Islamic religious practice has been allowed to resume in mosques from Friday, on a trial basis.

The announcement was made in a press release by the Ministry of Health on September 5, which said the move was the first step towards resuming normal religious practices in mosques, providing strict COVID-19 transmission measures were in place.

The move received written approval from Prime Minister Hun Sen last week, following a ministry request.

“Islamic leaders are advised to begin this step-by-step process by trialling gatherings over four consecutive Fridays. If successful, then the process to allow worshipping in suraus can begin,” he said.

“The Islamic Council must monitor the implementation of the service reopening as thoroughly as possible,” it added.

“In the event of a suspected case of COVID-19 happening in any mosque, leadership from any centre should immediately report it to the nearest local authority or health centre,” it said.

The measures mosques must adhere to include each person in attendance being required to wear a mask, have their temperature checked before entry, follow the 1.5 metre social distancing rule and regularly wash their hands at mandatory sanitising stations, the ministry said.

In addition, attendees are required to bring their own prayer mat and gatherings will be limited to 30 minutes, with children and the sick advised not to attend, it added.

The Highest Council for Islamic Religious Affairs in Cambodia followed ministry guidelines by banning mass gatherings during Ramadan to curb the spread of COVID-19 in May.

The move came after 23 out of 79 Cambodian-Muslims tested positive for the virus after attending a religious gathering in Malaysia and upon returning home, spreading the virus to eight family members.

The Council had planned to host national-level dinners during the end of Ramadan to celebrate Eid-ul-fitr on April 29 with Mr Hun Sen and Yousef bin Ahmad Al-Othaimeen, secretary-general of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, as guests-of-honour. However, the event was also cancelled due to the pandemic.

There are 780,000 Cambodian-Muslims in Cambodia, with the majority of the population being Buddhist. Mass gatherings at pagodas had been prohibited ahead of the Khmer New Year, however, pagodas were allowed to reopen in April. Yet, bans on mosque gatherings have continued to remain in place.

However, president of the Cambodian Muslim Development Foundation Othsman Hassan said that the announcement has been well received by the community, who
are just happy to be able to begin practising their religion at mosques once again.

“The Muslim community is very happy regarding this announcement and restarting their religious practices. However, if there are complications and health concerns in the future, it is up to the ministry on how we proceed, this is just the first stage,” he said.

“We had to halt prayer services in March for a while due to concerns but we have asked permission from the government to slowly reopen mosques in line with ministry guidelines,” he said.

“Following government observations made over the previous months, they have agreed to reopen mosques and we are grateful,” he said.

Twenty-year-old Him Imrorn, a student at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, is looking forward to returning to the mosque next week after months of practicing Islam at home.

“We devote our Fridays to our religion, where it is an obligation for everyone to participate in the events on the day. In Islam, the second core principle is to pray five times per day so it has affected our schedules, especially during Ramadan.”

“We consider the mosque as the house of Allah, the almighty God. So, as a Muslim I have felt incomplete knowing I could not attend,” he said.

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