The recent Covid-19 pandemic has forced the whole world to undergo immense changes. Almost every facet of life has been affected. The way we live and socialise with each other, the way we work and communicate and the way we go about our daily routine has been impacted drastically. Health has become paramount in our lives today.
This change has also affected the way we worship and carry out our religious activities. These are necessary in order to halt this pandemic. From that perspective, the Government has put in a strict standard operating procedure (SOP) in regards all houses of worship which are:
- All devotees above the age of 70 years and children below the age of 12 are not permitted to attend worship activities for now.
- Devotees who have health issues will not be encouraged to attend.
- All places of worship are allowed to operate with a capacity limit of 1/3 of the number of devotees for the place of worship.
This pandemic has also affected the Sikh community in Malaysia. For example the Malacca annual festival in commemoration of Baba Sohan Singh in May was cancelled. Congregation of worshippers were not allowed in Gurdwaras until only recently. My view is that all this was inevitable as the Gurdwara had to comply with government SOPs and the gurdwara management committees (GMCs) had to also consider the health and safety of the congregation (sangat) above and beyond anything else.
Hence, in my view, this is a time for all Gurdwaras to institute changes to fight the pandemic. At the same time, GMCs should also take advantage of the pandemic to institute positive changes in the way they run religious and other services in Gurdwaras.
Some of these recommended changes are as follows:
Minimising the risk of Covid-19
- All individuals entering Gurdwaras must have their relevant details recorded, either digitally or manually.
- Temperatures of all worshippers must be taken and if it is 37 Centigrade or higher, then they will not be allowed in.
- Hand washing should be made mandatory for all worshippers on entering the Gurdwara. Hence it must be ensured that there are adequate hand washing facilities at strategic locations in the Gurdwara. Many may not want to use sanitisers as it contains alcohol and hence this makes it more critical to have washing basins at convenient spots.
- At the prayer hall, social distancing rules should be strictly adhered to by having marks on the floor where each person should sit. These marking could be done with masking tape for example.
- It should be mandatory for all worshippers to wear masks.
- Those who have ailments or are sick should not be allowed to attend prayers.
- Gurdwaras should invest in live streaming equipment so that should the prayer hall be full due to social distancing, then other worshippers can still participate from other areas of the Gurdwara where these equipment have been installed.
Changes in the Langar Hall
- At the langar hall, all sevadaars (either volunteers or paid staff) must wash their hands thoroughly before serving langar or degh.
- It will be mandatory for all sevadaars to wear a mask and gloves at all times.
- No sevadaar is allowed to use his/her phone at any time whilst serving food.
- No face to face eating should be allowed. Tables should be marked soz that this will not occur.
- Gurdwaras should invest in glass covered food containers should the food be served buffet style. This is to ensure that worshippers will not be able to inadvertently contaminate the food.
- All langar areas should be disinfected at least once a day.
- All handles, frequently touched surfaces, door knobs, etc should be disinfected daily.
- The safety of worshippers must take precedence and hence all Gurdwara management committees must postpone or cancel any religious celebrations where many people may attend.
Guidelines for members of congregation
- It would be good if individuals try to attend Gurdwara when it is less busy.
- Always observe social distancing i.e. sit or stand at least 6 feet apart where possible in all areas of the Gurdwara.
- Avoid going to the Gurdwara when you are sick.
- If you attend the Gurdwara and then later found out that you are positive or may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, you are then obliged to inform your Gurdwara management so that they can take the necessary action to protect the other worshippers.
These recommendations of changes above are only a guideline and there will certainly be other actions that can be taken by particular Gurdwaras to the congregation members. In that sense, every Gurdwara will need to assess its capacity and ability to implement the changes with the main objective of ensuring that that all necessary action is taken to protect the Sikh community.
As argued, this will also be a good time for GMCs to re-look at all the present processes and systems existing in their Gurdwaras and take action to streamline and improve on these. Gurdwaras must also change with the times.
Retired Malaysian army officer Heera Singh is a leadership and motivation specialiast and author of HR book Human Resources Documentation
Heera Singh releases definitive HR guide book for Malaysian companies (Asia Samachar, 3 Jan 2019)
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