Chickens come home to roost – Pakistan’s use of religious clerics as a tool to control masses seems to have backfired on them. EurAsian Times gets you a report from Haaretz which talks about how Pakistan has emerged as a super-spreader of coronavirus to other Islamic nations.
At a time when Iran has shut down the holiest Shia sites in the country, Saudi Arabia banned prayers at mosques – including the two holiest in Islam – Mecca & Medina and many other Islamic countries like Turkey, UAE, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan have closed mosques, Pakistan has allowed the continuation of Friday prayers nationwide to emerge as a super spreader of Covid-19.
There is no respite for Pakistan from the surge of coronavirus cases which has gone up to 1286 by Friday evening, IST. Sindh province has recorded the most cases at 441. The country has also reported nine deaths.
The closure of markets, shopping malls, restaurants and public transport on one hand and the continuing congregational prayers on the other has not helped to contain the spread. The churches and temples in Punjab and Sindh were voluntarily closed by the Hindu and Christian community leaders after an increase in Covid-19 cases, but the government, fearing backlash, was not able to ban people from praying in the mosques.
The annual Tablighi Jamaat gathering that brought 250,000 people from across 90 countries in Lahore infected two men from Gaza with coronavirus when they returned from Pakistan.
Twelve other participants of this Jamaat, from the suburbs of Islamabad, have been found to be infected. Four others were found positive in Sindh. One Kyrgyzstan preacher of the Jammat was diagnosed in an Islamabad mosque, his 13 companions were quarantined and the mosque was locked down and disinfected.
However, none of this has stopped the Tablighis from gathering, in Mardan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where hundreds of participants defied the law and continued to preach and pray.
The confusion over whether 50-year-old Saadat Khan, Pakistan’s first coronavirus victim from Mardan had exposed people to Covid-19 became a reality after 39 people who were in touch with him tested positive.
Saadat who had tested positive and died ten days later after returning from a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia was welcomed by 2,000 people. His relatives say that he was sick when he arrived but was not screened at the airport.
But that has not deterred Muslim clerics from issuing a call to prayers nor has it prompted the Government to take any action against such clerics. In fact, prominent cleric Muhammad Taqi Usmani revealed on national TV that Prophet Muhammad had come in the dream of a Tableeghi Jamaat member and shared that the cure for coronavirus was the recital of certain Quranic verses.
Another cleric, Asif Ashraf Jalali vowed to hold an Islamic conference, personally “guaranteeing” the safety of all those attending, saying that even if one case of coronavirus is reported from the congregation he “should be hanged.”
Interestingly, the Grand Imam of Egypt’s Al Azhar University announced that suspension of Friday prayers were permitted to control the coronavirus. The argument that Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Iran or Indonesia have all closed down mosques has fallen on deaf ears.
But what has been more striking is the inability of Pakistan’s administration to rein in religious leaders.
On Thursday, the government of Sindh province announced that attendance at congregational prayers would be limited to five people from Friday up to April 5. The government of Balochistan province too followed suit and issued a similar directive. The Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar too met Islamic clerics to ensure them that mosques won’t be shut down in the province.
Pakistan’s Minister for Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony Dr Noorul Haq Qadri said the mosques would not be closed, but the number of worshippers would be kept at a minimum, with those above 50 and children being barred.
Ironically, the situation in Pakistan has resulted in Saudi Arabia informing Islamabad not to prepare a Hajj agreement on details of pilgrims.
Where the President’s Call Goes in Vain
Last Friday, despite a call from President of Pakistan Arif Alvi, encouraging people to offer Friday prayers at home, the Faisal Mosque in Islamabad was flooded with people. But why can’t the President stop prayers in public interest?
There is a belief at the mass level that not praying in a mosque is akin to leaving Allah. There is a strong resistance to even the advisory against avoiding handshakes, with believers saying that it is a Sunnah (tradition).
In fact, religious beliefs in Pakistan society are so deeply embedded that two Covid-19 patients, who went missing for a couple of hours at PIMS hospital in Islamabad, returned after offering Friday prayers at a nearby mosque. Even closing down mosques is not proving effective.
The reason for such stringent beliefs is because Pakistan over the years has overly relied on religion to control the masses and has instilled a false sense that only they are the true contractors of Islam. It played well for the government to appease clerics who as a quid pro quo then helped the establishment during difficult times to help them turn the tide of public sentiment in their favour.
Pakistan’s coronavirus cases are believed to be under-reported and it is anticipated that the actual number may be very high. Also, a healthcare system woefully short of medical equipments may exacerbate the problem.
The only way forward for the Pakistan government is to strictly close down mosques and stop people from congregational religious activities if at all it wants to deal with the pandemic.
Conceptualized By Kunwar Khuldune Shahid. Edited By Nitin J Ticku