Islamabad, Mar 27 (efe-epa).- Thousands of mosques across Pakistan remained empty on Friday, the day of weekly Islamic prayers, after three provinces suspended the religious gatherings due to the intensifying coronavirus pandemic, despite the central government’s decision to keep the mosques open.
Early on Friday, the government of Punjab – a province that accounts for around half of the country’s 207 million inhabitants – announced the suspension of mass prayers, a day after similar announcements by Sindh and Balochistan.
“In light of the directions by the prophet, in this case of epidemic help (us) control the outbreak by limiting your movements. As per the guidelines by the Ulema (clerics), pray at your home and pray that God succeeds us in this testing time,” Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar tweeted.
The measure allows only up to five people to remain in mosques until fresh orders “so that people can be saved by this fatal disease.”
Pakistan has registered at least nine deaths and 1,235 cases of COVID-19 so far.
Similar restrictions were earlier enforced in Sindh, the worst-hit region with 429 cases – most of them originating in Iran during religious pilgrimages – and Balochistan, provincial government spokespersons told EFE.
However, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, the autonomous territories of Gilgit Baltistan and Azad (Pakistan-administered) Kashmir and capital Islamabad have not suspended mass Friday prayers.
The three provinces’ decision to close mosques came despite the central government’s announcement on Thursday that the premises would remain open, except for people above the age of 50 and children.
The government had reached the decision after President Arif Alvi met the country’s top cleric, who rejected an all-out closure.
“As per the teachings of Islam, prayers at mosques cannot be suspended in this situation” said Mufti Muneeb ur Rehman, Pakistan’s highest Islamic cleric.
Differences between Prime Minister Imran Khan and provincial governments have come into sharp focus during the coronavirus outbreak, after Khan refused to impose a nationwide lockdown due to concerns over food supplies to the poor, but provincial leaders went ahead with strict quarantine measures.
Several experts and media reports have criticized the central government’s decision to not close mosques, pointing out the severe outcome of the disease’s spread in other countries. EFE-EPA