Mosques to remain closed till 'coronavirus threat' passes, senior officials say as Ramadan arrives

The Kurdistan Region's religious authorities on Thursday affirmed that all places of worship would remain closed during the holy month of Ramadan to avoid mass gatherings in line with new regulations to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease.

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The Kurdistan Region's religious authorities on Thursday reiterated that all places of worship would remain closed during the holy month of Ramadan to avoid mass gatherings in line with new regulations imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease.

The announcement came from the Kurdistan Region's Minister of Endowments and Religious Affairs, Pshtewan Sadiq, during a press conference in Erbil along with the head of the region's Islamic Scholars Union, Abdullah Waisy.

"We want to reassure religious clerics [of the region] that we will review all our decisions regarding the closure of mosques, churches, and temples when we reach a stage when we feel that the threat of the virus has passed," said Sadiq at the briefing event.

The minister dismissed claims that the cause of the government keeping the restrictions is "political," stating the decision is solely "health-related." He pointed out further that "even schools and government institutions have not yet reopened."

The Kurdistan Region has so far confirmed 339 coronavirus cases. Even though the number of active cases, now at 23, is falling by the day, senior government officials have stressed that the virus is still a serious risk to public health, calling on citizens to continue to adhere to measures in place to contain the spread of the highly contagious infection.

"The decision of closing the mosques does not diminish the importance of religious scholars or mosques," said Waisy, adding that "the [coronavirus] danger remains and we hope during the coming period that the situation is re-evaluated."

The statement of the two officials comes as Muslims prepare for the holy month of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, during which worshippers observe 29–31 days of fasting and prayers to commemorate when Muslims believe the prophet Mohammed received his divine revelations. It is set to begin on the evening of April 23 and will end on the same day of the following month.

Top officials in the Kurdistan Region on Thursday issued congratulatory messages to Muslims around the world and the Kurdistan Region on the arrival of Ramadan.

"I extend my warm wishes to Muslims in the Kurdistan Region and across the world on the advent of Ramadan. I hope this holy month brings compassion, joy and good deeds. May God answer all our prayers," said Prime Minister Masrour Barzani.

"On this occasion, I also extend my gratitude to religious leaders and clerics in the Kurdistan Region, who are playing an important role in communicating health guidelines designed to protect the public from the coronavirus," added Barzani.

"I call on them to continue advising people to comply with these health measures for their safety and that of their fellow citizens."

From his end, senior Kurdish leader and head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) Masoud Barzani also congratulated Muslims. "I hope that the month of Ramadan brings happiness and blessings to the Kurdistan Region, Iraq, and all of humanity."

Editing by Kosar Nawzad