Consequences of COVID: Ottawa mosques adapt in-person prayers and virtual services


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Ottawa’s mosques have been reopened for worship since June, but that doesn’t mean things are fully back to what they were before the pandemic.

Seniors, for example, who are more vulnerable to COVID-19, are still invited to pray at home, and more community activities have been put online.

Yet people have found ways to cope with this new reality, such as limiting the number of people worshiping in person at one time.

There are about 100,000 Muslims in Ottawa, according to the Ottawa Muslim Association (OMA), a Muslim charity and headquarters of the Ottawa Mosque.

In Ontario, provincial guidelines authorized the reopening of places of worship on June 12, but limiting the number of participants to 30% of their capacity. When reopening their doors, mosques also implemented physical distancing, access to disinfection stations, and encouraged participants to bring their own prayer rugs.

Imam (prayer leader) Muhammad Sulimman of the city’s oldest mosque, Ottawa, says the pandemic can be understood as a test from God to the Muslim community. “As long as it brings people closer to God, it becomes mercy.”

Sulimman said perhaps now is the best time to visit the mosque. “If you are well, do not be afraid to come to the mosque.”

Sulimman is offering virtual programs in the coming weeks, including a youth and student-focused program launched this month on the topic of mores and behavior during the pandemic, as well as a program for women discussing roles and the responsibilities they hold in Islam.

Volunteer Soumaya Marhnouj from AMA Mosque of Mercy, which allows people between the ages of 15 and 70 to enter, this training is provided so that vulnerable populations can access the programs online.

One of these programs, the Seniors’ Fitness Club, is held twice a week on Zoom and hosts an average of 30 participants.

Attending “makes us feel alive”

Likewise, the Ottawa mosque did not invite the elderly to return for in-person services, even though they made up the majority of mosque attendees before the March 2020 lockdown.

Instead, Sulimman encouraged these vulnerable populations to pray at home and use online services to maintain a connection with the community.

In Islam, Muslims have the option of praying at home or in a mosque. The OMA States that the majority of scholars of Islam say that praying in the oldest mosque in a city will yield greater rewards because the mosque has the most “number of prayers conducted under its roof (and is) a place with which the angels have become familiar “.

OMA Secretary Mohammed Aswad said the Ottawa Mosque now allows 300 participants to enter its facilities, a big difference from its capacity of 1,000 people before the pandemic. The large number of participants in the Friday prayer, the busiest service of the week, prompted the mosque to introduce a second prayer service so that everyone could attend, Aswad said.

In addition to praying in mosques, Aswad explains that praying in groups is another important part of faith.

Secretary Mohammed Aswad of the Ottawa Mosque explains the importance of group prayers in Islam.

As a person who regularly attends the mosque, Hanaa Salama, wife of Sulimman, said the opportunity to visit the mosque during the pandemic is indescribable.

“It is a great blessing for my family to have our house next to the mosque to join in every (prayer) here,” she said. “It makes us feel like we’re still alive.”

For now, Sulimman has said he expects the Ottawa Mosque’s capacity limit to remain the same with continued social distancing until the government announces new regulations.


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Perry A. Thomasson