The city of Toronto, Canada, for the first time has allowed all local mosques to broadcast the call to prayer (Azan) over speakers at sunset every day during Ramadan amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
"The reason why this time it's so important for us [is] because the [city] is allowing us to say the Azan publicly," said Alhaj Abubakar, the imam at Masjid Omar Bin Al-Khattab, a mosque on Parliament Street just south of Dundas Street East that broadcast its first call to prayer on Wednesday, CBC News reported.
"We are very, very happy."
Nearly half a million people follow Islam in Toronto
The call to prayer will be broadcast for several minutes at Masjid Omar Bin Al-Khattab, starting at sunset, for the rest of Ramadan, signalling that the fast for the day has ended.
In some countries where Ramadan is widely celebrated, the call to prayer is often broadcast over a loudspeaker. In Canada, and more specifically Toronto, prayers are usually done at sunset without a call.
That's because amplified sound in public areas is prohibited under the Toronto Municipal Code, city spokesperson Tammy Robbinson told CBC News.
But Robbinson says the city is making an exception to the rule during the Covid-19 pandemic.
"Spiritual, emotional, and mental well-being is important during these difficult times," she said.
Despite this exception, Robbinson said, physical distancing measures are still in effect, even during the broadcasts.
"Everyone is urged to follow provincial orders to close places of worship and restrict gatherings, and follow public health recommendations for physical distancing, to remain at home, leaving only for essential reasons," she said.
Physical distancing rules to be maintained
During Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn until dusk. That time is used instead to focus on prayer and charity.
Typically, families and friends gather each evening to reflect and break their fasts together, then head to the mosque to pray — but now, due to physical distancing due to the pandemic, most of that is being done virtually.
Those who have helped organise the call to prayer broadcast say it's not only about letting people know the exact time to pray, but about creating a sense of unity and comfort and sharing the religion with others.
"Unity is very important for us. And then also to feed everybody, whether you are Muslim [or not] ... to give you food and give you money," Abubakar told CBC Toronto on Wednesday.
"All we want is for people to give us a chance to see how we are. Just to know how our religion is. Very peaceful."
Masjid Omar Bin Al-Khattab isn't the first mosque to broadcast the call to prayer.
Madinah Masjid, located on Danforth Avenue east of Donland Avenue, has been broadcasting the call to prayer since last week.
Some people who go to the mosque said even if they can't hear the call over the speaker, just knowing it's happening brings them a sense of comfort.
"This is historic for me," said Sureya Ibrahim, who is on the committee that helped push for the city to allow the broadcasts.
"We don't have that connection because of the physical distancing. I didn't know how I'm going to do it. It was a very emotional time."
Mississauga also allows broadcast
Earlier Wednesday, the City of Mississauga also gave mosques the green light to broadcast their calls to prayer, as long as physical distancing rules are followed.
Mayor Bonnie Crombie announced on Facebook that city council passed a motion Wednesday to allow local mosques and other non-residential buildings to broadcast the evening call to prayer during the holy month.
But Crombie is urging people to maintain physical distancing outside the buildings.
"This is not a call for people to physically gather in contravention of the provincial guidelines on gatherings," Crombie wrote in the post.
"As long as it is not disruptive and follows the guidelines, the call to prayer can provide this to many living in our city. People need comfort and familiarity during this difficult time."