Joint Statement and Recommendations by Northern California Islamic Council and APPNA Northern California Chapter on Reopening of Islamic Centers
NCIC and APPNA Northern California recommends exerting extreme caution when deciding to reopen for indoor religious services. Despite the Supreme Court ruling, because of the high risk involved, and the extreme diligence and oversight that must be provided by masaajid administration, we recommend against reopening of masaajid for indoor Taraweeh and congregational prayers at this time.
The U.S. Supreme Court on February 26, 2021 rejected Santa Clara County’s ban on indoor worship services, paving the way for places of worship to offer indoor religious services under certain guidelines. Our concern is that this may be seen as a green light to proceed with business as usual, especially with the holy month of Ramadan approaching. The Islamic centers and masaajid are at a high risk for transmission of COVID-19, given the proximity for gatherings during congregational prayers and Taraweeh.
Despite the availability of the three vaccines available under the Emergency Authorization Act (EUA), COVID-19 remains a serious public health hazard. We must remain extremely vigilant as a community to ensure the safety of our congregations.
The new strains of the virus are more easily transmissible, and are more lethal, and the efficacy of the current vaccines against the newer strains is questionable at best. Therefore we need to continue to exercise extreme caution.
We recognize that Islam places a high value on communal gatherings, especially during the holy month of Ramadan, and we also appreciate our community’s strong desire to reconnect with each other and with their masjid, especially during the holy month. However, we must also realize that Islam places high value in sanctity of life.
“….whoever saves a life, it will be as if he saved all of humanity…” Qur’an 5:32
Communal gatherings on a regular basis in a pandemic pose a significant health threat to the community. We caution against such gatherings and highly recommends virtual religious programs during Ramadan coupled with possibility of drive through Iftars using boxed meals at the masaajids. This will minimize risks associated with “in-person” gatherings and maintain the desire of the community to connect with each in Ramadan.
We appreciate the leadership displayed by our Islamic centers in safeguarding the health and safety of our communities during the pandemic. The remaining document is intended to provide general guidance to those masaajid who still choose to reopen for limited indoor religious services, and every masjid should review it on their own to ensure they comply with all local and state regulatory guidelines.
The following serves as an appendix to the recommendations provided by NCIC and APPNA N. California chapter on reopening of the Islamic centers during Ramadan.
By a 6-3 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Santa Clara County must allow indoor worship services to resume at 20% capacity. The capacity in other counties varies from 20% to 25%. It is very important to note that this order allows, but does not mandate, for the Islamic centers to reopen for the indoor religious services.
It is the duty of the Imams and administrators of the masaajid that they should make every effort possible to facilitate for people the practices of worship prescribed in Islam while at the same time ensuring that we comply with the local public health guidelines and that all steps and precautions are taken to protect the health, safety and well-being of individuals and the community at large.
This document provides logistical details for opening the masaajid to Salah, Taraweeh, and other religious services on large indoor and outdoor gatherings. The following recommendations are based on the latest guidelines by CDC and local public health departments.
This document is organized with following sections:
- A set of guidelines that can be published to the community
- Internal logistics details applicable to the facility’s administration
I. Community Guidelines
In accordance with the most recent guidelines by CDC, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, and local and state government authorities, the masjid may be available for Salah including the five regular prayers, Jumah and Taraweeh. It should be noted that the masaajid will reopen for Salah services, while all other normal activities of the center must continue to remain suspended until further notice. Moreover, these guidelines do NOT address the Sunday school, or other school services offered by, or at the masjid, since additional rules and guidelines apply for these services.
- Establish a written, workplace-specific COVID-19 prevention plan at every location, perform a comprehensive risk assessment of all work areas, and designate a person at each workplace to implement the plan.
- Identify contact information for the local health department where the workplace is located for communicating information about COVID-19 outbreaks among staff and congregants/visitors.
- Train and communicate with staff and employee representatives on the plan.
- Regularly evaluate workplaces for compliance with the plan and document and correct deficiencies identified.
- Identify close contacts (within six feet for 15 minutes or more) of an infected staff member and take steps to isolate COVID-19 positive staff and close contacts.
- Masjid must limit total attendance to 20-25% (depending on your county) of a building’s capacity.
- Provide temperature and/or symptom screenings for all staff at the beginning of their shift, and all attendees of the religious gathering. Make sure the temperature/symptom screener avoids close contact with staff to the extent possible. Both screeners and staff should wear face coverings for the screening.
- All workers, volunteers and congregants should wear face mask and observe 6 feet social distancing.
- Masjid must take reasonable measures, including posting signage in strategic and highly-visible locations, to remind congregants/visitors that they should use face coverings and practice physical distancing whenever possible.
- IF Jumu’ah prayers are to be conducted, only those Islamically obligated to participate are encouraged to attend.
- Under no circumstances are children 12 and under permitted to attend Jumah and other religious gatherings.
- With the noted exception of Jumah, all members of the community are still encouraged to pray at home.
- No one experiencing any symptoms known to be symptomatic with the COVID-19 virus (including dry cough, fever, body aches, shortness of breath or any other related symptoms) may enter the facility.
- No one who has been diagnosed with the virus or for any reason been instructed to stay in quarantine may not enter the facility unless formally cleared by medical professionals.
- Older individuals and/or individuals with immune compromised systems are recommended to pray at home.
- Attendees are encouraged to come to the masjid in a state of wudoo’ and should only use the restroom facilities if necessary.
- Attendees are strongly recommended to bring their own prayer mat.
- No type of congregating is permitted at any time.
- At all times, attendees should maintain six (6) foot spacing from all individuals outside of their immediate household. Hugging, handshaking and any other type of physical interaction clearly violates social distancing practices.
- Designated prayer areas will be pre-marked in a manner to facilitate six (6) foot spacing. Attendees should only pray in marked designated areas.
- At the completion of prayer, lines will be dismissed individually to avoid crowding.
- Meals at the masjid: If food is offered at any event, we highly recommend pre-packaged options, and avoid buffet or family-style meals if possible
- Avoid providing the premises for the purpose of Qiyam, if previously offered by your masjid.
II. Internal Logistics
This section contains parts relevant to the facility’s administration: facility management, guideline enforcement and cleaning protocols..
- The number of maximum attendees to maintain six (6) foot spacing in each designated prayer area should be counted at 20-25% of the normal capacity.
- Custodial services should be maintained on a daily basis and should include sanitization of all floors and hard surfaces. Carpeted areas should be vacuumed daily. If contractor services are available, carpets and ventilation systems should be sanitized as well.
- Custodians should be available during any long duration prayer services, i.e. Jumah and Taraweeh, to immediately clean and sanitize all areas contacted by attendees including bathrooms, wudoo’ areas, door handles, vending machines, etc.
- Gathering/community areas other than prayer halls should be closed if possible. Couches should be removed from public access.
- Water fountains should be shut off and closed for access.
- Playground should be closed to public access.
- Masks and gloves should be made available to all volunteers.
- During high attendance times, doors should be propped open to deter human contact.
- The khutbah and prayer should be made as short as possible to limit contact and facilitate multiple services.
- Six (6) foot spacing marks in designated prayer areas should be checked daily to ensure they are visible and in place.
- A sufficient number of volunteers should be available inside the facility at peak crowd times to ensure that social distancing is practiced and that anyone exhibiting illness symptoms is kindly asked to leave.
- Parking volunteers/workers should be available at peak times to ensure that the maximum number of attendees is not exceed and that no congregation in parking lot is occurring. The number of attendees should be counted at the entrance to the parking lot so that excess crowds can be easily turned away.
- At least one paid officer should be available during peak crowd times, i.e. Jumu’ah and Taraweeh, to support the masjid volunteers. Additional officers inside the facility may be added at administration’s discretion.
- Perform thorough cleaning of high traffic areas such as lobbies, halls, meeting rooms, offices, libraries, and study areas and areas of ingress and egress including stairways, stairwells, handrails, and elevator controls. Frequently disinfect commonly used surfaces including doorknobs, toilets, hand washing facilities, pulpits and podiums, donation boxes or plates, altars, and seating areas.
- Establish frequent cleaning and disinfection of personal work areas such as desks and cubicles and supply the necessary cleaning products.
- Discourage sharing items used in Salah (such as prayer books, cushions, prayer rugs, turba, tasbeeh, etc.) whenever possible and provide single use or digital copies or ask congregants/visitors to bring personal items instead. Avoid sharing work equipment and supplies, such as phones, office equipment, computers, etc., wherever possible. Never share PPE.
- Disinfect microphones and stands, music stands, instruments and other items on pulpits and podiums between each use. Consult equipment manufacturers to determine appropriate disinfection steps, particularly for soft, porous surfaces such as foam mufflers.
- Install hand sanitizer dispensers, touchless whenever possible, at entrances and other places of gathering.
Plan for when a staff member or congregant becomes sick:
- Identify an area to separate anyone who exhibits symptoms of COVID-19 during hours of operation, and ensure that children are not left without adult supervision.
- Establish procedures for safely transporting anyone who becomes sick at the facility to their home or a healthcare facility.
- Notify local health officials if a person diagnosed with COVID-19 has been in the facility and communicate with staff and congregants about potential exposure while maintaining confidentiality as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or other applicable laws and in accordance with religious practices.
- Advise those with exposure to a person diagnosed with COVID-19 to stay home and self-monitor for symptoms, and follow CDC guidance if symptoms develop.
- Close off areas used by the sick person and do not use the area until after cleaning and disinfection. Ensure safe and correct application of disinfectants and keep disinfectant products away from children.
- Advise staff and congregants with symptoms of COVID-19 or who have tested positive for COVID-19 not to return to the facility until they have met CDC’s criteria to discontinue home isolation..
- Designate a staff person to be responsible for responding to COVID-19 concerns. Staff, clergy, volunteers, and congregants should know who this person is and how to contact them if they become sick or are around others diagnosed with COVID-19. This person should also be aware of state or local regulatory agency policies related to group gatherings.
- Communicate clearly with staff and congregants about actions being taken to protect their health.
In the event a person diagnosed with COVID-19 is determined to have been in the building and poses a risk to the community, it is strongly suggested to dismiss attendees, then properly clean and disinfect the area and the building where the individual was present before resuming activities.
- It is of note that the rate of vaccination remains low among the immigrants, Latinos and the Blacks. This is largely due to unfounded fears and misinformation.
- Contrary to what you may have heard, all three currently available vaccines (by Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson) are considered very safe. CDC and local and state public health departments highly recommend getting any vaccine available to you.
- It is important to keep in mind that even if you have completed the vaccination, you must still observe the universal precautions such as social distancing, wearing masks and hand sanitization. This is mainly due to the fact that the vaccines are up to 95% effective (and not 100% effective), and their effectiveness against certain mutant strains such as the Brazilian, South African and UK strains are highly questionable. Moreover, it is not clear in case of an infection, if a fully vaccinated individual can still transmit the virus to others.