A council said its overriding concern is to ‘protect public health’ after it was criticised by some mosques for ‘unfairly targeting them’ with Covid rules.

A joint statement by Leader of the council Cllr Mohammed Khan, and Chief Executive Denise Park said Blackburn with Darwen Borough council had ‘a good track record of working with Mosques’ and made ‘no apologies’ for helping faith settings to comply with advice and guidance.

It follows a statement sent by Jaame Masjid, Cumberland Street and listing 30 imams and mosque. In it, Blackburn with Darwen Council was accused of failing ‘to provide adequate and correct guidance to places of worship’.

It read: “We are contacting you on behalf of Jaame Masjid (Central Mosque) Blackburn to express our extreme disappointment at the failure of the Council to engage constructively with the mosques of Blackburn and for unfairly targeting them, and in that process misrepresenting the Regulations (Law) and Government Guidance.

'We recognise that the Regulations (Law) and Government Guidance pertaining to Covid-19 and Places of Worship are regularly changing, complex, confusing, open to interpretation and sometimes the Government Guidance directly conflicts with the Regulations.'

Imams say ‘mosques have been unfairly targeted’ by covid rules

A response was released this weekend by the Lancashire Council of Mosques (LCM) and the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) who were drawn into the row. Both called for a meeting and the issues raised in the statement to be addressed.

We have learned since then, further letters have been sent to Blackburn with Darwen Council from mosque representatives in Birmingham and Coventry.

Council of Mosques respond to Imams and religious scholars' letter

The statement from Jaame Masjid was released after letters were sent to mosques from the Council’s Public Protection Team about ‘concerns about some places of worship lacking Covid security measures’.

A joint statement by Leader of the council Cllr Mohammed Khan, and Denise Park, Chief Executive said: “Our absolute priority has always been keeping people safe and doing what we can to get the virus under control.

“To achieve this, we have been committed to working proactively with all faiths to promote the safest possible environment within which people can find solace in worship and pray safely.

“Clearly it’s been a difficult year that has placed huge demands on all of us to work together to stop the transmission of COVID and to keep our nearest and dearest family, friends and colleagues safe.

The council also released a full copy of the letter responding to all the claims here.

It adds: “The Muslim community has worked very closely with us on all sorts of fronts, including the Covid secure operation of places of worship during the first and subsequent lockdowns.

“We are on record thanking and celebrating the work of our communities regularly. Once again, we want to thank the community for their collective efforts in tackling this virus which has had such a terrible impact on us all.

“We have gone to great lengths to work with Lancashire Council of Mosques (LCM), Blackburn Muslim Burial Society (BMBS) and broadly with the Interfaith Forum. Our specific work with Mosques has been through LCM. This has ensured LCM have been consulted on procedures and policy throughout, this has meant regular weekly meetings and further consultation as required.

“Our public protection team has a duty to respond to any intelligence it receives and always does so in an open and transparent way. The audits were in response to concerns raised from the Muslim community.

“We did the audits in the spirit of cooperation, helping faith settings to comply with advice and guidance and ensuring their congregations can worship safely. We make no apologies for that work.

“The council has had a good track record of working with Mosques and we have not needed to undertake any enforcement or to serve public health direction. Where Mosques have closed for a deep clean and reset they have done that voluntarily.”

The statement says the council is disappointed to receive such a letter but was committed to continue to work with all Mosques.

It reads: “We are so close now to getting back to some semblance of normality and we all must keep on track. No-one wants to continue with legal restrictions for any longer than is necessary.

“We all want to get back to the things we took for granted a year ago. It goes without saying though, if we can’t get the virus under control, there is a chance of further lockdowns. I know the community will be concerned about the prospects of another lockdown as we approach Ramadan.

“A month that is all about fasting, prayer, community, charity and consideration of others. Therefore, it is vitally important that we work together to make it the safest Ramadan possible.”