THE issue of the temporary closure of mosques and other places of worship to prevent mass gatherings during the lockdown is a sensitive one. By and large, the response from the public in Karachi and the rest of Sindh has been positive. However, there have been a few ugly incidents, including one last Friday when a mob chased law enforcers in the metropolis’s Liaquatabad area for trying to enforce the ban. Another unfortunate incident occurred in Orangi Town this Friday, when a mob attacked a police team that was trying to enforce the ban on Juma congregations. According to reports, the crowd pelted the police party with stones, injuring a number of personnel; a woman SHO, who courageously stood her ground, was among the injured. The mob attack illustrates the perils that law enforcers face while trying to do their duty and keep the peace in such volatile times.

The fact is that across the Muslim world, senior clerics of all schools of thought have endorsed the temporary suspension of religious gatherings in order to save lives during the deadly Covid-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, some overzealous elements in this country are bent upon resisting both sage advice, and precautions highlighted by health professionals. On the one hand, Masjid al-Haram and Masjid al-Nabavi in Makkah and Madina have largely been put off limits to worshippers, while religious authorities in Iran and Egypt have said mass gatherings during the month of Ramazan will not be organised. However, in Pakistan, some clerics appear to feel that they have a better understanding of religion than many leading lights of the Islamic world, and can chart their own course. To prevent such ugly incidents from happening again, senior clergymen from all sects must guide their respective flocks to heed the state’s guidelines regarding social distancing and temporary suspension of mass worship. Moreover, senior figures at the neighbourhood level must be engaged by local authorities to ensure that the law is respected for the sake of the public’s health.

Published in Dawn, April 12th, 2020

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