Beirut mosques serve Ramadan worshippers despite scars of port blast

Repairs delayed by lack of funding as Lebanon struggles with economic crisis

Eight months after the explosion at Beirut port, mosques damaged in the deadly blast are struggling to find money for repairs.

But even those almost completely demolished in the August 4 explosion, like the Khalid ibn Al Walid mosque, which stands right next to the port, have managed to keep their doors open.

“My wish this Ramadan is to repair the mosque,” said Hassan Hussein, a resident of the area who has prayed there for years.

Unlike many countries in the region, Lebanon's mosques are allowed to open for prayers during Ramadan despite the Covid-19 pandemic, but only at 30 per cent capacity.

The pandemic is compounding Lebanon's economic and financial crisis, particularly for daily wage earners and low-income families.

Mr Hussein said this was not the first time the Khalid ibn Al Walid mosque had been damaged.

"This mosque was destroyed during the civil war but was rebuilt six or seven years ago, only to be destroyed again by the blast."

The detonation of tonnes of explosive ammonium nitrate stored at the port killed more than 200 people, injured thousands and caused an estimated $15 billion in damage to Lebanon's capital.

The blast damaged 10 mosques, said Sheikh Mohamad Anis, head of Endowments at Dar Al Fatwa, Lebanon’s highest Sunni religious authority.

Among them is one of the city’s oldest places of Islamic worship, the Emir Mansour Assaf mosque in central Beirut.

Maher Jaroudi, imam at the mosque that was built almost 500 years ago, said it continued to welcome believers despite the damage.

Mr Jaroudi said he was with worshippers at the mosque when the explosion happened. "We have been undertaking repair work since, but we never stopped holding prayers and didn’t close for a day,” he said.

Despite the economic crisis, the mosque is able to support needy families this Ramadan thanks to an increase in donations from individuals and other mosques, Mr Jaroudi said.

“The mosque is supporting 40 families throughout Ramadan,” he said, while urging people not to despair because of the crisis.

Mr Anis said Dar Al Fatwa estimated the cost of the damage to Beirut's mosques at between $4 million and $5 million, but only a fraction of the funds needed for repairs has been secured, mainly through local and international donations.

With the economic situation growing steadily worse, the government has given out only a fraction of the money needed to compensate blast victims and to finance reconstruction.

Lebanon's currency has plummeted more than 85 per cent in value against the dollar since the crisis began in late 2019, eroding purchasing power and fuelling hyperinflation.

According to a study by the American University of Beirut’s Crisis Observatory Unit, the average cumulative monthly cost of iftar for a family of five is now two and a half times the monthly minimum wage, which has dropped from about $400 in 2019 to less than $50 today.