ISLAMABAD: Religious Affairs Minister Pir Noor-ul-Haq Qadri has expressed dismay over the attitude of clerics for not following social distancing in mosques in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and warned that religious elements would get all the blame in case of failure in this regard.
The minister also expressed his displeasure over the announcement by Mufti Shahabuddin Popalzai of Qasim Ali Khan Mosque, Peshawar, of commencement of Ramazan a day ahead of official declaration.
Talking to the media after the inauguration of free meals at Pakistan Sweet Home here on Friday, Pir Qadri said if somebody had a solution it should be put forward so that the entire nation could observe one Eid. But when reminded that it was a responsibility of the government, he said: “I can only pray that we see this wish come true in our lifetime.”
In reply to a question about violation of social distancing in mosques, the minister said the government had relaxed its earlier directive of presence of a maximum of five persons during congregational prayers inside mosques.
Islamabad administration, police stop outsiders from entering Lal Masjid
“The government has taken a difficult and risky decision that we will not stop people from going to mosques for congregational prayers. Though there are conditions and procedures for collective prayers, now the responsibility lies on ulema to implement the agreement on 20-point standard operating procedures (SOPs),” he added.
Mr Qadri said ulema had to play a proactive role in implementing the SOPs related to routine prayers, Friday congregation and Taraweeh. “Nobody wants to close down mosques, but it will have to be done if there is a reason, and the clerics have to take certain responsibility, too,” he said, referring to the last point of the agreement reached with the clerics. It states that the government can review and change any part of its policy on mosques during Ramazan if these measures [20-point SOPs] are not being followed or the rise in (Covid-19) cases is exponential.
After several weeks of warnings, the government finally decided to stop all outsiders from going to Lal Masjid for payers on Friday.
The Islamabad police and ICT administration erected tent walls around Lal Masjid in the morning and did not allow anybody to enter the mosque.
A large number of female students belonging to Jamia Hafsa were called a day earlier to stay at the mosque to counter any police action.
Maulana Abdul Aziz, the renegade cleric, had been openly challenging the precautionary directives and denounced the government’s advice for social distancing. The Maulana not only invited his followers to the mosque for a big congregation, but also shared footage of him mixing with the participants in defiance of the advice for social distancing.
Several cases have been filed against him for violating Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code and against his bodyguards for displaying weapons during the past four weeks.
Meanwhile, the Pakistan Ulema Council (PUC) and Darul Afta Pakistan appealed to people to follow preventive measures of social distancing during Taraweeh.
“While we have to take the medical advice seriously and avoid going to the mosques as much as possible, but it is preferred to observe Taraweeh at home,” PUC chairman Hafiz Tahir Ashrafi said after a meeting of the council.
He said such measures were in accordance with Sharia and had been taken in Makkah and Madina, too, adding that those resisting such precautions were in self-deception.
Allama Raja Nasir Abbas, central secretary general of Majlis Wahdatul Muslimeen Pakistan, said in a statement that protecting the country and nation and getting rid of the epidemic were a religious responsibility. He said people should not take any emotional decision and medically advised precautionary measures had to be observed during prayers and other religious events and processions.
Published in Dawn, April 25th, 2020