Mosques in the US and elsewhere fear a financial crisis as COVID-19 causes a serious dip in donations this Ramadan season.
Rabat – Prayer rooms are empty and so are their donation boxes. With unemployment rates soaring and public gatherings suspended, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is causing mosques around the United States and elsewhere to fear a financial crisis.
Although lockdown restrictions vary from state to state in the US, many mosques have closed their doors. A majority of worshippers are choosing to pray from home to protect themselves and others from the novel coronavirus.
Ramadan, Islam’s most important month of the year, is a popular time for Muslims to make zakat (charitable donations) to mosques. On average, mosques in the US receive approximately 25-30% of their yearly funding during the holy month of Ramadan.
This year, Islamic institutions are bracing for a serious dip in donations.
Although many mosques report moving regular events and prayers online and prioritizing supporting their community through this difficult time, some have had to reallocate spending and cut staff salaries.
The Islamic Center of Hawthorne California, a non-profit religious center and school, expects to see an approximate 70% drop in Ramadan donations this year.
Shaykh Suhail Hasan Mulla, a residential scholar at the Islamic Society of West Valley in Canoga Park, told the Los Angeles Times their mosque was forced to cut staff’s salaries in half. “We probably get about half of our annual donations during that one month.”
He adds, “You can imagine how that fans out for the rest of the year in terms of impact.”
Since the start of the pandemic, the United States unemployment rates have skyrocketed, reaching nearly 15% nationwide. Less income means less money to donate.
Still, mosques are relying on the generous donations of their followers to stay afloat and continue supporting their communities.
In a recent press release, Roula Allouch, chair of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) national board, said, “I will be very direct. Without your support this month, CAIR will be less able to assist the thousands of Muslims who come to us each year for help. We will also be less able to defend your civil rights at a time when they are under constant assault and when Islamophobia and other forms of bigotry are growing.”
Imams and other Muslim leaders have resorted to crowdfunding campaigns and online donations to fund financially struggling religious centers.
In April, the US government passed an emergency relief bill that aims to provide loans to small businesses, including religious institutions, which are experiencing financial hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, critics pointed out the US government wrongly allocated the loan money to corporate giants. It is unclear how much of the relief fund is supporting mosques.
Worldwide, mosques are facing similar challenges
Mosques in Germany do not benefit from the same government funding given to churches. Instead, they rely on a steady flow of donations that has largely ended.
According to a 2016 report by the Muslim Council of Britain, half of the UK’s Muslim population lives below the poverty line. Mosques are struggling to pay rent and support their community.
In Pakistan, where lockdown measures are lifting, the re-opening of mosques has been a controversial topic. Health experts warn that as hundreds of people gather to pray, the number of COVID-19 cases are likely to rise. However, some religious leaders argue places for worship are as essential as grocery stores and banks.
Ahsan Butt, a political scientist at George Mason University in the US state of Virginia told Al Jazeera, “These [mosques and religious leaders] are basically freelancers, and it is a pretty vicious market, with tens of thousands of mosques.”
“They need the donations [and] a lot of it comes from foot traffic—if you cut that during Ramadan, then you cut their income significantly for the year, not just that month.”