KARACHI: Prominent ulema and religious leaders have demanded the federal government to lift restrictions on congregational prayers at mosques in the country, saying prayers are essential for Muslims and should be allowed as long as safety measures are observed.
Tuesday’s call in a joint statement by clerics and leaders of religious parties comes as nationwide tally of COVID-19 patients has surged past 5,800 with over 100 deaths.
Their demand came despite Prime Minister Imran Khan said that he would meet religious scholars to discuss the restrictions on congregational prayers which were enforced last month and imposed a limit of five people gathering together.
“Restriction of three or five people at mosques is not proving practical, those who are sick, elderly should not come to mosques,” Mufti Taqi Usmani, one of the top clerics in Pakistan, told a media briefing in Karachi.
The congregation restriction has provoked a backlash in the country, with attacks on police for a second straight week last Friday as they attempted to halt prayers at a mosque in Karachi.
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A policewoman was injured and in the earlier clashes police fired shots in the air to disperse demonstrators.
PM Imran announced a 14-day extension of a national lockdown on Tuesday, but said the government would make selective exemptions for certain industries to curtail rising unemployment.
Health experts have warned that congregations pose the biggest threat to the country’s limited healthcare resources and infrastructure, which will crumble under the weight of a wide-spread outbreak of the coronavirus.
Mufti Usmani told the news briefing that carpets should be removed from mosques and floors should be wiped with disinfectants, sanitisers should be placed at the entrance of the mosques, and that people should maintain distance while offering prayer.
The clerics issued their statement despite an assurance from the prime minister that he would meet with religious scholars to work out a collective strategy for congregations with the advent of the holy month of Ramazan, when mosque attendance usually spikes.
“Now, the lockdown will not be applicable on mosques, Friday and Ramazan prayers will be held at mosques,” said Chairman Ruet-e-Hilal Committee Mufti Muneebur Rehman in a joint presser on Tuesday.
Ramazan involves extra nighttime prayers called Traweeh for faithfuls.