DAKAR - Senegal’s controversial decision to reopen mosques as the Muslim-majority country is still battling the coronavirus pandemic has split the religious community. 

Senegal has about 2,500 confirmed infections and at least 25 deaths from COVID-19. While some Muslims have welcomed being able to pray at the mosque during the last week of the holy month of Ramadan, others worry it’s too soon and the decision may put worshippers at greater risk of infection.  

Senegal’s allowing mosques to reopen for the final week of Ramadan was welcomed by thousands of worshippers at the Massalikul Jinaan mosque for Friday prayers.    

But while requirements for social distancing and sanitary measures remain in place during the pandemic, not all of Senegal’s Muslims are keen to return to group prayer.     

Adja Fama Lo is in charge of the women’s prayer room at the mosque. 

Many people are afraid of the disease, she said. They are afraid to come. At hat hour, the mosque was usually full, she ays. Now they are coming back step by step. She said those who are not afraid will come, those who are afraid will stay at home.  

Many Muslims, like 26-year-old programmer Fily Baye, prefer to continue praying at home to reduce the risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19.      

For him, group worship — for Ramadan and until the coronavirus is under control — needs to remain online.       

Baye said it is a way that makes it possible to spend Ramadan safely. It also brings a dose of spirituality. 

By being alone, he said, it is true that it is a bit complicated and that people experience difficult things. But spiritually speaking, he said, it's a time that allows us to refocus on ourselves.   

Many Imams chose not to reopen mosques out of concern for controlling crowds. 

Ahmadou Kante is imam of Mosue Point E in Dakar.   

They prefer to be careful, he said, and that by the end of Ramadan they will see how it evolves and what other receivers of worshippers are telling them. Kante said if they are told that there is a decline[in cases], that the dynamic is not on the rise, they could satisfy this religious demand of a few believers to resume the public prayers.

Senegal’s Catholic churches have also chosen to keep their doors closed while the pandemic continues. 

Meanwhile, all believers — whether at home or the mosque — are praying for a swift end to the coronavirus pandemic.   

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