A group of Muslim leaders and entities are set to head to the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria in a bid to declare certain parts of the lockdown regulations unconstitutional as it prohibits prayers, specifically the Muslim daily prayers, in places of worship.
On Thursday, Muhammed Bin Hassim Mohomed, Anas Mohammed Chotia and the As-Saadiqeen Islamic Centre will argue the lockdown regulations should be amended to allow places of worship to remain open during the lockdown under certain conditions.
They would also ask for magistrates to oversee the process to allow for congregational prayer, preparation and distribution of meals and testing for Covid-19, according to court papers.
This, they said, would be done while also regulating the number of congregants, enforcing physical distancing and using sanitisers and other hygiene measures, among other things.
“The real questions we will ask the court is to consider whether a complete and total shutdown of mosques and other places of worship is the appropriate measure required to contain Covid-19 in the context of prayer and worship.
“Prayer and worship … bring a level of calm to the community, it brings a level of hope to the community and it significantly enhances our society’s ability to deal with the crisis from a mental and spiritual perspective,” the court papers read.
It added currently, regulations prohibited them from practicing their religion, freedom of movement and association and impact on their dignity.
“It is a violation of Islamic law as contained in the Holy Quran to forcefully close mosques to prevent any worship from taking place, even in the context of the pandemic.”
However, the United Ulama Council of South Africa (UUCSA) – the amicus curiae in the case – has a different view, saying the application “ignores that the entire country is called upon to make sacrifices”.
Mohammad Tauha Karaan, a scholar of Islamic studies and board member of the UUCSA, said the application disregarded general health risks to society during the pandemic.
Karaan added to adhere to lockdown regulations would also be to adhere to the objectives of Islamic law because the Quran spoke about human life and the preservation of life.
“Islam views the value of human life and dignity as all-encompassing because the cluster of environmental, political, cultural, social and economic rights is inextricably linked to human dignity,” he said.
“On this basis, certain freedoms may be limited if they threaten the sanctity of human life or offend human dignity.
“In addition, Islamic tradition mandates that the views of the scientists, epidemiologists and medical experts who have knowledge of [in this case] the Covid-19 pandemic ought to be given primacy,” Karaan added.
In South Africa, there were about 850 mosques and many smaller places of congregational prayers, he said.
Prayers happen five times per day – no matter what day it is – and there are also a significant number of churches, synagogues, temples and similar places of worship.
This would make the implementation of these measures in every one of these places of worship “burdensome, impractical and insufficient”, Karaan said.
He reiterated social distancing was the best way to curb the spread Covid-19.
“There is no limitation on freedom of religion or belief. The applicants and adherents to other faiths can continue, as I and numerous other adherents in South Africa and around the world are doing, to adhere to the tenets of their respective faiths and carry out their daily prayers without significant hindrance at home,” Karaan said.