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Prayer and community during COVID-19

  • 08 April 2020
Recently Australia’s Prime Minister remarked in Parliament: 'While you may not be able to go to church, the synagogue, the temple or the mosque, I most certainly call on all people of faith for you to pray… I can assure you, my prayer knees are getting a good work out.'

No doubt many will see this as the PM preaching, but for millions of Australians of varying degrees of religiosity, prayer will play a key role in dealing with the novel stresses associated with this novel virus.

Furthermore, giving one’s knees a workout isn’t a solitary exercise. Religions bring us not just closer to our creator but also to each other, especially in times of crisis. And you don’t have to be devout to feel the blessing.

Each Friday my dad and some 12 of his elderly friends (all over 70) have made a habit of attending salat al-jumma (Friday prayers). But prayer isn't the only reason they gather. After the Friday prayer, they head out to a different restaurant to gasbag and share old war stories. I've overheard Dad and his friends mention munching on Turkish, Uighur, Italian, Indian, Pakistani, Afghan and Lebanese food. 

Not all these uncles are terribly devout. One or two are probably agnostic, if not atheist. All are retired professionals or academics, highly educated men. I doubt many would have made time for prayer were it not for the meal.  

Why only men? Is this yet another case of gross Islamic sexism? No. The old blokes only get to see each other once a week. A co-ed meeting would be impossible as many of their wives (who usually arrange the men's social lives) just don't get along.


'Faith without community is a risk to faith. And community must mean more than just our "own"'.  

Eating at restaurants and attending mosque are now out of the question. Social distancing rules mean the old chaps won't be able to sit at the same table. And given the age trajectory of those falling victim to this virus, these young-at-heart South Asian men won't dare risk each other's company regardless of how much they enjoy it.

Young Muslims, many of whom more readily identify as Muslim than some migrant ethnicity, will also be affected. Many congregations in Sydney and Melbourne service very young mostly English-speaking congregations. My mum benefits from watching satellite TV religious programs in the Urdu language. If only my Urdu was as good. My Islam, or at least a culturally appropriate form, must be sourced