Coronavirus: Pakistan clerics demand lifting restrictions on group prayers at mosques

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Prominent clerics are demanding the lifting of restrictions on congregational prayers at mosques in Pakistan, which has recorded 5,837 coronavirus cases and 96 related deaths.

The call from earlier this week, in a joint statement by clerics and leaders of religious parties in the world's second largest Muslim country, said prayers were essential for Muslims and should be allowed as long as safety measures were observed.

Read the latest updates in our dedicated coronavirus section.

Their demand came despite Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan saying he would meet religious scholars to discuss the restrictions on congregational prayers which were imposed 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.

Read more: Ramadan taraweeh, Eid prayers to be held at home, Saudi Grand Mufti says

Khan announced a 14-day extension of a national lockdown on Tuesday, but said the government would make selective exemptions for essential industries to curtail rising unemployment.

Health experts have warned that congregations pose the biggest threat to Pakistan's limited healthcare resources and infrastructure, which will crumble under the weight of a wide-spread outbreak of the coronavirus.

Usmani told the news briefing that carpets should be removed from mosques and floors should be wiped with disinfectants, sanitizers should be placed at the entrance of the mosques, and that people should maintain distance while offering prayers.

The clerics issued their statement despite an assurance from Khan that he would meet with religious scholars to work out a collective strategy for congregations with the advent of the holy month of Ramadan, when mosque attendance usually spikes.

"Now, the lockdown will not be applicable on mosques, Friday and Ramadan prayers will be held at mosques," Mufti Muneeb-ur-Rehman, another cleric, told reporters on Tuesday.

Ramadan involves extra nighttime prayers for Muslims known as taraweeh.

Meanwhile in Saudi Arabia, the Kingdom’s Grand Mufti on Friday said Ramadan communal taraweeh and Eid prayers should be held at home due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Kingdom’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Sheikh said group taraweeh evening prayers will not be held in mosques this year in accordance with precautionary measures implemented to slow the spread of the virus.

If the outbreak continues through the holy month, communal Eid al-Fitr prayers should also be held at home, he added. Eid al-Fitr is a religious holiday in which Muslims mark the end of the month of Ramadan.

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