The Sindh home department has issued standard operating procedures (SoPs) for Muharram ul Haram. The notification reads, “Pursuant to the guidelines issued by the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC), the Government of Pakistan, vide a letter dated August 2, 2021, and in continuation of the orders issued by the home department, government of Sindh, to contain the disease spread in the province of Sindh, the following are the guidelines for safe conduct of processions and Majlis during Muharramul Haram 2021 for adoption and implementation by the public, organisers and all concerned on the occasion.”
The observance of Muharram is an important component of faith, particularly for the Shia community. The rituals start on Muharram 1 and last till Rabiul Awwal 8.
The processions and Majalis mostly start on Muharram 6, while 9th and 10th of Muharram witness peak activity. Multiple events continue thereafter as well “although at a reduced scale till the Chehlum when activity picks up again briefly”, says the notification.
“Amid the prevalence of Indian Delta Variant, the disease is on upward trajectory all across the country with a significant rise in Karachi; hence, adherence to SOPs during the forthcoming Muharram assumes greater importance to contain the potential spread. To address the issue, a special session on engagement with key Shia Ulema, chaired by Federal Minister for Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony, was held at the NCOC on July 29, 2021.”
The guidelines were formulated based on valued input from the Ulema. They called for an emphasis on adherence to Covid SOPs during majalis and processions (wearing of masks and availability and use of sanitizers);
mandatory vaccination (administration of at least one dose is mandatory) of Zakirs for conducting majalis; reducing and minimizing the participation strength (disallowing children, elderly and other vulnerable groups); focus on licensed and traditional processions and majalis only; incorporation of state TV and media houses for live broadcasting of renowned Zakireen to persuade maximum people to stay home; and establishment of special vaccination camps with effect from 1st Muharram for on-spot vaccination of individuals attending majalis and processions. specific guidelines for conduct of majalis.
The venue for majalis should be open and spacious with proper ventilation arrangements, and social distancing is mandatory. Administrations should ensure markings similar to those practised in mosques, thermal screening of all individuals at entrance, wearing of masks, availability of masks and sanitizers and handwashing arrangements at entrance. Health desks should be established to help segregate symptomatic individuals, and those with signs of cough, flu and fever must not be permitted to enter. The capacity of the venues should be ascertained according to social distancing protocols and the number of participants exceeding the established capacity may not be permitted.
Majalis where SOPs cannot be effectively implemented such as homes and private gatherings should be discouraged. Lengthy majalis should be avoided, and the timings must be strictly adhered to.
Traditional processions with permission should be allowed only, while adhering to proper Covid protocols. Efforts may be made to reduce the number of processions.
The focus should be on essential rituals only, and prolonged activities and extended procession durations should be avoided. The use of masks is mandatory for Azadars, as is maintaining social distance during processions through innovative means. The number of participants and Azadars should be kept reasonable and procession timings should be curtailed. Compliance with SOPs should be ensured by employing volunteer scouts.
Arrangements for Nazro/Niaz in spacious and ventilated places should be ensured, and emphasis should be given to the use of disposable utensils, and prepackaged boxes for distribution of food.
Some of the aspects meriting necessary actions at federal and federating units’ level include the following: mapping of all Imambargahs with their capacities by district and provincial administrations in line with Covid protocols for smooth management; messaging by religious clerics for uniform implementation of SOPs and guidelines; a media campaign for awareness of the masses about safe Ashura; traditional security arrangements to guard against terrorist activities leading to unrest; strict enforcement of SOPs by the civil and district Administrations and LEAs; monitoring firebrand speakers and Zakirs and restricting their movement if required.
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