UMSC issues strict guidelines
There is mounting concern that the COVID-19 pandemic is spreading faster among the muslim community in Uganda than other population groups, going by the number of Sheiks and Imams that are either sick of believed to have succumbed to the disease.
A respected muslim medical officer who has been at the front-line of the battle against the pandemic, whom we cannot name because he prefers anonymity, warned members of his community along Entebbe road to take extra caution saying muslims are uniquely vulnerable to catching COVID because of the way they praise Allah by bowing on the ground, a practice that eases spread of the disease.
The medic passed the warning a few months ago, shortly after the government opened the places of worship.
According to the medical officer, mosques had become a high risk public place especially for the aged people, because they risk picking the disease by bowing in the same spot as someone who might have the virus.
And although the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council (UMSC) had passed measures to prevent the spread of the disease, they were largely ignored by believers who returned to the old ways of praying without masks, getting ablution at the mosques, hugging and shaking hands in and outside the mosques.
“Make sure you caution muslims to adhere to the SOPs including wearing masks, and avoiding handshakes. And if they must attend Jama (group) prayers, they should either carry their own mats or strictly wear masks at all times to minimize the chances of catching the disease,” said the medic.
But the death of prominent muslims clerics Dr. Anas Kaliisa and Sheikh Nuhu Muzaata Batte in a space of weeks, has heightened fear that muslims might be bearing the brunt of the disease perhaps more than other population groups.
Anxiety among the community has been raised with reports of the hospitalisation of the Chairman of the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council Sheikh Dr. Abdukadir Balonde.
In an audio message heard by this reporter that is circulating on several WhatsApp groups indicates that several Imams and Sheikhs particularly in Kampala and Jinja are currently hospitalised with COVID-19.
These include prominent Sheikh from Jinja such as Hajj Ismail Basoga, the new district Khadhie of Jinja and Sheikh Safi Songoro, the Imam of Masjid Umar also in Jinja.
In addition, the Second Deputy Prime Minister Al Hajj Kirunda Kivejjinja, is said to be battling COVID.
Sheikh Mahmood Shwaibu Lubega, has cautioned fellow sheikhs saying: “There is a bizzare situation that I wish to bring to your attention. We are discovering that a great number of the COVID patients are muslims. This could be due to laxity as many of the believers continue to attend prayers without wearing masks. I wish therefore to urge everyone to be extra cautious about this disease. Let’s insist on masks and advise others to have their prayers from home.”
Perhaps realising the disproportionate threat facing the muslim community, Uganda Muslim Supreme Council (UMSC) acknowledged that that a number of mosques were violating COVID prevention measures that were passed by UMSC as well as those issued by the Ministry of Health.
UMSC this week issued a circular warning that Imams who fail to observe the UMSC measures risked getting closed.
A letter signed by the UMSC Secretary Ramathan Mugalu said: “It has been observed that many mosques have relaxed observing the Standard Operating Procedures and guidelines on the prevention of COVID-19 as per the Ministry of Health.
“This is to direct that the SOPs are observed in our mosques and religious gatherings to prevent the spread of COVID-19, any mosque which refuse to comply should immediately be closed by the Regional Khadie.”
UMSC had directed all mosques to enforce the following rules;
- That believers get Uthu (Ablution) from home
- Carry and use their own mats in the mosques
- Sanitize/wash hands with soap and water regularly before and after the mosque
- Ensure that everyone keeps at least a 1.5 metre distance from one another.
- Avoid touching surfaces and shaking hands while in the mosque and public places.