- Allowing COVID-19 to spread all over the country
The coronavirus is spreading all over the world like wildfire. Within weeks, the number of those infected in the Middle East, Europe and the USA has skyrocketed. Important Muslim countries that include Turkey, Iran, UAE and Saudi Arabia have taken strict and highly unusual measures to restrict the spread of the disease, foremost being putting restraints on religious gatherings that include prayers in mosques to stop these from turning into hatcheries of the virus. Since Friday March 20, Saudi Arabia has suspended the holding of daily prayers and the weekly Friday prayers inside mosques, including the Masjid-al-Haram in Mecca and the Masjid an-Nabvi in Medina. Turkey too has restricted prayers inside mosques, including the historic Blue Mosque in Istanbul. The doors of Masjid-Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem are also closed for payers. Iran has shut down Mashhad’s Imam Reza shrine and Qom’s Fatima Masumeh shrine among others.
Disregarding the consensus in the Muslim world over the issue, the PTI government continues to shirk taking a clear and firm decision on the issue. While the Sindh government has restricted all religious gatherings for the time being with Balochistan following suit, the Federal Minister for Religious Affairs has declared that mosques will remain open across the country. He only expressed a desire for the number of people praying to be minimum, as a precautionary measure.
The government is conducting a campaign persuading the people to stay at home and when forced to go out, to keep at least a two-metre distance from one another. Under the circumstances it should have simultaneously taken a firm decision regarding the religious gatherings also. Collective prayers without social distancing, particularly the large Juma congregations, create an opportunity for physical contact between hundreds of thousands of people all over the country leading to multiplication of coronavirus patients. It was also necessary to stop the Tablighi Jamaat gatherings and Tablighi groups travelling to different locations in the country. The government had closed down educational institutions all over the country. To stem the tide of the pandemic it should have at the same time taken a similar decision regarding collective prayers inside the mosques as well as regarding the Tablighi gatherings. The PTI government’s policy is characterized by hesitation and double talk.