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Vijay Maharaj

With just two weeks to go before Divali on November 14, the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS) says it was very happy with the prime minister’s decision to allow places of worship to open for one-hour services with 50 per cent of their congregations.

In an interview with Guardian Media yesterday, Secretary-General of the SDMS Vijay Maharaj said the organisation was “absolutely elated” when Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley made the announcement during a press conference on Saturday.

“We would have preferred 100 per cent of course but we are working with the health protocols of the country, so we are elated at this point in time with Divali around the corner. It is one of the few festivals we are allowed to celebrate to any extent. We will take what we get according to the health protocols,” Maharaj said.

He said the SDMS’ temples would not attempt any elaborate services in order to keep within the one-hour time limit. He said the organisation will continue its virtual services to avoid large crowds.

“What you must understand is that the majority of devotees in the temples are fifty years and over and obviously regardless they would taking the health factor very seriously. For example, the Munroe Road temple has a capacity of about 300 but we will only put out about 80 to 100 chairs to have the six feet distancing.”

He said although Divali will be one of the first occasions the SDMS was allowed to celebrate for the year, there will be no major celebrations planned.

He said the SDMS has five districts around the country with 153 temples.

“Where the temples are located, they will strategise, you will have five celebrations so there is nothing massive on a single scale. It will stay small, isolated in the regions. For example, in the northeastern region, there are 14 temples, they will choose one, which we are now working out and they will hold a generalised celebration there in accordance with the health protocols.”

He said the SDMS will enforce the same protocols they instituted when restrictions were temporarily lifted earlier this year.

Meanwhile, Imam Imtiaz Ali, who sits on the ASJA board, said he too was happy at the decision to reopen places of worship.

He said he was most excited about Jummah, the Muslim prayer held on Fridays.

“We can work with it, our services, the Friday Jummah prayer doesn’t exceed more than three-quarters of an hour from the time the person comes into the masjid, so it’s not a problem for us we are very happy that we got permission to reopen,” Ali said.

He said the ASJA’s council of Imams had met last Friday and committed to continue following the public health guidelines.

“We are also very conscious that we have to be very careful, we continue to operate within the health guidelines so everyone must wear masks, everyone walks with their own prayer mat and there is social distancing.”