By Zahid Hussain
Pakistan’s government fell short of ordering mosques to shut down for Friday congregations and daily prayers despite a national lockdown in place to contain the coronavirus.
Pakistan has come out as the worst-hit nation in South Asia with nearly 1,200 confirmed cases, including 10 deaths.
President Arif Alvi invited dozens of leading clerics to his office on March 26 and discussed the possibility of closing mosques for regular prayers in a bid to contain or at least slow the spread of Covid-19.
He later said that it was decided that mosques should not be closed but the government can ask the number of attendees to be limited to a handful.
The prayer leader and the one who calls the faithful to prayers, along with one or two others who take care of the mosque, can pray together with spacing.
“A consensus like this is far better than unilateral action,” President Alvi tweeted.
On March 25, President Alvi released a copy of an edict issued by Egypt’s Al-Azhar University, Islam’s most prestigious degree-granting institution. The edict bars Muslims from offering prayers at mosques due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“All evidence clearly indicates that public gatherings including congregating in mosques can cause further spread of the virus,” it said, urging Muslims to offer prayers at homes.
Government officials in Muslim countries are fully authorized to suspend Friday congregations or regular prayers, the edict reads.
Islamic countries that have stopped congregational prayers include the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Algeria, Tunisia, Jordan, Kuwait, Palestine, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt.
In a televised press conference on March 26, Pakistan’s Religious Affairs Minister Noor ul Haq Qadri also ruled out the closure of mosques.
“Mosques will not be allowed to close. But we have agreed with ulemas on restricting the attendance of sick, elderly and children in mosques,” Qadri said.
While Islamic clerics in Pakistan have reportedly rejected the government’s request to shut mosques, non-Muslim minorities including Catholics were the first to suspend Masses and close churches.
“It is our duty to cooperate with all the measures the government of Sindh is taking to protect us from the rapid spread of the virus. Earlier directives to close down all education institutions and marriage halls and to stop all public gatherings have now been extended to include congregating in places of worship and at shrines,” said Cardinal Joseph Coutts on March 18.
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