Pakistan’s decision came after prominent clerics and religious parties had threatened to defy the restrictions anyway. After talks with President Arif Alvi, clerics “agreed to conditionally allow prayer congregations”, the state radio broadcaster reported. Mosques would be ordered to ensure worshippers kept 1.8 metres apart, while carpets would be removed and buildings regularly disinfected. Children and those over 50 would pray at home, according to a list of 20 conditions for relaxing the restrictions.
Pakistan has so far seen around 8000 cases and 159 deaths among a population of more than 220 million. Much of the economy has been locked down for nearly four weeks, but clerics have bristled at restriction on mosques.
Attendance limits have been widely flouted and police have faced assaults in some cities as they tried to enforce the rules.
Mufti Muneeb-ur-Rehman, a well-known cleric leading the committee that rules when Ramadan starts each year, said last week that the lockdown should not apply to mosques. Maulana Abdul Aziz of the Red Mosque in Islamabad has been booked for the past three weeks for his large congregations.
‘This isn’t about religious obligations. It is, as always, about power.’
Hassan Javid, Lahore University
Hassan Javid, an associate politics professor at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, said: “Why have Mufti Muneeb and co. been able to insist mosques remain open in Pakistan when they’ve been closed in the rest of the Muslim world?
“It’s because they can. It’s because the government won’t stop them. This isn’t about religious obligations. It is, as always, about power.”
Sharmila Farooqi, a politician with the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party, said that allowing the prayers was not only putting worshippers at risk but was “tantamount to accelerating its spread”. Clerics were not only worried about the faithful’s right to pray together, but also about declining donations if congregations stayed at home, one local paper reported. In mid-March the Saudi government stopped people performing their five daily prayers and the weekly Friday prayer inside mosques as part of efforts to limit the spread of the coronavirus. The country’s Ministry of Islamic affairs has since ordered the restrictions to apply through Ramadan.
Last week, the Prophet’s Mosque in the holy city of Medina said it was banning events that dispense evening meals to those in need during Ramadan to break their daily fast.
Pakistan has also eased parts of its commercial lockdown in the past week. Prime Minister Imran Khan has warned that the country was struggling to ensure the virus was halted, while at the same time ensuring the nation’s poor do not starve. Pakistan is the world’s second most populous Muslim nation after Indonesia, home to about 11 per cent of the global total.
The Telegraph, London