Pakistani Islamists gather to pray for protection from coronavirus

By Jaime León

Islamabad, Apr 3 (efe-epa).- Some 1,000 Pakistani Islamists gathered on Friday at Islamabad’s Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) to pray to God to protect them from COVID-19, a highly infectious disease that spreads through contact.

The incident occurred despite local government orders to shut down religious sites and several religious leaders urging the faithful to conduct their prayers within their homes, in order to prevent fresh coronavirus infections.

“We are Muslims and that’s why our mosque is open. There is no danger in touching,” Kaleem Ullah, among those in-charge of security at the Lal Masjid, told EFE.

Inside, around 1,000 people prayed, knelt and touched the ground with their foreheads as a part of the Friday prayers, an important weekly ritual for Muslims.

Only a few of them wore masks or gloves despite being in a crowded space.

“I don’t think if people get together it spreads virus, because (only) Allah gives you disease to punish you for your sins,” Tanvir Khan, a 26-year-old man who had come to pray, told EFE, adding that God would protect him if he prayed.

Another devotee, Mohamed Nasir, 31, who owns a pharmacy, said that contracting the virus depended on “fate” rather than taking precautions. “If you have to get it (the virus) you will get it.”

Other mosques in the capital were closed and some had publicly announced that there would be no collective prayers on the orders of the government, in order to prevent the transmission of the coronavirus.

Pakistan has so far reported 2,450 Covid-19 infections and 35 deaths.

The ban on collective prayers was enforced by provincial governments last week even after the central government led by Prime Minister Imran Khan ruled out banning congregations at religious sites.

Hours after his announcement, the provinces of Sindh and Punjab had announced the closure of mosques, while Khyber Pakhtunkhwa joined the initiative on Friday.

Moreover, Sindh imposed a curfew on Friday between 12 noon and 3 pm to prevent people from going to mosques, after many people turned up to pray despite the ban last week.

In fact, infections accelerated in the country after a religious group, Tablighi Jamaat, held a massive congregation last month in Lahore, which included participants from across the country and abroad.

The gathering emerged as a coronavirus hotspot, with the disease spreading from there to different parts of the country.

However, Islamists have seen the shutdown measure as a way of targeting them, claiming that only mosques have been shut, even though the entire country has been effectively under quarantine for weeks, with schools and shops closed and a ban on going out except when absolutely necessary.

“In this time of crisis people should rush to the mosques so they are connected to God rather than staying at home. Mosques and madrassas (Islamic religious schools), are their (the authorities’) only target,” Umme Hassan, wife of the mosque’s cleric Abdul Aziz and the head of a group of Islamic seminaries for women, told EFE.

A group of policemen stood guard outside the religious center. “We asked them not to open for prayers but they do not follow the orders of the government,” the officer in-charge of the area’s security, Iqbal Khan, remarked. EFE-EPA


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