Date: May 26, 2020

The Council of Sacramento Valley Islamic Organizations, the Central Valley Islamic Council, Islamic Shura Council of Southern California and the Northern California Islamic Council met with their respective memberships across the state to discuss and arrive at Councils’ guidance following Governor Gavin Newsom’s Guidelines for Re-opening Houses of Worship.

While the Councils and the mosques connected to them across the state welcomed Governor Newsom’s guidelines and recognize the mounting political pressure behind their release; nevertheless, all four councils and member organizations arrived at a decision to take a cautious approach to the opening and not rush into providing services.  In the days ahead, the Councils will:

1. Review the guidelines with a specific focus at each member institution, the region they operate within, the buildings they occupy and to see how best to move toward opening in the future (no date was set).

2. Develop workplace specific plans for the mosques to addressing the nature of Muslim prayer spaces guided by a focus on health and safety of employees, contractors, visitors and worshippers.

3. Move toward a coordinated opening among all member organizations and facilitate communication toward a staggered and context specific implementation of this step in the future (cities and counties that are in stage 3 are excepted due to lack of infections).

4. Immediately and within the next few days, hold meetings with City and County Departments of Public Health and discuss with them threats and mitigation strategies based on data, science, infection rates and the local directives on social distancing and essential services.

5. Work with the State public health providers to procure the needed supplies and additional resources for the mosques, which includes temperature and/or screening devices, masks, sanitizers, disposable prayer mats and other items needed for the safe opening of mosques.

6. Seek support from the Governor’s Office in securing the needed supplies and the additional resources to implement a health and safety protocol. The mosques look forward to playing their part in flattening the curve and preventing the spread of COVID- 19 virus but are challenged to secure the needed supplies in a timely fashion and costs associated with playing a healthcare role at institutions across the state.   

7. The Councils and member mosques expressed concern of legal liabilities that come with opening their buildings and the possible spread of the virus through individuals entering the facilities for religious services. 

8. At time of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Councils will base their decisions and adhere to the scientifically driven recommendations based on data and best health practices. 

Important to consider that the State of California is home to 1 to 1.5 million diverse Muslim population, the largest number of any state in the Union, who reside in all 58 counties but with heavy concentration in urban centers.  Across the Golden State, Muslims’ imprint is visible in all walks of life–farmers, taxi drivers, blue collar workers, students and educators, professionals in all fields of specialization, small business owners, artists and a sizable presence in the healthcare industry as doctors, nurses and public health administrators.  

Certainly, the mosque is the institutional anchor for the Muslim community, a source of spiritual guidance and the focal point for all activities from the beginning of life to, God willing, its peaceful end.  Consequently, the closure of mosques during the COVID-19 pandemic was painful, extremely traumatic during the month of Ramadan and a serious religious matter but it was understandable, supported and seen as an urgently needed action to save lives and to stop the spread of the deadly virus   

In the context of the new regulations, and from the first days of the pandemic, the Councils guidance to the community was always grounded in science, facts, data and evidence; not political pressure, constitutional debates on the scope of religious freedom or the possible government intrusion into the inner workings of religious institutions.  This is an issue of life and death, of parents and grandparents, uncles and aunts and for attending to those vulnerable in society. The Councils deem this to be a public health issue and are guided to protect every worshipper that enters the mosque, which is also a key toward protecting society in general.  
The Councils decisions and deliberations are guided by the Qur’anic verse: “Whoever saves a life, it is as if he/she saved all humanity” (Qur’an 5:32) and Islamic legal maxims “Private harm shall be tolerated to dispel public harm,” and “Warding harm takes precedence over pursuing a benefit.” The Councils recognize the extraordinary times we are experiencing due to the pandemic and our decision are guided by the over-arching concern for the well-being, safety and health of everyone in society.  Worshiping God and opening the mosques is contingent on all members being alive, healthy and flourishing in private and public space. 
That while mosques are essential, devotion to God and spiritual meanings are held in people’s hearts, in treating their fellow human beings and not in buildings themselves!  The Councils remind the Muslim community that the term quarantine originates from the Muslim-Persian scholar of medicine, Ibn Sina (980-1037), who suspected that some diseases were spread by microorganisms.  Ibn Sina’s full name was Abu Ali Al-Hussein Ibn Abdullah Ibn Sina. In the West, he is known by the Latin version of his name: Avicenna.  Ibn Sina came up with the method of isolating people for 40 days to prevent human-to-human contamination, calling this method al-Arba’iniya (“The Forty”).  Later on, traders from Venice heard of the successful method applied by Ibn Sina and took this knowledge back to Italy and called it “Quarantena” (“The Forty” in Italian).
 Following sound medical knowledge does not violate religious freedom and it is demonstrated to save lives.  The Councils believe that it is in the best interest of all communities, religious and secular, to set aside their political, ideological disputes and electioneering strategies and focus on saving lives, curing the sick and tending to the poor and hungry.  Mosques and religious institutions are essential but protecting and preserving lives while promoting the well-being of everyone in society takes precedence over politically motivated calls to open the doors to worshippers.  
Dr. Irfan Haq, Chair, Council of Sacramento Valley Islamic Organizations
Reza Nekumanesh, Central Valley Islamic Council
Owaiz Dadadbhoy, Chair, Shura Council of Southern California
Malek Bendelhoum, Executive Director, Shura Council of Southern California
Dr. Hatem Bazian, Chair, Northern California Islamic Council