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Vaughan mosque shuts locations over coronavirus fears
March 9, 2020
Noor Javed

An Islamic centre in Vaughan has taken the unprecedented step of shutting down three of its centres this week as a precaution, as coronavirus cases continue to rise across the region.

The Islamic Shia Ithna-Asheri Jamaat (ISIJ) of Toronto posted a message on its website on Tuesday, alerting its members, which number in the thousands, that “after much deliberation, and with the best interest of our community in mind,” the centres would be shut temporarily.

Most notably, the ISIJ said it would remain closed during its five daily prayers and for the Friday congregational prayer.

“The decision to close the centres was not made lightly and was made with the best interest of the safety of our community members and attendees in mind,” said ISIJ in a release on the centre’s website.

“We shall monitor and update the community as the situation unfolds,” it said.

As of Friday, there were 26 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Ontario, with at least six in York Region. Many of those infected had recently travelled to the GTA from China, Iran, and Egypt.

“The overall consideration was prevention, precaution and safety for our community members,” said Shafiq Ebrahim, the vice-president of the ISIJ of Toronto.

Ebrahim said there was concern around the growing number of cases in York Region, and that with some members travelling abroad for pilgrimage to holy sites in Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria, it would be difficult to monitor who was coming in and out of the centre.

“We just don’t know who would be symptomatic, and we don’t have the processes, or the logistics to stand at all of our entrances and have people monitored 24-7,” he said.

Pictures of a near empty Grand Mosque in Mecca, and in particular the Kaaba, went viral on social media this week, as Saudi authorities took drastic measures to protect against the coronavirus.

Authorities later confirmed that it had temporarily emptied the Grand Mosque, usually filled with millions of people, for sterilization -- and would continue to do so daily.

Locally, other religious groups have also started taking precautions in light of the virus.

The Anglican bishop of Toronto advised churchgoers in a letter this week to refrain from shaking hands or offering hugs during mass when peace offerings are exchanged. The church is suspending the sharing of wine in the communal cup.

Similar measures were put into place in 2003, during the SARS outbreak.

Prior to the closure, the centre had put out a list of safety precautions, such as limiting physical contact and asking worshippers to bring their own prayer mats, said Ebrahim.

He said that the centre has formed a COVID-19 Task Force, made up of medical professionals to assess and review the current health climate and who will ultimately decide when the centres will re-open.

Ebrahim said while some members have felt inconvenienced, most have appreciated the move.

“One could argue that this move is over the top,” he said. “But our view is that we would rather be cautious. It only needs one person who gets infected, and it spreads and then you have a problem.”