Dakar mosques stay shut despite permission to pray

A doctor checks on a Covid-19 patient at the Fann University Hospital in Dakar on Wednesday. (AP pic)

DAKAR: Two major mosques in Senegal’s capital Dakar said on Thursday that they would not resume prayers, despite a government decision allowing them to, over coronavirus fears.

El Hadji Alioune Moussa Samba, the imam of the Dakar Grand Mosque, said in a statement that coronavirus cases continued to grow and “the reasons invoked for closing the mosques remain more valid than ever”.

The Cheikh Oumar Foutiyou mosque also said it would not resume prayers, citing health risks.

More than 90% of Senegal is Muslim and most of the faithful follow Sufi brotherhoods, which retain considerable influence in the West African state of some 16 million people.

President Macky Sall, for example, is a regular sight at the Grand Mosque during Muslim festivals.

The mosque statements on Thursday follow Sall’s announcement this week allowing public worship to resume, and shortening a night-time curfew.

In a televised address on Monday, he evoked the need “to learn to live in the presence of the virus” and said the government had weighed religious as well as economic considerations in deciding to relax restrictions.

But religious authorities have not jumped to open their doors again.

The Catholic Church in Senegal also said this week that masses would not resume, despite the government go-ahead.

The spokesman for the head of the powerful Mourides brotherhood, Serigne Mountakha Mbacke, said that prayers would resume, but only if worshippers wear masks, wash their hands, and keep a distance from one another.

Senegal has recorded 2,189 cases of coronavirus to date, including 23 fatalities.

As with other poor countries in the region, there are fears that it is ill equipped to handle a large outbreak.