Birmingham’s largest mosque could cancel congregational prayers if the coronavirus situation gets any worse, according to its chairman.

The Birmingham Central Mosque in Highgate has exclusively revealed to I Am Birmingham that Friday prayer services, which attract thousands of worshippers every week, could be abandoned as stricter regulation is enforced around large gatherings.

In a bid to minimise the risk of COVID-19 infection, the Islamic place of worship may cancel large prayer services, and even regular daily prayers, under the guidance of possible government protocol, despite having already spent over £1,000 on hand sanitiser.

The religious community hub has already urged the elderly to stay away from group prayers, which many Muslims attend five times a day.

Birmingham Central Mosque chairman Maqbool AhmedI Am Birmingham
Birmingham Central Mosque chairman Maqbool Ahmed is encouraging elderly worshippers to stay at home

The mosque’s chairman Maqbool Ahmed told I Am Birmingham:

“We will go along with advice given by the government and their chief medical adviser. If they say gatherings of over a certain number need to be banned, we will adhere to that for the sake of the health, safety and security of our adherents and the general public as well.

“Our main congregation attendance is on Jummah when we have 3,000 plus people in the mosque on Fridays, but during the other prayers, we usually get a handful to be honest, as people pray at their local mosques or at home.

“The Jummah gathering is the main one that takes place and that’s the one that will be affected if the government advises that we cease to hold the congregation. We will then have to cancel.

“We’ve presently instructed older worshippers to remain at home for their personal protection, so the regular daily prayers we are carrying on with at the moment have no more than twenty or so people attending. We’re asking vulnerable people at higher risk to stay at home and self-isolate, don’t come into the mosques.”

Birmingham Central Mosque during Eid prayer services last yearAdam Yosef
Birmingham Central Mosque during Eid prayer services last year

Mr Ahmed accepted that the mosque would have to close its doors if this national policy demanded it.

“In terms of closing the mosque, we haven’t been asked to do this at the moment but if there is any government instruction to do that, we will. We have to be very careful and follow the government recommendation on this matter.

“This is something that is affecting all communities. We, as the Muslim community, have to take part in doing our bit to make sure we all adhere to the requirements the government has recommended; and serve the community to respect everybody.

“We must do what we can to help reduce and eradicate this virus, and the sooner the better, by following the advice of medical experts.”

Major sporting and cultural events across Britain have already been cancelled in response to the health crisis, with the number of confirmed cases of the virus in the UK rising to 1,140 as of today (Saturday 14) and the total number of people who have died as a result of the virus nearly doubling to 21 since yesterday.

However, the government estimates the true number of positive cases to be around 5,000 to 10,000 around the UK.

The Birmingham Central Mosque in Highgate Adam Yosef
The Birmingham Central Mosque in Highgate has implemented NHS advice on dealing with the coronavirus threat

For Birmingham Central Mosque, the outbreak has been a testing time to which they’ve so far responded with relative caution. According to the trust’s General Secretary Dr. Mohammed Hanif, staff at the centre have taken every possible precaution that is presently being advised by the NHS.

This includes spending an extra £1,000 on hand sanitiser and a large quantity of extra tissue paper and bins in which to dispose of used items.

“We have implemented the government’s advice on prevention including avoiding shaking hands, washing hands regularly and using antiseptic hand gel.

“We have made hand gel available around the mosque and increased frequency and depth of cleaning schedules. We have advised elderly users and those with elderly relatives to avoid congregational prayers especially on Fridays. Signs have been placed around the mosque to advise our patrons of these precautions.

However, the mosque has stopped short of full closure, citing regular hygiene as key to its patrons’ spiritual philosophy.

“As Muslims we routinely wash five times a day before prayers and we are now also encouraging use of antiseptic gel. We have not cancelled Friday congregational prayers in line with current official policy but are monitoring the situation and awaiting further guidance from the government.”

Thousands gather at Birmingham Central Mosque during busy periodsAdam Yosef
Thousands gather at Birmingham Central Mosque during busy periods

So far, the government has not enforced a ban on large gatherings but a u-turn appears to be underway.

Hours after the government’s chief scientific advisor insisted it was not necessary to presently shut down big events, a government source said ministers were now drawing up plans to make this a priority, in order to ease pressure on emergency services.

The source told the BBC: “There are many complex considerations to make all these measures as effective as possible. We will make the right decisions at the right time based on the best scientific evidence.”

It is believed an outright ban could be implemented as early as next weekend, echoing similar action taken in several neighbouring European countries.

Saint Peter's Square in the Vatican has been almost deserted following the COVID-19 outbreak Supplied
Saint Peter’s Square in the Vatican has been almost deserted following the COVID-19 outbreak
The Kaaba in Mecca is deserted as authorities aim to safeguard pilgrims Al-Arabiya
The Kaaba in Mecca is deserted as authorities aim to safeguard pilgrims

For the city’s Muslim community, there are currently no large gatherings outside of congregational prayers which are being considered for cancellation. However, if the pandemic lingers for more than another four to five weeks, it could affect the holy month of Ramadan, which starts around April 23.

Any official nationwide ban on large gatherings would equally affect all other places of worship too, including churches, synagogues, gurdwaras and temples.

Management at the Shree Geeta Bhawan temple in Handsworth have also taken precautionary steps to curb the spread of coronavirus, cancelling their over-50 club and dropping several Pooja (worship) ceremonies from their weekly schedule until the end of March.

However, the Hindu temple’s main prayer space – known as the mandir  – is still open as per the venue’s standard opening hours, providing attendees follow the well-publicised NHS guidelines to minimise any risk.

Following the global outbreak of COVID-19, religious sites around the world world including the Kaaba in Mecca and Saint Peter’s Square in the Vatican have been left mostly empty and deserted.

Vatican officials have announced that offices will remain open in order “to ensure the essential services to the Universal Church”, while at the same time implementing the health measures necessary to avoid the spread of the new coronavirus.


Coronavirus in the UK

A woman wearing a face mask in London's Oxford Street amid news of the coronavirus pandemicAdam Yosef
A woman wearing a face mask in London’s Oxford Street amid news of the coronavirus pandemic

The COVID-19 Coronavirus is spreading globally at an alarming rate, with concerns heightened due to the lack of vaccine for the virus’ current strain, which can be lethal to those with weakened immune systems.

Ten days ago, a patient at the Royal Berkshire Hospital who tested positive for coronavirus was confirmed as the UK’s first Coronvirus related fatality. This came on the same day an individual in Birmingham tested positive for coronavirus, becoming the city’s first patient with the infection.

21 people have since died in the UK from the virus, with the UK government’s chief medical adviser suggesting people who show “even minor” signs of respiratory tract infections or a fever could soon be told to self-isolate in an effort to tackle the outbreak. The latest death yesterday was the first for Scotland.

As of Saturday (March 14), there have been 1,140 confirmed cases across the UK, an increase of 342 from Friday, according to NHS England. The number of deaths has almost doubled since yesterday, from 11 to 21.

Health officials have said they believe the actual number of people infected could be between 5,000 and 10,000.

The government is expected to announce that it is stepping up its coronavirus response, in order to delay its spread. This comes after initial plans to attempt to contain the spread. 29,764 people had been tested for the virus in the UK so far.


If you’re worried about coronavirus symptoms or have related concerns, please visit: https://gov.uk/coronavirus.

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