Govt accepts most demands of clerics

April 19, 2020

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President Arif Alvi addressing the media in Islamabad. — DawnNewsTV
President Arif Alvi addressing the media in Islamabad. — DawnNewsTV

ISLAMABAD: President Dr Arif Alvi on Saturday announced that neither the state machinery nor clerics would stop citizens from visiting mosques as almost all demands of clerics related to holding of Friday, Tara­weeh and daily congregational prayers were acc­epted with the condition of social distancing and other precautionary measures.

To avoid overcrowding at mosques, it was decided that people would be enco­uraged to observe “aitekaf” at home while sehri and iftar would not be arranged at mosques.

The decisions were taken at a national-level conference, which was attended by clerics belonging to Barelvi, Deobandi, Shia and Ahle Hadith sects as well as chief secretaries of the four provinces, Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltis­tan through video link.

The conference was called at Aiwan-i-Sadr to build consensus and devise a plan for congregational prayers and Taraweeh during Ramazan amid tensions between the government and clerics over the ban on public gatherings to contain spread of the coronavirus.

The ulema and the state agreed upon a 20-point action plan at the conference.

The clerics accepted to implement the precautionary measures in mosques to stop local transmission of coronavirus but declined to take any responsibility related to the enforcement of measures.

20-point plan approved for Covid-19 precautionary measures in Ramazan

The two main concerns that the ulema shared with Minister for Religious Affairs Pir Noorul Haq Qadri were about closure of mosques and a major shift of donations, including zakat, from religious seminaries and mosques towards philanthropy, a cleric who attended the conference told Dawn.

The minister assured the clerics that the government had no plan to scale down religious institutions and that their concerns would be addressed.

While addressing a pre­sser after the conference, Pre­sident Alvi said: “Nobody wants to lock down the mosques, not a single person or any provincial gov­ernment talked about lockdown of mosques or not holding Taraweeh prayers, therefore it is inessential debate.”

He announced that donations, including alms, “khairaat, sadqaat and zakat”, was the right of mosques and seminaries. He said: “I appeal to the people not to reduce their funding to these Islamic institutions in Ramazan.”

The president said that following the precautionary measure was the responsibility of each individual and as self-discipline was “part of our faith”, it should not be forced upon the masses. “When the government and scholars agree with consensus on something, such as preventive measures for congregational prayers during Ramazan, it becomes imperative for people to follow them. These decisions have been made after unanimous consensus — ijma — between government and religious scholars and not following them will be equivalent to sinning,” he declared.

According to the 20-point unanimous declaration, all carpets in mosques and Imambargahs will be removed and people will be encouraged to bring their own prayer mats, social distancing will be observed and people will be advised to refrain from talking and discussions in mosques.

Mosques that have compounds will hold prayers in the open air rather than inside the building. Elderly and sick people will not come to mosques, Taraweeh preparations will be made only in mosque premises and not on roads, while people will be encouraged to offer Taraweeh at home.

Mosque floors will be washed with chlorine disinfectants and the prayer mats will also be disinfected with chlorine mixture. Congregational rows will be formed by maintaining a distance of six feet between each worshipper. The mosque committees will ensure that preventive steps are followed. Ablution should be performed at home, and wearing of masks inside mosques would be necessary, no handshakes or hugs allowed, worshippers will refrain from touching their faces.

Similarly, people will be encouraged to offer “aitekaf” at home, and there will not be any sehri and iftar in mosques to avoid overcrowding. The mosque administration will cooperate with local police and administration in this regard.

Meanwhile, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman in the Geo TV show Jirga, declared that he would be saying his prayers and Taraweeh at home during this Ramazan.

According to the last point of the plan, the “government could review and change any part of its policy on mosques during Ramazan if it felt these measures were not being followed or the rise in cases was exponential”.

Earlier, the minister for religious affairs said all traditions related to mosques and Imambargahs would be followed during Ramazan as per the demand of clerics.

“The prime minister has advised all the provincial governments and the district administrations to refrain from any action that may lower the stature of ulema, or use of force as it creates a bad image of the country,” he said.

Sources in the religious ministry said another demand of the religious leaders was to withdraw cases filed against the clerics for not following the precautionary measures. “This request was forwarded to Interior Minister Brigadier (r) Ijaz Shah, and he has agreed to work over it positively,” the sources added.

The meeting with ulema was also attended by Special Assistant to the PM on health Dr Zafar Mirza.

Published in Dawn, April 19th, 2020