy month of Ramadan, and this day is the first time the community has been able to pray together for many weeks. Despite the easing of restrictions, women and children are being encouraged to pray at home.
For Mohammad Jamal who works in the hospitality industry, the chance to pray together is an opportunity to reconnect after a tough time during the coronavirus pandemic. From midday on Friday restrictions were lifted on attending a place of worship in the NT and churches, temples and the mosque opened up.
“People have lost work, been totally disrupted by the virus,” he says, purple prayer mat in hand. “It was incredibly difficult to have the mosque shut. This was our second home. It means everything.” “This is the holy month of Ramadan, it felt so strange to pray far away from each other.” Jamal lost his job during the pandemic.
“We feel very happy even though there has been all of this suffering, to share these moments with each other again.” “But it still feels strange greeting people differently, and praying further away from each other” he says. “The fact that we can even do this is a really good sign that hopefully in time things will start getting back to normal.”
Jamal is here with his friend Sulemain Khan, whose life, like many others, was up-ended by the coronavirus. “I am a duty manager at a Hotel, so the impacts of this virus on our work has been tremendous. There is a lot less work going around, it has been hard,” he says. “But being able to come here gives us a message of moral unity again. Not just as Muslims, but as a broader community, as Territorians and Australians.”
“It’s great to be part of that community,” he says.
Khan misses the shared meals, and the time to unwind with his “brothers” and sisters”. “We used to share food together during this holy month. It was a special time,” he says. “But we are happy to respect the law and follow the government’s rules.” “This time is about sharing the burden with others, being a support for those who need it.” The Masjid falls silent as the hundred or more people inside prepare for the Friday midday prayer.
People listen intently to a sermon in both Arabic and English. Part of the sermon focuses on COVID-19, and maintaining a safe distance from others. Then as soon as it has begun, it is over. People begin to file out, directed by volunteer wardens, one at a time. For Mohammad Waqas, the President of the Islamic Society, the day is the result of a mammoth effort of volunteers.
“We have a responsibility to keep everyone safe but this time has been hard for us, we are torn because as a Muslim it’s important to attend the mosque it is a religious obligation,” he says. “We miss the connection to our community but we have to follow the government advice.” Waqas says volunteers had put up their hands to help the busy prayer go smoothly, even though some had lost work and had been “struggling”.
“So many volunteers have helped us. It’s very different to plan to prayer during the pandemic a lot of effort, you have to be so organised.” “We were placing marks with tape, we had to cordon of the bathing area. But to be able to pray again together is so important. We are very happy,” he says.
When Darwin’s Muslim community marks the end of Ramadan with Eid al Fitir, it will be in an open space. “We will all be out in the open because of physical distancing. Even as we face this virus, it will be joyous.” “A time for renewal,” Waqas says.