Even three days after all places of worship re-opened, Hyderabad's historic Mecca Masjid and Shahi Masjid remain shut for the worshippers. Telangana's Minority Welfare Department, which looks after the two mosques, has still not taken a decision on when to re-open them for the public.
The department is apparently reluctant to throw open the two mosques in view of the large number of people who worship there and lack of staff to enforce physical distancing.
The 17th-century Mecca Masjid, located near the historic Charminar and one of the biggest mosques in the country, remained out of bounds for worshippers as the authorities have not yet worked out a plan to allow the prayers with all Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) prescribed by the state government for places of worship.
Shahi Masjid at Public Gardens in the heart of the city is another mosque where congregational prayers have not resumed. Before the lockdown, the mosque used to witness large gatherings, especially for evening prayers.
Some officials feel that if congregational prayers are allowed at the two mosques, a large turnout of worshippers may make it difficult to ensure physical distancing. It may be tough to handle the crowd during Friday prayers and with few employees, it may not be possible to thermally screen all the worshippers and ensure adherence to compulsory wearing of face masks and social distancing.
Since standing shoulder-to-shoulder in congregational prayers is not allowed as per the safety norms, the mosques can accommodate few people and it would not be easy to regulate the numbers.
Sources said the department may wait till the next Friday before taking a decision on re-opening the two mosques. It hopes that by then it would have some idea of the problems that may come up during Friday prayers at other mosques.
Both Mecca Masjid and Shahi Masjid witness huge congregations on Fridays. No congregational prayers including Friday prayers were offered at these mosques since the last week of March.
The department is moving cautiously as the state, especially Hyderabad, is witnessing a surge on COVID-19 cases.
Director, Minorities Welfare Shahnawaz Qasim said the safety of people was their main concern. He said the department would soon take up sanitisation in both the mosques. He suggested that till a decision is taken on reopening the two mosques, people may offer prayers in other mosques.
Mosques across Telangana re-opened on Monday after 80 days. As part of safety measures, the prayers are not being offered on carpets as they are found to hold the virus for a long time. People are being told to come to the mosques with their individual prayer mats.
Many mosques have also shut down the toilets and ablution hall and are appealing to people to come prepared from their homes. Citizens above 60 years and those with comorbidities have been advised to pray at home.