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March 16, 2020

Marriages in the time of corona

Karachi

March 16, 2020

Over 40 members of Nazeer Husain’s* family were in a train bound for Karachi from Multan on Friday night when the federal government announced a sudden ban on public gatherings, including wedding ceremonies in halls and banquets, in view of the coronavirus threat.

“We were stunned as soon as we got to know about the ban,” said Husain, who along with his family made it to Karachi on Saturday for his son’s marriage ceremony. “Ab Multan se aaye hain to dulhan to le kar jaayen gain [We’ve travelled all the way from Multan, so we’ll take the bride with us on our way back].”

The venue booked for the wedding was a hall in the Federal B Area. The wedding function was supposed to be held on Sunday night.

However, following the ban on public gatherings, the family rescheduled the wedding ceremony to Sunday afternoon. “We are holding the ceremony today [Sunday afternoon] at our home,” said Ishtiaq Ahmed*, the bride’s father.

Small home, big gathering

Ahmed lives in a humble neighbourhood of Karachi. Hundreds of guests who were supposed to make it to the wedding hall came to his small home.

“You can see,” Ahmed said in a video call, “it’s just a small house. And it’s full of guests. But we have got another arrangement.” Ahmed’s neighbours lent him their roof for holding the event. By late Sunday afternoon, guests were all over the place — on the roof, in Ahmed’s home, even standing in the street. However, when the food was served, the roof was crammed full of guests.

“Had the function been in a wedding hall, we could at least stand away from each other. You know it’s dangerous to be in close proximity these days,” Husain said with a sheepish smile flickering across his face.

It’s time we got serious

Dr Syed Adnan Khursheed, a physician by profession and also a religious scholar, lamented that “people are not realising the gravity of the situation”.

“We need to understand the relation between volume and density,” he stressed. “With more people present in a physical space, the chances of the virus spreading are even higher.”

Only a single droplet coming out of a coronavirus victim’s mouth or nose can spread the virus to others, he explained. “There are prophetic traditions, such as the ones about plague, which call for practising what is being now termed as social distancing in the wake of a virus outbreak.”

As per the teachings of Islam, a marriage ceremony should be a simple function in the first place so it doesn’t become an economic burden on people, especially on the bride and her family, he said. “At the time of this virus outbreak, we must follow what God has commanded us through his Prophet (peace be upon him).”

Dr Khursheed said the government has rightly announced a ban on public gatherings, and all sections of society should adhere to the instructions being issued by the government. “Of course there are social problems because of the sudden ban, but these restrictions are only in place to save our lives,” he pointed out.

“Both as a doctor by profession and a student of religion, it is my humble message to all citizens that they must take precautionary measures against the coronavirus threat. Instead of attending marriages in houses and potentially creating high chances of spreading the virus, they should try staying home as much as possible and practise social distancing, which is what Islam has ordered for us in a time like this.”

Dr Khursheed expressed regret that some people with big houses are renting out their lawns to people for holding wedding ceremonies. “This is the worst they can do right now.”

Five COVID-19 phases

For Dr Safiuddin Siddiqui, the CEO of an education network, the current scenario is a war-like situation. “I’d rather call it a global war, with the enemy likely to be present anywhere around us,” he said.

“People who are not refraining from holding public events are potentially causing harm to the whole nation,” he asserted. “The virus outbreak has an exponential growth. The number of victims can soar from hundreds to hundreds of thousands in no time.”

He explained that COVID-19 has a 27-day incubation period, contrary to some other viruses that have a three-day incubation period. “It means a person who has contracted the coronavirus may not show any symptoms for days but the victim can still infect people in close contact with them.”

Dr Siddiqui has also been educating people on social media about the precautionary measures they should adopt in view of the coronavirus threat. In one of his messages posted on Facebook, he explained the ‘COVID-19 phases for most societies’. According to him, the first phase is when epidemiologists freak out “while no one else listens”. In the second phase, health care professionals freak out “while no one else listens”.

In the third phase, empathetic people freak out “while no one else listens”. In the fourth phase, government officials freak out, and in the last phase, the virus spreads far and wide. “We have reached the fourth phase. It’s time we took strict precautionary measures before we, God forbid, make it to the last phase.”

To drive his point home so people can understand why they’re being asked to say inside their homes, Dr Siddiqui quoted the words of American politician Mike Leavitt, who also served as the health and human services secretary under former US president George W Bush: “Everything we do before a pandemic will seem alarmist. Everything we do after will seem inadequate.”

Dr Siddiqui requested the citizens to either postpone public gatherings, including wedding ceremonies, or rearrange the prescheduled events so there are only a handful of people present. It is worth noting here that a man and a woman can get married in the presence of a handful of people too.

*Names changed to protect privacy