By Noor Lone
Asma Hosein teaches the Kindergarten class on Saturdays at the Selden Mosque. But as she wrapped up class on March 7, she didn’t know that would be the last time she would see her students for weeks, if not months.
As fears of the coronavirus and COVID-19 grew, the mosque, or masjid, had to adjust over the last few weeks and announced on March 27 it would be closing its doors to the public indefinitely, and suspending all services, including daily prayers and educational programs.
“I feel so devastated that the masjid has shut down,” Hosein, who has been a Saturday school volunteer for five years, said, “I am having a hard time not going to the masjid every Saturday because it was in my routine.”
On March 13, the mosque still held its two Friday afternoon Jummah prayers, or congregational prayers, but in an email update sent by the Selden Mosque’s administration, asked the elderly, children, and symptomatic people to stay home. The New York State ban on gatherings of 500 or more people would take place at 5 p.m. that same day. Hosein’s Saturday school classes were already canceled.
“Jumma prayers are always huge and huge amounts of people come, which can be very unsafe,” Iqra Raja, a member of the mosque’s youth group, said, “It’s more important to care about the health of people than to come to the masjid because we can always pray our daily five prayers at home.”
On March 22, the mosque announced daily prayers and educational programs would be suspended for at least two weeks. And now, the Selden Mosque is completely closed until further notice.
“Canceling all Saturday classes and youth group events early on showed our community the importance of the situation,” Hamnah Khan, an assistant teacher of the Saturday school, said, “People from all over Long Island visit the masjid on a weekly basis, so the response to COVID-19 was not only responsible, but effective. It may have prevented the spread of the virus.”
With the changes, the masjid is launching efforts to support the community by organizing resources, like COVID-19 testing information and unemployment information to help families who are transitioning as new changes arise.
“The masjid is working to help people who need necessities like toilet paper and food,” Dr. Iqbal Syed, a member of the mosque’s Board of Trustees, said.
The mosque’s administration also organized a food assistance program, the Emergency Food Assistance Program, to support any family in need that lives within 15 miles of the mosque.
To keep up with schooling and weekly group discussions, the Muslim Girls’ Youth Group created a Google Classroom to contact their members. And one of the group’s supervisors, Tehmina Tirmizi, is offering free counseling to anyone in the groups.
“Some days I think this will all be over soon and I’m optimistic for a few hours, and some days it almost feels like the end of the world,” Tirmizi, youth group supervisor and member of the Saturday School Administration at the mosque, said.
The mosque is also setting up videos for the Imam, the person who leads the mosque’s prayers, to film to tell hopeful stories and connect with members of the Muslim community, Tirmizi said.
“Not knowing what will happen next is the hardest part,” she said, “This virus has really uprooted everything that was routine in our lives, which has its negatives, but also has an overall sense of optimism.”