By Khaled Ahmed
May 2, 2020
On April 23, Prime Minister Imran Khan staged a four-hour “telethon” to collect funds for the coronavirus crisis and ended up netting nearly three billion rupees before asking his favourite cleric, Tariq Jameel, to pray. The mountebank priest first rejected the word “fight” against the coronavirus because it was “a curse of Allah” and needed repentance from a nation he thought was corrupt and lascivious. Khan and the nation took it as the old normal and bowed their head.
Unsurprisingly, the clergy in Pakistan has the upper hand and has defeated the doctors in deciding the state policy against COVID-19, which had struck 10,500 victims and had claimed 280 lives at the end of April. The doctors raised the alarm after Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) reached an “accord” with the “top” priests of the country to let people throng the mosques five times a day, plus special prayers during the month of Ramadan falling in the last week of April, depending on special moon-sighting by the same religious panjandrums.
Then, something funny happened. Another senior priest of Pakistan, Mufti Munib, got on to a roof in Karachi to sight the Ramadan moon but did not find it. There is an Islamic lunar calendar predicting accurately the rising moon every month but the priests would have none of it. When the moon was not sighted on Thursday, the mufti declared that the following day would not be the first day of fasting. Saudi Arabia, however, announced Ramadan and so did the rebellious mullah Popalzai of Peshawar, claiming he had seen the moon. Now, like many times in the past, Pakistan will get split over fasting and end up celebrating two Eids.
PM Khan was never for following the doctors — dozens of whom have fallen victim to the pandemic while treating victims — because he cared for the livelihood of the masses living below the poverty line. Then the mullahs pitched in, led by Mufti TaqiUsmani, who scares everyone because of his de facto authority inside Pakistan and among the Arabs. In this case, he defiantly overruled the Saudi monarchy that had decided to ban all congregation together with the other Gulf states.
The Khan government had decided to unrealistically allow the mosque administration to say a three-man namaz (sic). Usmani joined up with the state-appointed “moon-spotting” mullah Mufti Munib to declare that the government-allowed mosque Namaz was not acceptable and that people should throng to their local mosques as before. Then Khan decided to parley with the rebel clerics and ended up allowing the mosque prayers that would spread the pandemic like wildfire. Both sides agreed on an unrealistic recipe of keeping the devotees three feet apart while praying, which no one believes can be put in practice.
The doctors of Pakistan said in a letter that if the mosques were opened, the country’s medical service would not be able to treat the victims. They warned that “with mosques across the country being filled predominantly by people over the age of 50, the risk of the virus spreading is high”. They disclosed that in “the past 48 hours more than 80 per cent of the people” praying in mosques were in their 60s and 70s. “Clearly this has resulted in the violation of the first and foremost principle of preventing the spread of the virus in the most vulnerable group of elderly people”, stated the letter from the Pakistan Islamic Medical Association (PIMA).
One-third of Pakistan’s population lives below the poverty line, whose children end up in free-boarding madrassas. The madrassa’s worldview is focused mostly on jihad and the rejection of modern life. According to one report, there were 300 madrassas in Pakistan in 1947; today, there are more than 35,000. Poverty and a lack of normal education set the stage for religion as a psychological refuge of neglected populations.
Original Headline: In Pakistan, religious leaders, not doctors, are setting Covid policy
Source: The Indian Express