A risky concession

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While the country continues to pay a heavy price for not stopping the Tablighi Jamaat gathering at Raiwind, the federal government has taken another risky decision by allowing the clerics to hold the non-binding taraweeh prayers all over the country. It has thus deviated from the safer course adopted by countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Egypt and Jordan. Unless strictly monitored by local communities and government agencies, the 20 point agreement could result in coronavirus spreading to areas so far immune from it.

Not all the ulema and mashaikh who came to the Presidency wore masks, indicating their indifference to some of the precautionary measures adopted all over the world. A video clip released on Tuesday by 53 ulema opposed to restrictions on prayers showed them sitting in close proximity with no concern for social distancing. One of them insisted that in order to get rid of the virus, the best way was to increase the attendance in mosques. If prominent clerics are not convinced of the need for measures like social distancing and use of masks, there are reasons to be skeptical about the level of awareness of the common prayer leaders.

Some of the proposals in the 20-point paper require modifications in age-old social conventions and mores. It is common for people to bring food, fruits and drinks to mosques to jointly break the fast. In KP hugging combined with a hand shake is a social compulsion. Even in Punjab it would be considered odd in normal circumstances to abandon it on the Eid day. The common practice during congregational prayers is to stand shoulder to shoulder while some believe that the feet of those standing side by side must remain in touch. The customs have to be discontinued during the pandemic but local communities will first have to be persuaded to do so. In case the practices continue, the close social interaction for a whole month will spread the disease far and wide.

The government believes it suits it politically to keep the clerics on its side. In case things go out of hand, this would be bad for the country and bad for the PTI.