Toronto mosques to broadcast call to prayer during Ramadan amid COVID-19 restrictions

The City of Toronto normally doesn't allow amplified sound in public areas, but during the COVID-19 pandemic it has now granted all mosques permission to broadcast the call to prayer over a speaker at sunset every day during Ramadan. 

City grants permission for 1st time to mosques to put call to prayer over loudspeaker

Alhaj Abubakar is the imam at Masjid Omar Bin Al-Khattab, one of the mosques broadcasting the call to prayer during Ramadan amid the pandemic — a first in Toronto. (Yanjun Li/CBC)

Ramadan is looking a lot different for Muslims across the globe due to physical distancing restrictions placed upon the holy month by the COVID-19 pandemic. And things are no different for the nearly half a million people who follow Islam in Toronto.

That's why the city is helping the community cope with the crisis by granting all local mosques permission for the first time to broadcast the call to prayer, called the Azan, over speakers at sunset every day during Ramadan. 

"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. 

"We are very, very happy." 

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.

Mosques will broadcast the call to prayer for up to five minutes at sunset to signal that the fast for the day has ended. (Angelina King/CBC)

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 organize 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." 

Sureya Ibrahim helped push for the approval of the public broadcast of the call to prayer at Toronto mosques. (Yanjun Li/CBC)

Ramadan, which started on April 23, runs for a month until May 23. 

Mississauga to also allow 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. 

An onlooker records the first call to prayer broadcast at Masjid Omar Bin Al-Khattab on Wednesday evening. (Yanjun Li/CBC)

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."

With files from Angelina King