More needs to be done to clarify rules and guidelines for places of worship argues Nasar Iqbal.

The Jamia Ghosia mosque in Blackburn hosted funeral prayers with 250 attendees on 13 July and police are no longer investigating the incident. It is also is reported that the Imam has since tested positive for Covid-19. Many people are rightfully shocked at what appears to be a mosque’s disregard for public safety.

While the Government’s guidelines state that a maximum of 30 people can attend a burial, it also allows for up to 250 to attend prayers where strict social distancing and safety measures are in place. In this incident, it has been reported that funeral prayers took place at the mosque and that the leadership of the mosque believed that they were following government guidelines.

At Islamic funerals, mourners gather for the funeral prayer at a mosque, often after the midday “Zuhr” prayer, or in a prayer hall on the grounds of a cemetery, and burials take place at the cemetery after the prayer. So, it is conceivable that a funeral prayer at a mosque can be attended by more people than those permitted to attend a burial at a cemetery.

However, I won’t make assumptions of what occurred in Blackburn since the authorities will in due course conclude whether the mosque breached guidelines or not, based on the facts. This incident should be a case study example of how faith communities can be impacted by guidance that doesn’t distinguish between differing religious rituals, and why faith leaders must formally seek advice if there is any uncertainty. I hope that both communities and authorities learn from it to avoid it happening again.

Imam Qari Asim MBE of the Mosque and Imams National Advisory Board (MINAB) urged mosques and worshippers to remain vigilant stating that given that we are in a pandemic, “an absolute minimum number of people [should] attend".

The closure and investigation of Blackburn mosque appears to be an isolated incident.

In England and Wales, mosques reopened on 10 July for the first Friday prayers since lockdown without incident, and similarly in Scotland a week later. UK mosques have been aided by the exemplary leadership of Muslim membership organisations, such as MINAB, the Muslim Council of Britain, Muslim Council of Scotland, British Board of Scholars and Imams, Muslim Doctors’ Association, and many others, who have provided sound advice and guidance, notably ahead of the Government.

Nevertheless, it is extremely important that places of worship and faith leaders continue to act responsibly and cautiously, while maintaining safe practices and procedures to protect their congregants and the wider public.

Nasar Iqbal is the Founder and Director of Black Country Innovate CIC, based in Walsall. Nasar has over a decade of experience working with the public sector for the betterment of all communities. He is passionate about community engagement and advocacy, reducing hate crime and influencing local and national policy.