Promoting Ebola awareness from the pulpit

How one Imam in Rwanda is helping prevent Ebola from within the walls of his mosque

By Noa Avishag Schnall
22 October 2019

KIGALI, Rwanda – Imam Mashaka Ally, 53, has been leading his congregation in Rwanda’s capital for two years. In the heart of the city, the Azaan call to prayer echoes loud as the Imam welcomes faithful members of Rwanda’s Muslim community into the mosque, greeting people for Friday prayers with a wide smile.

Imam Ally understands the threat of Ebola very well. In the past, he led prayers at another mosque in Rubavu, a town on the border with DR Congo and at high risk for Ebola. As Islamic leaders, Imams like Mashaka Ally can use their unique position of influence to promote important messages on Ebola prevention.

 

Imam Mashaka Ally, 53, has been leading prayers at his mosque for two years. He uses his influence as an Islamic leader to integrate Ebola prevention messages into his prayers and sermons.
UNICEF/UNI210022/Schnall
Imam Mashaka Ally has been leading prayers at his mosque for two years. He uses his influence as an Islamic leader to integrate Ebola prevention messages into his prayers and sermons.

“It is my responsibility to help keep my community safe, in any way that I can.”

Imam Mashaka Ally

The Jumu'ah Friday prayer is an important custom in Islam, and Imam Ally uses some of this time to educate his followers. From his wooden pulpit, adorned with carved Qur’anic inscriptions, Imam Ally encourages people to protect themselves from Ebola by washing their hands with clean water and soap.

“We know the symptoms,” he says, echoing across the room and over the loudspeakers.

“High fever, headache, vomiting and bleeding from body cavities. If you know someone who may have Ebola, get them the help they need by calling 114.”

 

In the women's section of Nyarugenge Mosque, ladies look through the distributed Ebola preparedness material as Imam Mashaka Ally delivers his sermon upstairs and over the loudspeakers.
UNICEF/UNI205672/Schnall
In the women's section of Nyarugenge Mosque, ladies look through the distributed Ebola preparedness material as Imam Mashaka Ally delivers his sermon upstairs and over the loudspeakers.

 

While Imam Ally speaks, weaving Qur’anic verse into his messages, volunteers at the mosque distribute brochures on Ebola prevention, designed by UNICEF and partners with colourful illustrations so the potentially life-saving information cannot be missed.

In the women’s section, a mother who has just laid her baby to sleep pauses to look through the pages. Two young girls gather around the prayer hall’s central pillar, flipping through the pages with wide-eyed interest.

 

Olivier, 15, pauses outside of Mosque Masdjid Nuur in Musanze, Rwanda to read the signs and symptoms of Ebola displayed on a poster.
UNICEF/UNI218235/Kanobana
Olivier, 15, pauses outside of Mosque Masdjid Nuur in Musanze, Rwanda to read the signs and symptoms of Ebola displayed on a poster.

 

UNICEF and partners have trained over 320 religious leaders like Imam Ally on Ebola prevention, so they can integrate awareness messages and educational materials into sermons, prayers and community gatherings across Rwanda.

Inside the mosque, Imam Ally’s words boom over the loudspeakers, an emotional plea for people to stay safe and protect not only themselves, but to watch out for one another. Today’s Jumu'ah is also broadcast live on Voice of Africa radio, reaching thousands in the city.

But Imam Ally is well aware that his words are only a starting point for behavioural change.

“For my followers to understand, I must practice what I preach, be an example to them. I must prepare sermons that resonate with them.”

Imam Ally gestures as he speaks, drawing both hands forward to emphasise his point.

“Essentially, I must live by example and try to connect with my followers. This is how we achieve synergy.”