PESHAWAR: Clerics and worshippers threw caution to the wind by attending Friday congregations in many districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa despite restrictions on mosque attendance.

The reports gathered from more than 15 districts of the province suggested that the clerics held major congregations despite the government’s explicit orders for limiting prayers to less than five persons and imposition of Section 144 of CrPC, which prohibited the assembly of five or more people.

The relief, rehabilitation and settlement department had issued a notification on March 31 restricting congregations in mosques to five or less people for an indefinite period.

However, sources told Dawn that besides the relief department’s directions, the district administrations all over the province had also banned the gathering of five persons or more.

“Since Section 144 does not clearly spell out the prayers time, Friday congregations took place in many places,” said an official requesting anonymity.

Large mosque attendance witnessed in many districts

The official said the provincial capital witnessed a mixed response to the Friday congregation restrictions as a large number of mosques limited attendance, while only small gatherings of 40 to 50 people were reported in some areas.

The official said in most of those mosques, worshippers offered ‘farz’ prayer only.

He said people in cities mostly followed restrictions but large congregations took place in tribal and some other districts.

Sources said mosques in Khyber district’s Ashiqkhel and Zargarano areas held Friday congregations attended by up to 250 people each.

In Abbottabad, large Friday gatherings were seen in Ghari Panna, Nawanshahar, Ilyasi Masjid, Qalandarabad and Jinnahabad mosques.

More than 400 worshippers showed up in Ilyasi Masjid.

In Haripur district, the Mohammad Din Malakyar, Sherwaala Gate and Madni Ada Darabnad mosques held large congregations. Around 250 people offered Friday prayers at the Madani Ada Daraband Masjid.

From 700 to 800 people attended congregation at Markazi Jamia Masjid in Mansehra district.

In Torghar district’s mosques, Friday worshippers totalled 70-80, while Battgram’s main mosque saw a gathering of around 200 people.

Mosques in Malakand district attracted crowds of around 50 worshippers and Lower Dir district’s around 150.

Smaller Friday congregations were reported in Buner and Hangu districts.

Around 2,500 worshippers turned up in the Masjid Jaffar Khan of Bannu district and around 250 in the Mal Mandi Masjid.

Things were no different in North Waziristan tribal district.

Around 1,200 people offered Friday prayers in Jamia Masjid of Mir Ali, around 200 in Jamia Masjid Akhondzada Faqir Shewa and around 350 in Jamia Masjid Tandi Shiwa.

In most mosques of Kohat district, around 200 worshippers showed up for Friday prayers, while the mosque attendance of 350 people was seen in Karak district’s mosques.

In many places, including the provincial capital, announcements were made from mosques asking people to offer Friday prayers at home in line with the government’s directions.

A government official told Dawn that district administrations tried their best to restrict mosque attendance by engaging clerics and deploying police.

He said the congregation restrictions were more or less followed in most part of the province, while mosques in tribal districts saw large gatherings of worshippers.

Meanwhile, almost all major mosques remained closed for Friday congregations in all three subdivisions of Khyber tribal district after the district administration held successful negotiations with local clerics and prayer leaders.

The administration deployed police outside major mosques. However no untoward incident was reported as majority of the faithful followed the mosque attendance restrictions.

Meanwhile, mosques in Chitral city wore a deserted look as few people attended Friday congregations due to the coronavirus lockdown.

Published in Dawn, April 4th, 2020