Tens of thousands of Muslim faithful sparked an outcry in Bangladesh on Wednesday as they defied authorities to hold a mass public prayer gathering just as the South Asian nation reported its first death from the global pandemic.
Local police chief Tota Miah said some 10,000 hard-line Muslims gathered in an open field in Raipur town in southern Bangladesh to pray “healing verses” from the Koran to rid the country of the deadly virus.
Organisers claimed the number of worshippers was closer to 25,000 and acknowledged they did not get permission from authorities to hold the session.
“They held the Khatme Shifa prayers after dawn to free the country from the coronavirus,” Miah told AFP.
Authorities have already shut schools and asked locals to avoid large gatherings in an effort to halt the spread of the disease.
“Unbelievable how they even have done it without notifying the police? They will be held responsible if anything happens to the people in the region,” Abdur Rahman wrote on Facebook.
This is not the first time devout Muslims have defied authorities to continue their worship in crowded public places, many believing their faith makes them invincible in the face of the threat posed by the Chinese coronavirus pandemic.
Earlier this month online videos emerged showing the faithful licking and kissing shrines to show they have no fear of infection during the Islamic republic’s escalating coronavirus outbreak:
Touching and kissing surfaces in shrines is a common practice for Muslim pilgrims, and religious hardliners argue the holy sites of Qom are “a place for healing” that the government has no right to close down.
Iran’s shrines draw Shiites from all over the Mideast for pilgrimages, likely contributing to the spread of the virus across the region. Saudi Arabia earlier closed off Islam’s holiest sites over fear of the virus spreading.
President Hassan Rouhani said despite the closures, “our soul is closer to the saints more than at any time.”
In Indonesia, a mosque in the capital Jakarta is still planning to hold Friday mass prayers despite warnings from the government to end public gatherings.
A spokesman for the Istiqlal Mosque told local news agency Antara: “The mosque’s grand imam Nasaruddin Umar has instructed that the Friday mass prayer for this week will be held as usual following the Indonesian Ulama Council’s (MUI) decision.”
AFP contributed to this story