Islamabad, Apr 24 (efe-epa).- Pakistan was preparing for the start of Ramadan on Friday amid controversy over the reopening of its mosques after pressure from Islamic clerics.
The move has been harshly criticised by the medical community due to the risk that religious centres could become hotspots of coronavirus infections.
Ramadan celebrations will begin on Saturday in Pakistan, the sixth most populous nation in the world with 207 million inhabitants, 96 per cent of whom are Muslim.
The holy month is usually marked by fasting during the day, followed by gatherings of families and friends for a meal after sunset and the whole community comes together for prayers in mosques.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan lifted a ban on group prayers after pressure from the country’s powerful clerics ahead of the festival.
The government put the country into lockdown a month ago, closing schools, religious buildings and most businesses to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
There have been more than 11,100 confirmed infections and 237 deaths in the country.
“Do we compel (the faithful) not to go to the mosques? And if they do go, do the police put them in jail? This cannot happen in a free society,” Khan said in a televised speech this week.
Religious centres will have to comply with social distancing measures, such as people keeping a meter away from each other and bringing their own prayer mats.
The Sindh province challenged the government’s decision on Thursday and announced that it will keep its mosques closed during Ramadan.
The government has also announced plans to relax the quarantine, which was imposed on 23 March, and begin an “intelligent confinement” so that restrictions are only in place in heavily affected areas.
Medical experts have harshly criticised this decision as the country has not reached the peak of its contagion, something that is not expected to happen until late May.
Qaisar Sajjad, secretary-general of the Pakistan Medical Association, told Efe: “There is no point in opening the mosques. I ask people to pray at home and celebrate the end of the daily fast at home.”
He warned that the country’s hospitals will not be able to cope with an increase in the number of Covid-19 patients and that the next two weeks will be critical to stopping the outbreak.
Dawn, one of Pakistan’s top newspapers, has also criticised the government’s decision.
“Pakistan cannot afford to reopen mosques at this time,” it said in an editorial.
“If other Muslim states can make rational decisions, why are our rulers following emotional and ill-informed requests.”
Mufti Muneeb-ur-Rehman, one of the county’s top religious leaders, unexpectedly announced that he would pray at home during Ramadan, after pressuring the government to reopen mosques. EFE-EPA