Faith in isolation: How Canadians are praying during the coronavirus pandemic

Aamer Trambu had been praying at his mosque every Friday since the age of seven. Last week, his mosque was closed due to the new coronavirus outbreak.

Trambu, who lives in Brampton, Ont., immigrated to Canada two years ago with his wife and three daughters. Since then, the mosque has been his main source of community.

“For men, the Friday prayer is absolutely to be prayed only at the mosque.”

Spending every Friday at the mosque had given Trambu a sense of comfort and consistency. Without it, he feels “very strange.”

“I have prayed the Friday prayer in over 15 different Canadian mosques. No matter which mosque I pray the Friday prayer in, it’s the same prayer,” Trambu said.

“The feeling is the same: a jovial occasion, a celebration, smiles, handshakes, hugs. I miss the Friday prayer the most.”

Trambu is just one of the millions of Canadians who have had to change the way they practise their faith due to the new coronavirus outbreak.

He understands that he can’t go to the mosque because physical distancing is crucial to slowing the spread of the new coronavirus disease, COVID-19, but he deeply misses his community.

“In Islamic law, preservation of human life takes precedence over everything else, over every other religious obligation. If performing the Friday prayer harms anyone, then it becomes a religious duty to pray at home,” he said.

“Friday is psychologically most difficult for me and my friends. It’s how we keep track of the week.”

A crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic can affect people and their relationship to religion in very different ways, says Kate Johnson, interfaith chaplain at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont.

Faith in a crisis

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Regardless of religion, an emergency situation can often lead a person to lean on their faith for support and comfort.

Patricia Eddu, a Christian, typically goes to mass once per week, and she also attends a community group at her church.

“I think the big thing I miss is gathering with friends to worship together,” the Scarborough, Ont., resident said. “It’s one of the biggest highlights of my week and often gives me so many tools to deal with how crazy life can be.”

For Eddu, this community has become even more important during the COVID-19 crisis.

Hodgson has also started a “telephone coffee time” for anyone who isn’t online, like the more senior members of the community. Her first session was on Wednesday.

“We went around … asking people to share how they were doing,” she said.

“It turned into a lot of people asking about other members of the church community and how they are doing.”

Moving online has allowed Hodgson to offer members of her church a space to try and make sense of the pandemic and how it’s changing the world.

“I’ve had a number of people write me privately and say: ‘I just really need somewhere to share,’” Hodgson said.


For practitioners, ministers and other faith leaders, one concern during the new coronavirus outbreak is accessibility.

In one way, virtual services might be more accessible for those with physical barriers to access — like a parishioner who uses a wheelchair and whose church meets on the second floor of a building without an elevator, for example.

Clayton has seen this first-hand in her community.

On the flip side, navigating websites like Facebook and Zoom can present a barrier to access for elderly members of the community.

This is why ministers like Hodgson have also started providing services over the phone.

Ultimately, regardless of faith, everyone is in agreement: the new coronavirus outbreak is an opportunity to strengthen community bonds.

“This is really an opportunity for us to show that it’s what we do and how we are with each other that matters,” Johnson said.

“Way more than where we gather, it’s how we gather.”

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

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