Pakistani Imams: Ignore Islamist Prime Minister’s Coronavirus Restrictions

Iraqi Shiite pilgrims defy curfews and coronavirus
AFP/AHMAD AL-RUBAYE

Pakistani imams are reportedly urging worshippers to defy the Islamist government’s coronavirus lockdown and gather for communal prayers during Ramadan, an Islamic holy month starting April 24 in Pakistan.

On April 14, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan announced a two-week extension of a nationwide lockdown that began last month to slow the spread of coronavirus in the country.

As part of the lockdown measures, Khan had originally asked people to worship at home during Ramadan but has since caved to pressure from Islamic leaders who demanded the government exempt mosques from the lockdown restrictions during the holy month, the Times of India reported on Friday.

Last weekend, the government signed an agreement with imams allowing them to hold communal prayers in their mosques during Ramadan if they followed certain rules, such as ensuring worshippers maintain a six-foot distance from each other during prayers, bring their own prayer mats, and carry out ablutions — ritual cleansing with water — at home, Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported on Thursday.

Over the past few weeks, it became clear to the government that devout Muslims would gather at mosques during Ramadan “no matter what we do,” a resigned Khan admitted to journalists on Thursday during a coronavirus-relief telethon, according to Dawn.

“I know my nation. I knew people had to come out [to pray] during Ramadan,” Khan said, adding that it was now up to the Imams to enforce physical distancing among their congregants.

“It is now the responsibility of the ulema [Islamic leaders] who gave us guarantees [to ensure the precautions are observed],” Khan said.

In other instances in the country this month, radical Muslims violently resisted government attempts to restrict Friday prayers — the main time of worship in Islam, when Muslims are most likely to gather in large numbers — as part of the country’s lockdown to halt the spread of coronavirus.

On April 3 in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, a mob of Muslims chased and hurled stones at two police vehicles after the security authorities tried to enforce a lockdown, which called for a three-hour closure of mosques on Fridays, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Gandhara reported.

“Today when police reportedly tried to stop a Friday prayer congregation at a mosque forcibly in Karachi’s Liaquatabad, residents reacted violently,” Zia ur-Rehman, a Karachi-based journalist documented on Twitter, sharing video footage of the mob attacking police.

At press time on Friday, Pakistan had officially reported 11,155 infections and 237 deaths from the Chinese coronavirus. Health authorities believe the number of cases to be much higher than reported, citing a deficiency in testing due to a lack of materials and a reluctance to enforce the practice by federal authorities.

Last month, regional Pakistani officials criticized national authorities for their failure to test and quarantine thousands of Pakistani pilgrims who returned to the country across a land border with Iran, the majority of whom were devout Muslims visiting Iranian Islamic shrines.

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