Recalcitrant Clergy Obstructing Containment of COVID-19


Imdad Hussain

In the wake of pandemic outbreak, government of Pakistan like other countries has banned any sort of congregations. On the contrary our religious scholars are exhibiting a rigid behavior in this crucial time. All the religions across the globe including Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity have postponed all religious ceremonies. The United Christian Churches of South Korea, which mainly comprises of Protestants, delayed Easter parade scheduled on April 12, for two months. Similarly, South-East Asian Buddhist community announced delaying of Buddha’s birthday celebration. The association announced, “The ritual to celebrate Buddha’s birthday, which was to be held on April 30th, will be put off to May 30. Other festivals faced a similar fate owing to the spread of the contagious disease. This type of situation has emerged for the first time in the history of south Asia. Banning of these rituals, as precautionary measures, are need of the hour to contain the menace of Coronavirus. Muslims across the globe have agreed to stop religious gatherings to follow the suit. However, Pakistan is behaving like a queer fish despite a fatwa being pronounced regarding suspension of Friday prayers in the country, by chief clergy of Al-Azhar University. The request was made by Arif Alvi, the president of Pakistan.

It has been clearly mentioned in the fatwa that congregational prayers could result in spread of Coronavirus. Thereby, such public gatherings should be avoided to prevent further spread of the disease. Surprisingly, despite the warning a leading galaxy of clerics allegedly issued an injunction saying that the Jumma prayers and other prayers would continue as normal. In another press conference made by cleric from all sects stated that prayers cannot be halted amidst fears of coronavirus. It is to be noted that the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), a constitutional body of Pakistan to give legal advice on Islamic issues, earlier in a statement called upon people to remain indoors and requested people to abide by the government directives. Earlier, the Pakistan Ulema Council (PUC) in a joint fatwa asked the people to postpone religious gatherings with immediate effect. The defiance of government orders showed by religious clerics is out of question. Instead of guiding people to limit physical contact and exercise social distancing in this critical time, religious leaders are provoking citizens to attend religious gatherings. This could be dangerous and may help exponential growth of the pandemic. AlreadyCOVID-19 cases witnessed a sharp surge; so far more than 1000 people have been infected from the virus. It is feared that the trajectory would grow in coming weeks. This is an alarming situation and restrain and caution can be employed to curb this menace.

The collective statements made by religious figures may wreak havoc on the society. There are many instances which clearly manifest that the contagion has been transmitted among many due to the congregations. As a substantial majority of cases so far recorded in the country can be traced to Pakistanis returning from pilgrimage to Iran- the rate of infection among them was exacerbated by the squalid conditions in which many were quarantined in Taftan. Then there was the first COVID-19 fatality in Pakistan, an individual was having symptoms of the disease upon his return from Saudi Arabia after performing ummrah. Subsequently, a feast party arranged by him in his village in KP reportedly infected 40 of the 46 attendees. Consequently, government had to quarantine the whole village. Another example is that at least dozens of Tableeghi Jammat members were found to be infected after attending the annual conference in Raiwand. Entire villages are, now, being quarantined in Punjab after discovering transmission of the disease among people.These are the eye-opening cases that should be taken into consideration by theauthorities concerned and the clergy. It is evident from the above incidents that congregational prayers or events can multiply the cases. It would not be wrong to say that such happenings could bring the country on its knees.

Apart from rapid spread, the death toll may rise by leaps and bounds. We could become next Italy. Islam teaches us caution and perseverance in bad times but Muslims by employing it otherwise are, actually, bringing a bad name for Islam. Unfortunately, enormity of the disaster is underestimated. The already dilapidated health system can collapse any time owing to the high influx of infected patients of COVID-19. To deal with the infected requires ventilators, testing kits and space to set up quarantines. Sadly, we are short of the essentials. According to a rough estimate made by media , Pakistan has only 700 ventilators. While the number of patients tested positive is 1200 (as of today). The rise in number is not going to stop very soon. Medical experts are suggesting that the virus is spreading its wings and only precautionary measures can clip its wing and thus contain the plague.At this critical juncture instead of complying with the government orders our religious leaders are bent up on to make the government fail. The sheer ignorance on part of clerics can plunge the country into a disaster.We should learn from Saudi Arabia and Iran who have closed the Holy places amidst fears of compounding cases of COVID-19.
It is high time that both the government and religious leaders should come on a single page. The former should convince them about the fatality of the Virus. The latter should revisit their fatwas and save many lives from being wiped out.

The writer has earned a degree in Business administration, international relations and is currently doing LLB. The writer can be reached at [email protected]