The Friday congregation prayer and sermon is the worship service every practicing Muslim looks forward to at The Islamic Center of East Lansing.
Many often took time off work and school just to attend the service. Then the coronavirus pandemic halted the Friday service and many other in-person activities at the mosque in March.
“People look forward to it each week. It’s equal to Sunday Mass,” explained Thasin Sardar, an Islamic Center board member. “We decided to suspend services before the governor enacted the statewide lockdown. Knowing how rampant infection was going to be, we erred on the side of caution.”
Last Friday, the Islamic Center resumed its most important service after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer amended coronavirus restrictions for indoor and outdoor gatherings. The mosque complied by holding two outdoor prayer services, each limited to 100 people.
The gatherings were scheduled an hour apart from each other.
Face-mask-wearing attendees, who were spaced 6 feet apart, gathered in the mosque’s parking lot while listening to the sermon of Imam Sohail Chaudhry.
“To see the people there — you could see a desire and hunger to get back to normal as much as we can, which we are still far away from,” Chaudhry said. “It was a great feeling, but there was sadness and grief we can’t do it inside the mosque due to restrictions. I had mixed feelings, personally.”
The significance of Friday in Islam
Friday is meaningful to Muslims in numerous ways.
“We pray five times a day, but the regular prayers don’t have a sermon. We just come in to pray, worship and leave,” Chaudhry said. “Friday service has a sermon, which has teachings from the Quran and the life of the prophet.”
But that’s not all.
“Friday is also considered the most blessed day of the week because of the belief that’s the day when humanity started on earth; the first man and prophet was created on a Friday and the day of judgement — that will come at the end of time — is also on a Friday,” he added.
Muslims also believe those who attend Friday services will have their “weekly mistakes or sins pardoned by God,” according to Chaudhry.
Not being able to hold Friday services in person impacted congregants, according to Chaudhry, who said Islamic practices require “coming together to do acts of worship and charity.”
“It’s not an individualistic religion,” he said. “Requirements are not met until you get together.”
The virtual services the mosque implemented weren’t the same, Chaudhry said.
Muslim celebrations — such as Ramadan, from April 23 to May 23, and Eid al-Adha in July — had to be modified with online and drive-through components to serve their congregants, according to Sardar.
“Because of the pandemic and lockdown, people were disappointed but pragmatic,” Sardar said. “They acted responsibly. They were cooperative.”
Filling a void left by the pandemic
Resuming outdoor, socially distanced, in-person Friday services required much planning by the Islamic Center.
No one could attend the services until they registered online first, which served two purposes: To limit the number of attendees to 100 people each and provide readily available data to contact tracers in case an attendee tests positive for COVID-19.
“We believe it’s a societal responsibility to have data, so members can get tested if anyone in the congregation turned out to be positive,” Sardar said. “We collected names, phone numbers and checked temperatures as they walked in. We also encouraged people older than 65 to pray at home instead.”
The mosque also implemented other health precautions, such as “discouraging hugging and shaking hands,” Sardar added.
Sardar believes the precautions are important to The Islamic Center faithfully serving its members.
“People are stressed by their jobs and their kids’ education,” Sardar explained. “Houses of worship have an obligation to provide spiritual outlets, formal online services, outdoor services and lend their ear to people who need to be reached out to.”
“We are doing our best to make that possible,” he added.
Contact LSJ reporter Kristan Obeng at KObeng@lsj.com. Follow her on Twitter @KrissyObeng.
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