Religious leaders split over reopening places of worship

Credit: PA

Christian leaders have welcomed the government's announcement that places of worship in England will be allowed to reopen for individual prayer from 15 June, but Muslim and Jewish leaders said the move was not appropriate for the way they practise their faith.

The decision, confirmed on Sunday by the communities secretary, Robert Jenrick, followed growing pressure on the government, particularly from the Catholic church. Most mosques, synagogues and temples, however, are likely to remain shut until communal prayer is permitted.

Communal services are included in third phase of the government's recovery plan for England, to be implemented on 4 July at the earliest.

Only individual private prayer inside a place of worship will be permitted from next Monday. The government said "communally led prayer, worship or devotion such as services, evensong, informal prayer meetings, mass, jummah or kirtan will not be possible at this stage".

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the archbishop of Westminster and the most senior Catholic in England and Wales, who had pressed for a phased reopening, said the government's announcement was a great blessing.

The Church of England, which has come under pressure from some of its clergy to argue more forcefully for places of worship to reopen, also welcomed the move.

The C of E has already circulated advice to churches on reopening, which acknowledged that not all may be ready to do so at the same time.

The secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, Harun Khan, said the government's guidance lacked clarity for Muslim communities.

The chair of the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board (MINAB), Qari Asim, who's from Leeds, said the move caused significant challenges for the Muslim community because although mosques can reopen, collective worship is not allowed.

Opening the mosques could lead communities to expect the resumption of collective worship, he said. MINAB's advice to mosques was "to only open to the public when it is safe to do so and legally permissible to hold congregational prayers".

The senior rabbi to Reform Judaism, Laura Janner-Klausner, said most synagogues would not reopen for private prayer on 15 June.

Jews prioritise communal prayer rather than individual prayer, and we prioritise the sanctity of life. Individual prayer doesn't have the same theological status, and neither do buildings.

Laura Janner-Klausner