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Prayers during pandemic

One of the most difficult decision for the government during the ongoing coronavirus crisis is regarding the congregational prayers in mosques. An outright ban could spark a strong reaction among clerics and religious scholars in a rather conservative and deeply religious country.
The government handled the situation carefully to form a consensus among leading religious scholars who opposed a complete ban and vowed to keep the mosques open besides calling for safety measures and other necessary precautions. As the number of cases kept rising, the government attempted to restrain large congregations for Friday prayers while clerics continued to argue over the move.
Many Muslim countries including Saudi Arabia, UAE and hard-hit Iran have banned all forms of prayers at mosques and other places of worship. There are even doubts whether the Hajj would be held this year as millions of people gather for the annual pilgrimage. Countries including Pakistan have been prevented from signing Hajj forms for this year.
The Al-Azhar University in Cairo, the most esteemed school of Islamic learning, had even issued a fatwa that congregations prayers can be suspended during the pandemic. President Arif Alvi had sought direction from the supreme council of the university to issue guidelines over precautionary measures while performing religious obligations. The Grand Imam at Al-Azhar issued an edict that it was permissible to ban Friday and all congregational prayers amid the current health crisis.
The Sindh government took the bold decision to ban all congregational prayers despite the teetering by the federal government and the reaction from the clergy. Despite the lockdown, many people were seen outside mosques creating a standoff with police to allow them inside. All safety precautions and social distancing measures were negated to fulfill religious obligations without realising the threat to other’s lives and health.
The advice from the government and institutes of higher learning should be heeded to as these are not unusual times. There is no understanding of asymptotic carriers who may not show symptoms and still carry the risk of spreading the disease. The only way to prevent the spread of the coronavirus it to stay at home or in self-isolation.
Islam is a flexible religion that allows us to continue our business, social, and family responsibilities while also conducting religious obligations. People who are sick, old and feeble are allowed to pray at home. It is imperative that we take this advice seriously as our lives and those of our countrymen depend on it.
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