Lockdown: Lakemba Mosque, Sydney, NSW

Lockdown: Lakemba Mosque, Sydney, NSWIn Australia, religious communities were one part of society expressly impacted by the ‘lockdown’ directives introduced to stem the spread of the virus. On 29 March all places of religious worship were effectively closed by the restrictions that limited non-essential indoor gatherings to two people. In Victoria, lockdown came again on 9th of July, with border closures. Here, we look to faith community experiences in time of lockdown. On this page, we look to the experience of the members of the Muslim community at Lakemba Mosque, Auburn, Sydney, NSW.

Lakemba Mosque, Sydney, NSW

Lakemba Mosque, NSW, is Australia’s largest mosque. Established in the 1970s by a dedicated group of Lebanese migrants, it is now the spiritual home to Muslims from more than 120 different ethnicities. Its prayer services attract 2-3,000 worshippers each day but on special occasions, like during Ramadan, that number can swell to around 10,000 participants, flowing out from the mosque into its outdoor areas and carpark. Services are held in both Arabic and English. Most people who attend are Australian and bilingual, a mix of families, children and young people, as well as a large group of the original Lebanese congregants.

On a regular week the mosque, and the Lebanese Muslim Association which is based there, run a wide array of programs and services to meet the needs of its congregation and the wider community, from religious services, youth outreach, education and employment pathways; family, community, migrant and refugee support and health and fitness programs; to a food bank, legal clinic and health services. The programs and services are dedicated to drawing on community strengths and encouraging social and civic participation for migrant and newly arrived communities. Some of those who participate in these programs and services are regular attendees of the mosque, while others practice their faith at other mosques, at home or do not have a regular devotional life. Lakemba Mosque is also regularly used for funerals in the community, which sometimes see up to 1,000 people come to pay their respects and pray for the deceased.

In mid-March, as the spread of COVID-19 came to public awareness in NSW, Lakemba Mosque decided to close its doors and began the massive task of moving it’s religious services and lessons online. It also had to work through the challenge of how to meet religious obligations like congregational prayer that were required in the mosque.

For the Lebanese Muslim Association, which had already begun to explore digital content and online programs, the lockdown provided the impetus to really explore how spiritual support and community engagement could be offered remotely The Lebanese Muslim Association Engage, Challenge, Grow and Thrive Programs now offer an array of digital programs online, with a feature series each day (either livestreamed or as a podcast). For instance, Mindful Monday focuses on ways to cope during the lockdown, to manage the challenges of working from home and the presence of children and introduces mindfulness strategies to promote calm and stress relief. Toddler Tuesdays provides activities for children that the whole family can engage in and She Talks Wednesdays features women discussing community issues and topics from different perspectives. The Program Director, Sahar Dandan, said “we’ve spent the last ten years building our community development programs and social services and COVID-19 presented us with the challenge to adapt and innovate our programs to exist in the digital space.”

 Lakemba Mosque NSW
During Ramadan, the Call to Prayer (Athan) for the five daily prayers is being broadcast from Facebook daily, as are sermons and messages from the mosque’s imams. Ahmad Malas, one of the mosque’s directors, confirms producing the online content has been a “huge undertaking”, resourced by staff and members working voluntarily. While the programs are “not yet at the quality… [they] hope to produce”, they are being well engaged with. Analytics show that while only around 100 people are watching the live content, approximately 50,000 people are viewing some of the online programs. Many of these are overseas viewers because at this time “nothing like this exists”, says Ahmad, for Muslim communities.

While the mosque has been successful in keeping its congregation engaged and connected online, the community is still feeling the impact of the lockdown. The mosque revolves around the pillars of “community, family and worship,” all three of which have been affected by the restrictions. The loss of close interaction is felt acutely by its members, particularly during Ramadan, when the daily fast is usually broken with a time of eating together with extended family and friends and congregational prayers in the mosque.

Some of our congregants are struggling with the inability to meet together and not being able to perform the congregational prayers, and the mosque faced strong criticism from some members of its community in the first week it closed its doors in advance of the government directive. The change of habits has been hard for many. Still, the community is aware that all Muslims are sharing this experience, even friends and family members overseas.

Funerals, which used to be important community gatherings at the mosque, are governed by the new regulations, which has required the development of new policies and procedures. Now, instead of the community gathering to support the family of the deceased and to pay their respects and offer prayers, the mosque has created private Facebook groups where people can offer messages of condolence and support for the family.

Another impact on the mosque has been the loss of revenue. While electronic transfer is available for donations, many members of the mosque community tend to give on Fridays when they come to the mosque for prayer. The Lebanese Muslim Association has also had to reduce its operations significantly.

Looking to the future, the Lebanese Muslim Association will harness the success of its digital programs and endeavour to make online content “routine in everything… [they] do now.”

While the mosque has had to adapt many of its community and religious activities to the new situation, people are overcoming barriers and taking the opportunity to appreciate the things they previously took for granted. The restrictions preventing public gatherings have also provided families with new opportunities to deepen relationships at home and to develop new family routines in implementing spiritual practices. Even the imams are getting more “tech savvy.”

Looking to the future, the Lebanese Muslim Association will harness the success of its digital programs and endeavour to make online content “routine in everything… [they] do now.”


Lakemba Mosque, NSW -- view from the street
Lakemba Mosque, NSW — view from the street


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