Closure of mosques and churches does not restrict freedom of worship

(Photo: Jordan Tourism Board)
AMMAN — A study conducted by the Royal Institute for Religious Studies and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom in Jordan concluded that most Jordanians supported the closure of places of worship to prevent the spread of COVID-19 — even as they faced challenges due to the closures. اضافة اعلان

Experts consulted for the study agreed that suspending certain rights and freedoms in times of crisis, like the coronavirus pandemic, is permissible under the Jordanian Constitution.

Furthermore, the research found that restrictions on places of worship are not tantamount to restrictions on the freedom of worship because worship can be conducted anywhere. 

Dirk Kunze, regional director of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for the Middle East and North Africa, told Jordan News that the study was conducted to determine the exact effects of closures of religious sites on individuals during the COVID-19 Pandemic, as well as their implications for religious freedom. The foundation, based in Germany, promotes individual freedom and liberalism. 

“Last year, when we were going through the deepest lockdown, we wanted to know how the closure of mosques and churches affected people’s lives,” Kunze said in an interview with Jordan News

“We have conducted this study because we want to discuss this issue on a more scientific basis. Was the closure necessary? Is the closure necessary now? How shall we mitigate the side effects of the coronavirus? What shall we take care of?” 

According to Kunze, the research also found that the effects of the closures vary from one person to another.

“If you have a look at the study you would see that religious habits for some got even stronger along with the closure and lockdown,” he explained. “However you will also see that the emotional stress and distress on families and people at home have become very difficult. Now we have the possibility to discuss this and see what we can do.”

The study found that the majority of citizens were affected by the decision to close places of worship on the spiritual, psychological, social, and economic levels. Around a third (35 percent) of survey respondents indicated that they were psychologically affected by the closures. 

However, the study also identified some positive outcomes in respondents’ religious experiences during the pandemic. Around two-thirds (69 percent) of respondents indicated that the pandemic had increased awareness of the importance of volunteering and helping others during difficult times. Additionally, 40 percent of respondents said that the COVID-19 crisis had increased proximity between followers of different faiths in Jordan. Slightly under half (44 percent) of respondents reported that religious leaders played a positive role during the pandemic. 

Nearly half of the respondents said that they used to take someone with them to the places of worship. This both explains the decision to close places of worship and indicates the damage such closures might have done to Jordanians’ social lives and mental health.

The study recommended paying more attention to mental health, strengthening collaboration between the government, decision-makers, experts, civil society, religious leaders, and the media, to encourage sharing evidence-based information about the pandemic.

The authors also recommended that the government cooperate with the World Health Organisation to ensure accurate sharing of information to respond to the spread of false information, enact legislation that amends restrictions for followers of some religions or sects, and raise awareness of the importance of voluntary work and supporting youth initiatives and programs.

Mustafa Al-Assaf, a former member of Parliament and a researcher in the Iftaa Department, told Jordan News that the closure of places of worship that took place last year along with the closure of shops, school, restaurants, and cafes was a necessary step in order to protect the country’s health. “But now we can see that restaurants, cafes, shops, and other sectors have opened, so I do not know what is the purpose of closing the places of worship,” he said. 

Assaf said that people follow safety regulations in the places of worship such as wearing their masks at all times and committing to social distancing. “This is not found in all other places,” he claimed. 

“People are facing hard times, especially with the coronavirus pandemic, and they are in a bad need to strengthen their religious habits,” he said. “Closing the places of worship would make things even worse. I even believe that the closure may restrict the freedom of worship.” 

By contrast, over half (58 percent) of respondents in the study agreed that “there was a need to close places of worship for health safety during the pandemic.” Experts consulted during the research pointed out that acts of worship can be performed anywhere, even at home. The vast majority (74 percent) of experts surveyed affirmed that Jordan has appropriate legislation to protect the freedom of worship. 

The government on Sunday announced a set of measures regarding a change to COVID-19 restrictions during the holy month of Ramadan, including allowing people to attend maghreb (sunset) and fajr (sunrise) prayers at mosques, provided that they walk to the mosque and adhere to health and precautionary protocols, such as wearing masks and maintaining social distancing.