Sindh govt suspends congregational prayers only hours after Centre says will be offered in 'limited numbers'

Updated March 26, 2020

Email

President Arif Alvi had appealed to religious leaders in the country to urgently take action on the fatwa of Egypt’s Al-Azhar institution — DawnNewsTV
President Arif Alvi had appealed to religious leaders in the country to urgently take action on the fatwa of Egypt’s Al-Azhar institution — DawnNewsTV

The Sindh government on Thursday announced that citizens will not be allowed to offer congregational prayers ⁠— including Friday prayers ⁠— in mosques. The decision came only hours after the federal government said that mosques would remain open and congregational prayers would be offered in "limited numbers".

Spokesperson for the Sindh government Barrister Murtaza Wahab announced the provincial government's decision on Twitter and added that the decision was taken after consultations with ulema and medical experts.

As per the Sindh government spokesperson, five people including mosque staff will be permitted to offer congregational prayers.

The decision will be in effect from March 27 (tomorrow) till April 5.

According to a notification issued by the Sindh government's home department, the provincial government took the decision on the basis of instructions from medical experts.

Only three to five people designated for mosques will be permitted to offer congregational prayers. The notification added that the general public will offer prayers at home as per the guidance of religious scholars.

These restrictions will also apply to religious sites for other religions, the notification stated.

It stated that the provincial had exercised Section 3(1) of the Sindh Epidemic Diseases Act, 2014.

Under the Act, the commissioners and deputy commissioners are empowered to issue further directions/orders/notices etc to put the order into effect, the notification stated. Anyone who opposes the decision will be punishable under Section 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant) of the Pakistan Penal Code.

Speaking on Geo News programme Aaj Shahzeb Khanzada Kay Sath, Sindh Minister for Information and Local Government Syed Nasir Hussain Shah said that the decision was a very difficult one and added that there would be difficulties in implementing it.

He requested citizens to follow the decision.

Mosques will remain open; limited numbers

Earlier, addressing a press conference alongside other government officials, Federal Minister for Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony Noorul Haq Qadri said that the National Coordination Committee on Covid-19 had decided that mosques in the country would not be closed.

Qadri said that mosques will have azaan (call to prayers) and tilawat.

With regards to offering congregational prayers at mosques, Qadri said that this will be "limited".

He said that mosque imams, staff, regular attendees in limited numbers — those who are healthy and not older than 50 years of age — will be able to offer prayers in the mosque in limited numbers.

Alvi meets religious scholars

Religious scholars assured that they would "comply with the instructions" issued by the government in order to curb the coronavirus pandemic during a meeting with President Arif Alvi earlier today.

Following the meeting, the president said that during the meeting it was decided that mosques should not be shut down but the government in the crisis situation, could ask the number of people joining the congregations to the limited, "even to a handful".

"A consensus like this is far better than unilateral action," he said in a tweet.

According to a statement released by the President's office after the meeting, the Ulema also promised to extend their "complete support" to the government in its efforts to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.

President Alvi had held a meeting with the scholars today to discuss if religious congregations, including Friday prayers, should be suspended during the coronavirus outbreak. The statement, however, made no mention of the matter.

"The president highlighted the preventive measures which needed to be taken by the people to stop spreading the disease," the statement read. "He emphasised that the only solution to the present crisis was to maintain social distancing and act upon the guidelines provided by Islam to cope with such situation.

"The ulema assured their complete support and said that they would comply with the instructions given by the government."

President Alvi chaired the meeting at President House and scholars from all four provinces, Gilgit Baltistan (GB) and Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) attended the meeting through video link from governor houses across the country. Those from Islamabad and Rawalpindi were physically present.

The president was supposed to apprise the scholars about the fatwa issued by Egypt’s Al-Azhar University, permitting suspension of Friday prayers to control the spread of the novel coronavirus across Pakistan.

He was expected to announce important decisions regarding these matters. Federal Minister for Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony Noorul Haq Qadri and Chairman of The Council of Islamic Ideology Dr Qibla Ayaz were advising the president on the matter.

Authorities have held multiple consultations with scholars over whether prayer congregations should continue, as social distancing is vital to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, which has already infected more than 1,000 people in the country. A large number of people are expected to gather in mosques tomorrow to attend Friday's congregational prayers.

Yesterday, in a meeting with Sindh governor at the Governor House, scholars agreed that people should take precautionary measures and vulnerable people should preferably offer prayers at home, but said that mosques should be kept open for congregations.

Earlier, President Alvi, through Egypt’s ambassador in Pakistan, had sought guidance from Al-Azhar institution, an authority on Islamic injunctions, for a word on the suspension of congregational prayers at mosques amid the spike in coronavirus cases.

The institution issued an edict on the matter yesterday, in which it stressed that public gatherings, including congregational prayers at mosques, could result in the spread of coronavirus and the governments of Muslim countries had full jurisdiction to cancel such events.

The fatwa also emphasised on amending the Azaan (call to prayer) with words ‘Salaat Fi Buyut-e-kum’, meaning ‘pray in your homes’ instead of the usual ‘Hayya Ala Al Salah’ (come to prayer). Also, families within their homes can arrange group prayers, it added.