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Photo courtesy of Muhammad Kolila

A Denver Imam Navigates a Virtual Congregation During COVID-19

Since the novel coronavirus put everyday life on hold, Imam Muhammad of Masjid Al-Shuhada has been working hard to keep his community connected and supported.

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At 5:45 p.m., Imam Muhammad Kolila is still working in his office at Masjid Al-Shuhada, the downtown Denver Islamic Center. “With COVID-19, most of my work now is on the computer,” he says.

The mosque has been hosting online services since March 16, but it hasn’t been easy. While video-streaming software helps connect us with one another, it takes more than simply pressing stream for Imam Muhammad to keep his congregation and mosque operating during this time.

“One of the main objectives and one of the main missions of this mosque is to provide a safe space for people to come and pray, and connect with God, but right now we cannot create that safe space—physically,” says Imam Muhammad. “This is why our biggest challenge is to create the space virtually.”

Imam Muhammad started working at 8:30 this morning, preparing lessons for services and creating programming for Ramadan—one of Islam’s biggest holidays, which begins on April 23. Sometimes, he says he starts later and works well into the night. “It just depends on what I have to do,” he says. “Right now, we are trying…to transform the activities and the day-to-day lives of this mosque, virtually.”

He is also at the mercy of his congregation; he runs weekly—sometimes daily—errands of delivering food, supplies, and money to those who need it right now. Today, he doesn’t have any visits to make.

At 4:44 p.m., Imam Muhammad prays the Salat al-‘asr, one of the five daily prayers of Islam. “This place used to hold up to 200 people, but right now it’s empty,” he says. “One of the things I really miss about community, before the coronavirus, is that sense of belonging and that sense of human, physical interactions.” Instead of praying shoulder-to-shoulder with the rest of his congregation, Imam Muhmmad prays alone.

“If we have good intentions, and we lack all the resources, and we do our best to pray and make sure we pray in a group—we get the same reward as we would as if we pray in the mosque, and that’s one of the things I’m trying to highlight.” But just when Masjid Al-Shuhada will again be filled with the voices of brothers and sisters praying shoulder-to-shoulder, like so many things in the age of a global pandemic, remains uncertain.


This story is powered by COLab, the Colorado News Collaborative5280 joined this historic collaboration with more than 20 other newsrooms across Colorado to better serve the public

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