THERE appears to be some apprehension over a possible clash between the state and clerics regarding the issue of congregational prayers in mosques in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Earlier this week, at a press conference in Karachi, some of the leading scholars from the Deobandi, Barelvi and Ahle Hadith schools of thought had announced they were ready to resume daily and Friday prayers in mosques.

However, considering that such an edict would allow for mass gatherings in mosques to resume in these perilous times, the state swung into action, with the federal religious affairs minister contacting some of the clerics involved in making the announcement, in the hope of convincing them to rethink their plan.

The efforts seem to have paid off for now at least as Mufti Muneeb-ur-Rehman, who was at the Karachi presser, said on Thursday that a “road map” on congregational prayers would be discussed with other clerics. It is hoped other senior ulema take a cue from Mufti Muneeb’s welcome change in stance.

Indeed, freedom of worship is a constitutional and human right.

But at a time when a highly contagious pandemic is ravaging the planet, freedoms need to be exercised with some caution.

Considering the fact that the faithful would be in close contact with each other inside mosques, the state made the right decision to temporarily suspend congregational prayers.

This should not be seen as an affront to religion; rather, it is an attempt to save the lives of the general public.

After all, the Tableeghi Jamaat went ahead with its ijtema in Raiwind despite government advice against holding the gathering.

The result has been that hundreds of suspected or confirmed coronavirus cases have been linked to the religious outfit.

Other Muslim states, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey among them, have also suspended congregational prayers, including Juma prayers, so clerics in Pakistan have no justification to flout the ban.

To prevent the outbreak in this country from getting worse, clerics need to work with the state.

Published in Dawn, April 17th, 2020

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