The city mosques continue to hold taraweeh prayers, without much care for the 20-point agreement reached with the government on Covid-related SOPs
The recent surge in Covid-19 cases in the provincial metropolis has failed to suppress the public craving for outdoor activity and gatherings. Even in the mosques, where one would expect the people to exercise greater discipline and respect the government’s call to follow the SOPs in its fight against one of the deadliest pandemics the world has ever seen, violations are routinely reported at iftar and taraweeh times.
The local administration as well as the police have cautioned the khateebs and imams against violations of the SOPs, but there is little or no compliance, apparently because no follow-up checks are conducted by the authorities.
The police claim to be busy with the marketplaces, Ramazan Bazaars, and on city roads, all of which is in addition to routine patrolling and dealing with routine crimes. In this scenario, it is impossible to keep a watch over each and every public place, least of all the mosques, they say.
The police also say that the faithful who flout the SOPs tend to take offence in the name of religion, if they are stopped.
It is pertinent to mention here that the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony has allowed the mosques to remain open across Pakistan for taraweeh prayers throughout the month of Ramazan, albeit with certain conditions/SOPs. In his statement issued ahead of Ramazan, Minister for Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony Noorul Haq Qadri had said that like last year, mosques would remain open and prayers would take place in the light of the 20-point agreement reached with the authorities.
Under the agreement, the mosques are barred from carpeting their floors. However, the namazis can bring rugs or prayer mats from home for their personal use. Secondly, no gatherings after namaz and/or taraweeh are permitted. If a mosque has an open area/garden, it is preferable to conduct the prayers there. People over 50 years of age, and children are not allowed in mosques. Taraweeh should not be conducted on the roads/footpaths or anywhere outside of the mosque premises. The floors of the mosques and imambargahs must be disinfected with chlorinated water regularly. A distance of six feet must be maintained during congregational prayers. Marks should be made on the floors of mosques and imambargahs to guide people about the distance they must keep from one another. They must wear facemasks and avoid handshakes and hugs.
Taraweeh should not be conducted on the roads/footpaths or anywhere outside of the mosque premises. The floors of the mosques and imambargahs must be disinfected with chlorinated water regularly. A distance of six feet must be maintained during congregational prayers.
The people are also supposed to perform ablutions at their homes. Aetikaaf must also be observed at home.
The mosque administrations are expected to form committees to ensure compliance. They should remain in constant touch with the provincial government. If the government feels that the situation with the pandemic is getting out of control, it can review the decisions.
visit to mosques in different parts of the city reveals that the ones located centrally in posh areas exhibit greater compliance of the abovementioned SOPs, perhaps for fear of surveillance by district administration and police. The mosques in congested neighbourhoods and remote areas, on the other hand, remain largely indifferent. People are routinely seen greeting one another with a handshake or a hug, and performing ablutions in the mosques.
It is pertinent to mention here that at some places, people have reserved marriage halls for holding taraweeh. At other places, people have made arrangements for taraweeh at their homes — their friends and relatives as well as neighbours are welcome to join in the prayers.
“The venue for taraweeh in our neighbourhood changes every day,” says Shakeel Ahmed, a resident of Gulshan-i-Ravi. He says that the police “don’t allow more than a certain number of people to enter the mosque, so we came up with our own plans.”
Faisal Sheikh, a resident of the Walled City, says that the locals “look at Ramazan as a social occasion. We invite one another to iftars and sehris, the mosques hold taraweeh congregations, and late at night the youth play cricket in the streets; the game goes on till sehri.
“We can’t change our traditions for of the fear of a pandemic,” he says categorically.
On the other hand, Chaudhry Mazhar, the spokesperson of DIG (Operations) Lahore, says that around 5,000 policemen are performing their duties at city mosques and imambargahs. “So far, no violations [of SOPs] have been reported,” he claims. “Before Ramazan, the government had a dialogue with the ulema belonging to various sects of Islam. Together they drew up a 20-point agreement with respect to the Covid-19 SOPs which are firmly in place.”
The writer is a city reporter at The News