Just after sunset on Wednesday June 16, more than two dozen worshipers gathered at the Masjid Al-Rawdah to perform Maghrib, the evening prayer. While the men who came to pray were invited to wear masks, it did not last long. The mosque, located in the Seward neighborhood of Minneapolis, ceased to require a mask the next day.
One of the most important freedoms for those in attendance was the lack of social distancing guidelines, which Governor Tim Walz lifted at the end of May.
After immigrating from the UK, Hussein Hassan has attended the mosque for over a decade. Before the pandemic, Hussein said, he prayed in space almost five times a day.
Now, after the mosque reopened, it seemed important to start attending again: he said he was still determined to attend several times a day.
âWhen you come back, it’s like you’ve been born again,â he said, referring to the initial reopening of the masjid. Then the adhan called him for the Maghreb prayer on Wednesday.
Masjid Al-Rawdah has experienced varying levels of restrictions throughout the pandemic. At the start of the Minnesota coronavirus epidemic in March 2020, the masjid was fully closed, to reopen in July 2020.
Since then, the masjid has implemented several public health measures to protect the congregation from COVID-19: enforcing social distancing, forcing its worshipers to wear masks, and handing out disposable plastic mats instead of praying on the mat.
Other places of worship have faced the same questions about returning to live gatherings with the end of social distancing. Brooklyn Park Islamic Center board member Nausheena Hussain said her mosque has become more relaxed about the requirements for the use of masks, but still urges worshipers to use personal, washable rugs during prayer.
During parts of the pandemic, the Brooklyn Park Islamic Center offered its members the ability to connect through the internet and through Zoom. While Nausheena hopes to help start a conversation about current security measures, the Brooklyn Park Islamic Center still asks members to maintain social distancing while praying.
The return to less restricted worship, however, may play out differently for women in local mosques, Nausheena said – an experience that highlights how some worshipers changed their routines during COVID-19 shutdowns.
A source of community
Masjid Al-Rawdah was founded in 2009 and serves a predominantly Somali congregation in southern Minneapolis. At the start of the pandemic, the mosque informed worshipers of the space’s closure. Imam Abdirizak Farah said some worshipers could not accept the change. A few decided that they would rather leave the mosque rather than give up praying side by side, in the traditional way.
âThey felt that their prayer would not be accepted until they prayed side by side or shoulder to shoulder, that’s what they believe,â Imam Dulyadeyn Farah said. “And then they left us”
The departures came despite attempts by the mosque to explain why health needs are driving the changes, Imam Abdirizak added.
To stay in touch during the pandemic, the two imams have created a WhatsApp group to keep worshipers up to date with any changes and collect donations. The masjid also held Zoom sessions to keep the community connected, which included Islamic classes for children who were taking their classes in person.
Hanad Mohamed, 23, still came to pray at the mosque, even during the pandemic. As he visited the masjid for several years, he said that maintaining a social distance while praying evoked a different feeling.
“It was very different with the guidelines at the start,” he said. âBut it was really refreshing to come back. It’s almost like being away from home.
Since the social distancing guidelines were lifted, Hanad has shown up three or more times per week.
Imam Abdirizak describes the masjid as a source of community for its faithful: a place of worship, of classes, but also of conversation. The women participated in a supportive âcircle of sistersâ.
Closures and restrictions have affected this network of connections for the faithful. âThey have their social life through the masjid, and they meet their friends to chat with them,â Imam Abdirizak said. âBut when the pandemic was here, they were very lonely. ”
With social distancing requirements lifted, mosque members have enjoyed returning to space, Imam Dulyadeyn said. And praying alongside each other has helped rebuild the community.
âNow we are praying side by side, shoulder to shoulder,â Imam Dulyadeyn said. âEven me included, we feel real prayer and fellowship when we pray next to each other. “
A different experience for some women
While the men returned to the masjid, the same was not true of the faithful women, none of whom were present at the Maghreb prayer on Wednesday.
Hafsa, a 24-year-old woman who works for the African Humanitarian Relief Organization (HARO), said women stopped coming to Masjid Al-Rawdah in March 2020, when the building closed. Although the building is open again, the women were unable to assemble, she said. (Citing privacy concerns, Hafsa said she preferred not to give her last name.)
Imam Dulyadeyn explained that the female side of the mosque was under construction, making it difficult for women to return to the building.
While Hafsa said she has been visiting Masjid Al-Rawdah since 2016, she also attends three other mosques around the Twin Cities. Before the pandemic, she took classes and prayed in these places. Now, Hafsa has struggled to return the gatherings in person.
Hafsa described a change in habits as a possible obstacle to the return of women. âOnce you get started on a consistent task, it’s a lot easier to go back,â she said. âWhereas when it has stopped you just have to find the courage to sort of come back and restart things and pick up where you left off. “
Nausheena Hussain, who is also the executive director of the women’s organization Reviving the Islamic Sisterhood for Empowerment, offered another theory on women’s participation in mosque activities. Many women, she said, have embraced the switch to online options.
âI think of a lot of women, because we play several roles as a guardian and mother and other roles like that, besides having to wear the hijab andâ¦ quite modest clothes, I think that inhibits or often forbids his engagement with the masjid. But, when the pandemic happened and it all happened online, I think she was able to participate more. ”
For example, Nausheena said, if a mosque offers an online sermon, it may be more accessible to connect with a phone or laptop while doing something else.
Both men and women took advantage of this option, she said. The Brooklyn Park Islamic Center has asked a family to attend religious events during the pandemic from their home in Seattle, an option that was not previously available.
However, with the space reopening at the Brooklyn Center, Nausheena said the number of women had increased – with increased enthusiasm, perhaps.
âWe have probably had about 10 women who showed up,â she said of the pre-pandemic period. âNow we take four rows. “