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By Ahmad Saeed

After the 20-point accord between the federal government and the top religious leaders of the country was signed, on April 18, mosques across the country are now holding congregations and daily prayers as usual.

But as the government agreed to exempt daily and Friday prayers as well as allowing tarawih prayers despite a lockdown, the number of COVID-19 cases have been increasing by the hundreds every day. Only in the last four days, an alarming total of 2,520 confirmed cases have emerged, leaving medics in despair, while the country’s weak healthcare system is bearing the brunt of this.

Because they are on the frontlines, medical professionals have expressed their grave concerns over this decision taken by the government, warning it of another ‘Italy-like crisis’. Doctors say they see an estimated 70,000 cases saturating Pakistan’s over-burdened hospitals and quarantine centers by May, if lockdown measures are eased this soon.

Desperate to get their voice across, health professionals held a press conference at the Karachi Press Club on April 22, and issued an appeal to clerics and religious leaders to withdraw their demands for holding prayers in mosques amidst the deadly pandemic.

“We beg the clerics,” said Dr Atif Hafeez Siddiqui, Karachi president of the Pakistan Islamic Medical Association (PIMA), pressing his palms together as a gesture for mercy. “For God’s sake, take this decision back, refuse the government’s mandate (to lift restrictions on congregational prayers). They say “to save one life is to save all of mankind”, but to deliberately cause so many to fall ill is a grave injustice. When praying at mosques, it’s difficult to tell who is carrying the virus and who isn’t, which is why we believe this decision should be recalled.”

While some mosques are still adhering to the 20-point protocol issued by the government in the April 18 accord, a lot of them are flouting SOPs with worshippers performing ritual cleansing at mosques and failing to maintain a two meter distance from others.

Even the Federal Minister for Religious Affairs and Inter-faith Harmony, Noor-ul-Haq Qadri, warned during an April 20, 2020 broadcast of Aaj TV’s ‘Spot Light with Munizae Jahangir’ that if the agreed-upon SOPs were flouted, then the relaxations afforded to mosques will have to be rolled back.

In this context, Voicepk.net reached out to the Chairperson of the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), Qibla Ayaz who stated that the government can and will take action if mosques fail to adhere to SOPs.

“When it comes to the spread of COVID-19, I personally advocate for home worship,” he said. “I myself will try to offer all my prayers at home. However, if the government has decided that tarawih prayers be performed at the CII’s own mosque considering that all safety protocols are observed, then it’s very likely I will pray at the mosque,” he said.

But Mufti Muneeb-ur-Rehman, Chairperson of the Ruet-e-Hilal Committee, seems to be changing statements.

Only recently he had announced that he would offer prayers at home, but when questioned about this decision, the cleric took umbrage.

“We have agreed that it is the elderly who will not pray at mosques – am I an elderly person?” he demanded. “What is the issue? The entire nation saw us signing the accord with the President and Prime Minister. But my words are being twisted here.”

Aside from Pakistan, several Islamic countries around the globe have all maintained restrictive measures for religious congregations and prayers at mosques in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

But here, doctors’ bodies seem to be more concerned than the Government of Pakistan, about the deadly virus.

They continue to plead with the authorities to implement even stricter measures before it is too late.