IMI Statement on Programming for Muharram/Safar during the Pandemic
Released August 8, 2020
As North America begins to reopen local businesses, public spaces and community services, the IMI Corona Virus Task Force recognizes the need for guidance to inform the safe and responsible Muharram and Safar programming at Islamic centers, and Imambargahs across the region.
At this time, Imamia Medics International (IMI), IMI Corona Virus Task Force, and the IMI Muharram & COVID-19 subcommittee strongly recommend that Islamic Centers and Imambargahs continue to provide safe, and virtual alternative programming to commemorate these important days of Muharram and Safar across North America.
The Task Force’s recommendations are based on consultation with public health and religious experts, guidelines from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), and align with the Islamic moral tradition’s overarching objectives of preserving life, community and religion.
Imamia Medics International strongly recommends:
All Islamic centers, imambargahs, community organizations, households, families and individuals follow public health guidance for social distancing, wearing masks in public spaces, holding virtual religious programs/majalis, and restricting travel (i.e. limiting physical participation and recitations across different communities/centers);
Even if your center is located in a state and jurisdiction where infection rates are slowing or low at this time, we advise centers to continue virtual programs given the fluid nature of this pandemic with severe and deadly consequences; and
Should centers and Imambargahs choose to reopen for communal services in Muharram (despite our above recommendation for virtual programming and if/where allowed by law), we urge limiting gatherings as much as possible (reduced attendees/duration and following all additional local guidelines and safety protocols if held), and thorough and careful implementation of safe practices for the reopening and programs – see further guidance here.
These recommendations are based upon the following principles & understanding:
Recognizing the temporary closing of Islamic centers, and Imambargahs has been a significant challenge and impacts the spiritual and social wellbeing of the community;
COVID-19 is at a level in the communities where it is expected to continue to spread especially in situations where people gather in a confined space;
The infection is evolving and individuals may show no or minimal symptoms and yet be very infectious; Every community is unique with respect to their public health context, state and jurisdictional authorities, and ability to safely implement reopening procedures;
Preventing the spread of the coronavirus and safeguarding the health of others is not just an ethical obligation, but a religious requirement as well. The philosophy of this stems from the lofty ideals that Imam Hussain (as) stood for and safeguarded.
100% compliance with distancing and masking is not a reasonable expectation of all congregants. In addition, 100% compliance with the extensive safety protocols is also not feasible for organizers. Knowing this, we are obligated to respect our Imam’s message to save humanity even if it requires sacrificing our individual needs and wishes.
Recognizing that not only are Shia Muslims susceptible, but large gatherings such as majalis have an unusually high chance of becoming “super-spreader” events and thus increase the risk of spreading the disease to the broader community.
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