Pakistan continues to face several challenges to deal with novel Coronavirus outbreak. Religious leaders with their myopic worldview and conservative understanding of the religion, and economic crisis are the main hindrance for Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government. In the present situation, the former is appearing to be more destructive and socially dangerous.
To counter unreason and religious orthodoxy, Egypt’s Al-Azhar has issued a fatwa on the request of President Dr Arif Alvi permitting suspension of Friday prayers to control the spread of deadly coronavirus across Pakistan.
“I am thankful to Grand Imam Shaikh of Al-Azhar and Supreme Council for responding to my personal request to provide guidance to us with regard to Farz Jamaat and Juma prayers in mosques during coronavirus attack,” the president said in a tweet on Wednesday.
I am thankful to Grand Imam Shaikh of Al Azhar & Supreme Council, for responding to my personal request to provide guidance to us with regard to Farz Jamaat & Juma prayers in mosques during #CoronaVirusPakistan attack. The details of Fatwa are below for our Ulema to take action. pic.twitter.com/T8TrestjgA
— The President of Pakistan (@PresOfPakistan) March 25, 2020
President Alvi through Egypt’s ambassador in Pakistan had sought guidance from Al-Azhar institution, an authority on Islamic injunctions, for a word on the suspension of congregational prayers at mosques amid spike in coronavirus cases.
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He also appealed to religious leaders in the country to urgently take action on the fatwa of Egypt’s Al-Azhar institution that termed it purely Islamic to cancel Friday prayers over coronavirus concerns.
I request Ulema to take urgent action to stop #CoronaVirus spread in Pakistan, based on principles of Islam from Quran & Sunnah.
Countries that have stopped congregational prayers: UAE, Saudia, Iran, Algeria, Tunisia, Jordan, Kuwait, Palestine, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt etc. https://t.co/dK4wV072P3
— Dr. Arif Alvi (@ArifAlvi) March 25, 2020
While contrary to what the government is planning to do, religious leaders after meeting Sindh Governor Imran Ismail at Governor House, spoke to media and urged the government to keep mosques open for regular prayers. They also supported the authorities if they wanted to restrict the number of people attending regular prayers at the facilities to maintain social distancing.
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They agreed that the Friday congregation should be vigilant and the duration of the prayers should be brief with sermons to focus only on guidance of the people in line with the teachings of Islam and medical sciences.
The fatwa stressed that public gatherings, including congregational prayers at mosques, could result in spread of coronavirus and the governments of Muslim countries had full jurisdiction to cancel such events.
It also emphasized amending Azaan (call to prayer) with words ‘Salaat Fi Buyut-e-Kum’, meaning ‘pray in your homes’ instead of the usual ‘come to prayer’. Also, families within their homes can arrange group prayers.
“Furthermore, the older people should remain at their homes and follow the stated medical guidelines as all evidence clearly show that public gatherings, including prayers, constitute a conducive environment for virus,” it said.
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The fatwa cites Abu Dawood narrating Ibn Abbas, who recounted that Holy Prophet (Peace be upon him) said that fear of sickness is an excuse for missing Juma payers. Moreover, Abd Al-Rahman Ibn Auf stated that the Prophet (PBUH) forbade those with unpleasant smell to avoid going to mosques in order to protect other faithful from disturbance.
Is religion misused in Pakistan?
Religion is considered a highly sensitive matter in Pakistan. The misuse of blasphemy laws in Pakistan has generated a debate whether religion should play any role in public sphere or not. Politicians and mainstream political parties are alleged for misusing religion to seek political support during elections.
Pakistan. Religion. Misuse of religion for power. Fanaticism. Religious goons. Dharna. Ahmedis.
My pain and thoughts on what is happening in Pakistan. https://t.co/m7Di08TjG0
— Mehr Tarar (@MehrTarar) November 30, 2017
Recently, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan’s spy agency, was tasked by the Supreme Court of Pakistan to prepare a report to identify as to who funded the sit-in of firebrand speaker Khadim Hussain Rizvi. It termed the sit-in of Khadim Rizvi politically motivated with an objective to achieve unstated political goals. Khadim Rizvi used the issue of amendment to the blasphemy law which helped him initiating a campaign against the sitting government.
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At least 1,472 people were charged under the law between 1987 and 2016, according to advocacy group the Centre for Social Justice. Some reports suggest about 40 other people convicted of blasphemy offenses are still on death row. No-one convicted of blasphemy has ever been legally executed in Pakistan, but at least 70 people, including governor Punjab, Salman Taseer, and Pakistan’s minorities minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, have been killed since 1990 in attacks by lynch mobs or vigilantes after being accused of it.
In #Pakistan, no one was safe when #religion became the tool to persecute and sentence writes @MehrTarar writes in the first of a multiple-part series on misuse of blasphemy law in Pakistan https://t.co/KVPqqPE2q1
— Gulf News (@gulf_news) November 29, 2019
In the instant case, religious clerics are not letting the government to pass necessary instructions to stop gatherings in mosques so that the spread of the virus can be stopped at the earliest. Religious affairs, argue religious scholars, cannot be suspended to counter an epidemic. Experts and analysts believe that the authorities must act in time and ensure that Pakistan does not surrender before the orthodox forces under the shadow of unreason. This demands, suggest analysts, political will and ideological clarity to defeat anti-science voices in Pakistan.