The force of tradition seemed to have stopped the government from ordering a complete shutdown of mosques.
For Haider Ali, 34, the best way to pray is with a congregation and the best place to pray is the mosque. “It is high time for me, and other Muslims, to turn to God, to pray for a relief from this pandemic, the Covid-19” he says while downing the shutter of his shop in a busy area in the capital city.
Ali is among tens of tens of thousands of people in the country who openly violate government-prescribed standard operating procedures (SOPs) to curb the spread of coronavirus.
During this Ramazan, like during the one last year, people preferred their habitual ways of worship over state directions. Some citizens seemed to not care much for the SOPs set in place by the government. “It is almost impossible for us to stop going to the mosque in this holy month which is all about rewards from God” Mushtaq Ahmed, another resident of Islamabad says.
The force of tradition seems to have stopped the government from ordering a complete shutdown of mosques. Elaborate SOPs have been designed to make the gatherings safe. However, when it came to enforcing these SOPs both the authorities and community leaders were found lacking. The SOPs required keeping a certain distance between people. However, there have been reports of mosque administrations flouting these SOPs as well as of law enforcement agencies failing to enforce regulations.
Major mosques in most cities are full of people on the last Friday of Ramazan. The SOPs were clearly violated in many.
Rather than strict enforcement, the government’s strategy has been to spread the message through religious leaders and the media. President Dr Arif Alvi held a meeting with religious scholars and urged them to do their part to ensure the implementation of coronavirus guidelines in mosques and imambargahs during Ramazan. He urged that people above 65 years of age should pray at home instead of going to mosques. However, this was not the case on ground.
Throughout the month religious gatherings and congregations were held without any hesitation and without faithfully following the biosafety SOPs.
Throughout the month, religious gatherings and congregations were held without any hesitation and without fully following the SOPs. In the last days of the month many observed the rites associated with the martyrdom of Hazrat Ali (with whom Allah was pleased) and took out processions all over the country. Majlis-i-Wahdat-ul-Muslimeen (MWM), one of the leading Shia-religio-political groups, announced that it would take out processions while following the SOPs set in place by government officials.
This year the government banned processions due to the third wave of the Covid-19. “We will follow guidelines but nobody can stop us from observing this day our way,” MWM leader Nasir Abbas said. He said that Shia religious authorities had already issued the guidelines, which would be followed, adding that the government had also conditionally agreed to allow religious congregations.
“It is very difficult to convince people to restrict their religious practices in a society like ours which is full of religiosity. It is very challenging for a country and the government that uses religion as a political tool,” says Saramd Ali,” a businessman, adding, “Especially, when many people do not believe there is a virus or disease.”
The Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) has been urging the government not to show leniency in this regard and to enforce the ban on mass gatherings at mosques and other public places. The PMA says these restrictions should not be lifted till the vaccine ation has been administered to 70 prercent of the population.
“Hasty decisions could take us towards a resurgence in the number of cases that could increase the risk of the third wave of coronavirus in Pakistan,” said Dr SM Qaisar Sajjad, secretary general of the PMA (Centre), in a statement. According to some experts, allowing big gatherings, including those at mosques, was very dangerous. Unfortunately, neither federal nor the provincial governments, paid any attention to this.
The author is a staff reporter. He can be reached at [email protected]