I’m not a public health expert, medical expert, or infectious disease expert. Neither are most of the people who will end up making the decision to reopen our local masjids. With that said, this article is meant to explore the decision-making process of reopening the masjid through a leadership lens. How do you, in a time of crisis, evaluate the available information decisively in a way that provides the most benefit to your community?
At the time of this article, today marks the 8th consecutive Friday without a congregational Juma prayer in my local community. Friday is a major source of donation revenue for most Islamic centers.
There is a natural urge on the side of masjid administration to re-open quickly so services can resume and finances recover. There is a natural urge on the side of congregants to get back to the masjid – especially when they see significantly less important venues like movie theaters reopening.
I’m going to share here the guidelines given for the State of Texas in reopening houses of worship. This is both because I am in Texas and because it is one of the first states embracing a re-open policy.
Decision Making Process
The role of leadership is to make the best possible decision given the information available to them. A good example of this is how the NBA is currently handling the decision to resume the basketball season. This includes a process of consulting experts and developing multi-level contingency plans.
The role of masjid leadership is to eliminate as many blind spots as possible, mitigate cognitive and emotional biases, conduct shura with relevant experts, and making istikharah to seek Divine assistance with the decision.
Taking the assumed guidelines from the State of Texas into account, these are critical questions leadership must answer before deciding to reopen a masjid.
These are meant to be a guide to help shape the decision-making process by leadership. This is not an exhaustive or comprehensive list by any measure.
1. What are public health experts advising?
We live in a time where policy decisions can be driven by business interests or politics. How are you ensuring the decision is driven by the interest of safety?
One easy data point to consider – whether reported cases still increasing or decreasing.
2. Who is screening people, and how?
At-risk populations (such as those over the age of 65) are still advised to stay home even with a reopen policy. Who is responsible for:
- Checking temperatures at the door (and do you have non-contact thermometers to do so?)
- Listening for coughs and sneezes
- Watching for people shaking hands
- Seeing if masks are being worn properly
- Asking each congregant if they have any symptoms, or been in contact with someone who tested positive
- Monitoring restroom and wudu areas
Be clear. Name exactly who is responsible for these items, and how they are validating these conditions are met.
3. Who gets to attend?
Are you allowing people over the age of 65 to attend? Why or why not – and can you explain that decision to the community?
Are you allowing women to attend? Again, why or why not – and can you explain that decision to the community?
Is it first come, first serve? Are you sending out a questionnaire to screen people? Who is processing that information and on what basis?
4. Who is enforcing the standards at the door?
If your 25% capacity is 50 people, who exactly is going to turn back the 51st person and tell them they cannot attend? And if that person refuses to listen, what is the contingency?
Who is turning people back for not bringing their own prayer mat?
Is your masjid staff ready for that person berate you and threaten you with spiritual blackmail about holding you accountable on the Day of Judgment for preventing them from the masjid?
Are you ready for that person to create a WhatsApp group in the community calling you a hypocrite preventing people from attending the masjid?
5. Who is enforcing standards inside?
Who is going to ask people to leave the masjid if they cough or wear a mask improperly?
If you do have an area set aside for at-risk population (as the Texas guidelines state) – who is enforcing that inside?
6. If your answer to the above is law enforcement, what other contingencies are needed?
Does the law enforcement count towards your limit of people? How many law enforcement officers are needed? And is this even the best use of their time during a pandemic, or is the masjid creating an unnecessary strain on the local community? And if that happens, how will you deal with the PR fallout?
What is the cost of adding law enforcement? And what if they say no? What’s the back-up plan for enforcement?
7. How are you managing traffic flow?
It’s easy to social-distance in the prayer hall spread out. When prayer ends, everyone goes to the shoe area and the same entrance/exit. What is the plan for managing that traffic flow, and setting the expectation for people that they may have to wait in order to leave?
8. What is the sanitization process, and how are you paying for it?
Who is going to come and clean the masjid before and after each prayer? What type of disinfectant are they using? Who is responsible for the quality control of the cleaning process?
Keep in mind this is not a simple custodial service. Every surface that had the potential to be touched must be sanitized.
This is an additional cost to cleaning before and after each event. A masjid open only for juma only needs to be cleaned twice. A masjid open for every prayer every day will need the cleaning staff at least 70 times a week.
These are not insignificant costs. And I mention the importance of cost only because this seems to be a driving factor in some places rushing to reopen – making up for lost donation revenue.
9. Can we defend the decision we make?
Did you even involve the right people? Are all the relevant experts involved? What about a diverse cross-segment of your congregation? What are other organizations in your community doing? What about places of worship of other faiths – have you consulted with them as well?
There’s an idea in the decision-making book Decisive (Click here to see my short video series explaining the book) about doing a pre-mortem of what went wrong before making a decision.
Let’s assume the masjid reopens, and someone who is positive for Covid-19 infects 25 congregants. Those 25 take it back to their families, and eventually, a few community members pass away and their deaths are all traced back to the asymptomatic individual who came to the masjid.
What additional steps must have been taken to prevent that scenario, and are you implementing those?
Further, what is the liability the masjid itself faces? What is the liability on the board?
10. Did you make istikharah?
Perhaps the most critical and most neglected part of the decision making process.
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