Edmonton locations of worship eye gradual reopening below new pointers

The oldest mosque in Canada is finding new ways to keep faith as Alberta gradually eases some pandemic-related public health orders.

Al Rashid Mosque’s approach to prayer in the age of coronavirus could offer a roadmap for other faith organizations still assessing how and when to safely resume in-person congregations.

The mosque is taking reservations through an online portal for up to 50 different people to attend each of the five daily prayers, in line with the revised public health orders announced by Alberta’s chief medical officer of health this week. Within hours, the reservations for the evening tarawih prayer were booked until the end of Ramadan.

Taraweh is an additional prayer Muslims perform only during Ramadan. It is performed right after Isha, the last prayer of the day.

“Those time slots flew by very, very quickly,” said Noor Al-Henedy, communications director for Al Rashid. “In difficult times, many people revert back to their faith to keep them strong. Usually, places of worship are where you’re able to do that most.”

The mosque has implemented new health guidelines released by the province this week for faith organizations, says Al Henedy. Temperatures are taken at the door with non-contact thermometers. Hand sanitizing is mandatory. Inside, spaces are mapped out on the floor to keep the 50 congregants at least two meters apart in a prayer hall that would typically host upwards of 700 people during Ramadan.

The eased restrictions align with the last 10 days of Ramadan, considered to be among the most important during a month marked by fasting, reflection and charitable offering.

“The safety of everybody in the congregation is the most important point,” Al-Henedy said.

For those who can’t attend, the mosque has been actively posting evening prayers and daily discussions on its social media channels.

But as some faith organizations move ahead with in-person services, others continue to iron out their plans.

‘Sunday just doesn’t feel the same’

The Ahmadiyya Muslim mosque remains closed, at least until the end of Ramadan, says Edmonton West chapter president Humayun Ahmed. In the meantime, the organization has been hosting weekly live broadcasts on social media for anyone interested in learning more about Ramadan.

“Although some restrictions are easing now, we’re still following the same instructions of offering congregation prayers at home with our family,” Ahmed said.

The Catholic Archdiocese has also yet to announce when it plans to resume in-person congregations. But when it does, services will likely look remarkably different. Communion and singing, integral to a Catholic service, both violate the current health guidelines.

“Sunday just doesn’t feel the same. It just isn’t the same,” said Lorraine Turchansky, communications director for the Archdiocese of Edmonton.

The pandemic has not only upended spiritual routine, but also the church’s pocket book. Without donations from the Sunday prayer basket, Turchansky says 22 people have been temporarily laid off in the offices, from pastoral assistants to communication staff.

Archbishop Richard Smith has been live streaming Sunday mass from St. Joseph’s Basilica for weeks. But with dozens of parishes to oversee, Turchansky says the Alberta bishops don’t want to rush into a one-size fits all approach for the resumption of public liturgy.

“We’re hoping people don’t forget their spiritual home when they’re looking after their physical home,” she said.

Faith leaders from across the province are expected to take part in a telephone town hall with the premier and chief medical officer of health on Thursday.

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