Religious leaders join fight against COVID-19 (WHO)

| May 10, 2020

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Across Africa, religious leaders are joining the effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus, cancelling services and gatherings. Abdallah Cissé Djiguba is a grand imam from Côte d’Ivoire. He says that while cancelling religious services was not easy, particularly during Ramadan, it was the right decision. He knows that worship continues at home. Imam Cissé and other religious leaders are taking their messages to radio, television, and the internet. These are not only messages about faith, but include information about COVID-19 and precautionary measures to slow the spread of the virus. As Imam Cissé says, “When there is a pandemic, it concerns everybody.”

In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, worship is starting to look a little different. To protect the health and safety of worshippers, most mosques and churches around the world have closed, even for major religious celebrations. It’s no different across Africa.

Measures like these are necessary to slow the spread of the virus. As Abdallah Cissé Djiguba, puts it, “You can only pray if you are alive.”

He is a grand imam from Côte d’Ivoire. In normal times, Imam Cissé’s mosque in Abidjan draws up to 6,000 people for Friday prayers. Maintaining a distance of at least one metre between each person in crowded spaces like these is nearly impossible.

In many African countries, large gatherings of all kinds have been banned to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. This includes religious services, but also markets and public transportation.

For religious leaders like Imam Cissé, decisions like this aren’t easy.

He says, “It’s a significant disruption of people’s way of life and habits.”

But worship continues despite the restrictions. He adds, “We understood that we have to preserve lives. Praying at home also has its meaning and importance.”

Since the beginning of lockdown measures, Imam Cissé says that more families are praying at home. It used to be difficult to gather the whole family for prayers, but this has become easier now.

Imam Cissé felt sad about closing the mosque, especially during the holy month of Ramadan, but he did so knowing it would help keep people healthy.

The imam is continuing to serve his community by educating worshippers on the precautions needed to stay safe and healthy. He appears regularly on radio and television, sharing information on COVID-19 and encouraging listeners to follow recommendations for their well-being and others’.

Elsewhere, religious leaders are taking to the internet. Christ Is the Answer Ministries is one of the oldest churches in Nairobi, and now reaches 200,000 people by broadcasting their Sunday services on television, radio, and online.

Priests and bishops are using this time to share information that will help keep listeners safe.

Bishop David Oginde from Christ is the Answer Ministries says: “We encourage people to wash their hands, sanitize, to keep distance, stay at home. This way, we are able to help the government to achieve its objective of stopping the transmission of the virus.”

According to the World Health Organization, religious leaders like Imam Cissé and Bishop Oginde are influential in their communities. Their voices help spread important information during the COVID-19 pandemic—and give people hope.

Imam Cissé says, “When there is a pandemic, it concerns everybody. We need to learn more about this disease to find ways to stop it.”

This story was adapted from an article published by the World Health Organization and originally titled, “Religious leaders join COVID-19 fight in Africa.” To read the full article, go to: