Religious Leaders disagree over opening of Worship Centres in Oyo

Religious leaders in Oyo State have expressed divergent opinions over lifting of suspension placed on religious gathering 3 months ago during the outbreak of coronavirus pandemic. 

Speaking with Radio Nigeria, Chairman, Muslim Community of Oyo State, Alhaji Kunle Sanni said he was not in support of reopening of mosques in the state due to the rising cases of COVID-19.

“As far as I’m concerned, the governor has not convinced us that the spike of the pandemic has subsided and therefore it would be extremely risky to tell the people to come to mosque and get infected”. 

He said the Muslim Community of Oyo State would soon take a stand on the state government’s decision, as he was personally not in support of reopening of mosques noting that the rate at which the virus was spreading in the state was alarming.

“In a few days’ time, the meeting of critical stakeholders will address the situation and come out with the position of Oyo State Muslim community”.

Alhaji Sanni wondered why the state government did not carry the community along compared to the past stressing that Chief Imam of Ibadanland was also not contacted as some members of the community had resolved not to open their mosques including Ibadan Central Mosque, Ojaba.

“Government should have called for the meeting of religious bodies as done in the past to seek their opinion before taking the decision of opening religious centres. From the feelers we got even the Chief Imam of Ibadanland was not consulted and the Ibadan Central Mosque, Ojaba will not be opened for Jumat service. The same thing for some prominent Islamic organisations like Ansarudeen that its national headquarters has directed that their mosques all over the country should be under lock”.

“Also, as Muslims, we have a leader, The Sultan is our leader in Nigeria. The federal government had said mosques can open but the national mosque in Abuja is under lock as it was not open for Jumat last week, which means the Sultan who is our spiritual leader has not directed us to open mosques”.

He noted that the idea of allowing 25 percent worshippers in the mosque was not feasible as such would bring about discrimination and misunderstanding. 

“Part of the protocols according to the state government is that only 25 percent should come to mosques, how do we discriminate between one person or the other from entering the mosque on Friday?  You will come to the mosque and we will say you cannot enter, then you will see other Muslims entering, it will create a lot of confusion and anarchy if I can put it that way”.  

Alhaji Sanni noted that praying at home during pandemic was Islamic as this would prevent either contracting or spreading the coronavirus. 

“As Muslims, we believe that you don’t have to go to mosques before you can pray and that is why during the period of Prophet Muhammad, Peace be onto Him and there was a pandemic, the prophet instructed that people should pray in their homes. Every space on surface of the earth is a mosque, you can pray there”. 

In a contrary opinion, Chairman, Christian Council of Nigeria Oyo state, Reverend Stephen Adekunle said the churches were pleased with the reopening stressing that there had been meetings of leaders under the State Chapter of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) to finetune on making churches model by putting measures in place to prevent spread of COVID-19. 

“Churches are ready to become standards as they used to be. As we resume by opening churches, social distancing and other regulations should be strictly adhered to and people should face the reality of the challenges of COVID-19”.

Reverend Adekunle who is also the President, Ibadan Baptist Conference said the closure of worship centres had opened the minds of church leaders to look inward to explore other ways of preaching the words of God. 

“During the closing of churches in the first place, we had not closed down the daily programmes like reading of the scriptures and other activities. However, it has opened our eyes and our minds to other ways by which we can disseminate the gospel”.

He said the leadership of CAN had been meeting the state government on the development urging Christians to be law abiding and avoid acts that can lead to the spread of coronavirus.

“We have been meeting with the government. The CAN executives have been meeting with the government for sometimes and the head of churches had met at CAN Secretariat to discuss on modalities of opening of churches”.

Reverend Adekunle called on the state government to support churches to manage the challenges of COVID-19.

“People should pray to God that we will adjust to the aftermath of COVID-19. I want to challenge the government to help us to manage COVID-19 by supporting Christendom in order to make progress and we will be praying for the government”.

Governor Seyi Makinde had early this week approved the resumption of religious activities in the state, with the directive that mosques and churches should operate at twenty- five percent capacity.

According to the data from Nigerian Center for Disease Control (NCDC) Oyo state is number four on the table after Lagos, Abuja and Kano with 764 positive cases.

Ridwan Fasasi

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