FAITH leaders from the Bradford district are looking forward to seeing places of worship re-open soon, although insist that safety must remain the priority.

Members of the city's Christian, Hindu and Muslim communities have given their thoughts following the recent easing of lockdown measures.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced measures which will see places of worship - as well as pubs, restaurants, businesses and museums, amongst other places - able to open their doors again from 4 July.

Although places of worship have been open for 'private prayer' since 13 June, the most recent adjustments mean they can now open for larger congregations, although social distancing rules still apply.

Staff and worshippers will still need to adhere to Government guidelines, while practices such as singing are prohibited, meaning that church services may be held without hymns, as it is believed that singing or shouting could allow the virus to spread more easily, by way of droplets.

Reverend Nathan Javed, of Grace Baptist Churches, said: "It's a joyous thing that we are now able to meet again. It's great that places of worship can re-open and that we can now all meet with our friends.

"However, there is another side to this, which is one of concern - we have to make sure we meet all the rules, regulations and guidelines.

"People will have to wear masks, and things like handshakes will be an issue - people shouldn't be shaking hands or hugging each other.

"Just like people are at the mosques, gurdwaras, temples, synagogues and other places of worship, we're all very affectionate with each other at churches. We like to express our love for each other. But we have to be careful of another outbreak and try to avoid direct contact.

"We need to keep our distance and be conscious of other people. Things like singing are also not going to happen, and we need to make sure we follow all these measures.

"A lot of people have been anxious and fearful during these unprecedented times, and people have been emailing me regularly. I'm glad I could be a part of this community, because we are all in the same boat."

Dr Manoj Joshi DL, District Governor for Rotary International in Great Britain and Ireland, Chairman of Governors at Bradford Academy and a prominent figure in Bradford's Hindu community, said: "I welcome the Government announcement that places of worship can now re-open, because they are places where a lot of people get relief and peace, celebrating rituals and practices together, in a group setting.

"But all places of worship need to be adapted to the current situation. We must take the precaution of wearing masks, washing our hands, not having too much personal contact and generally keeping safe practice.

"Risk assessments are a very important service, which Javed Bashir from Strengthening Faith Institutions has been undertaking. So the mitigation has been put in place, to help prevent the spread of the virus, and I think all places of worship will be undertaking risk assessments. 

"They should also demonstrate this by displaying signs on notice boards and at points of entry.

"I want people to please be careful, and maintain and follow all guidelines. We must all try to be safe and be alert, and also be kind to each other."

Ilyas Master, of Masjid-e-Quba, Manningham, said: "It's a good thing that places of worship can now re-open and I can't wait for it to happen. The Government initially said they can open for private prayer but now everyone is waiting for the larger re-opening on 4 July.

"At this stage, we are fully prepared for the re-opening and are following Government guidelines. We will take great care for all the people who attend the mosque and advise them on what to do and what not to do.

"We have carried out a risk assessment and put up signs around the mosque. We have made markings so social distancing will be easier for people to follow - every Government guideline wil be followed and we will try to fully implement each one.

"With social distancing we will be able to accommodate a lot of people, but if the mosque gets too busy, we will have to stop people from coming in.

"People should co-operate and follow the guidelines, as the guidelines are for our benefit. The more we follow them, the more we help the NHS and everybody else, too."

Javed Bashir, Safeguarding Consultant at Strengthening Faith Institutions, said: "The re-opening of places of worship for prayers is a sign that life is returning to 'normality', but there is some concern on how the regulations, such as social distancing and controlling numbers, can be implemented.

"COVID-19 still exists and it is dangerous, and faith leaders must carefully plan and decide when they feel they can put the required controls in place to re-open, in the safest way possible.

"I have worked with dozens of faith institutions to help and support risk assessments and get them ready to re-open, and will continue to do so in the coming weeks and in the run up to 4 July."