Around the world, religious leaders, political leaders and celebrities are urging people to stay home to fight the Covid pandemic. During Easter, the Pope addressed an almost empty St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Across the greater Muslim world, from Saudi Arabia to Turkey to Indonesia, religious clerics and political leaders, have asked people to pray from home and closed mosques and religious places. Saudi Arabia suspended Umrah and now even Haj.
The exception in all this is the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Not only have mosques and other religious places not been closed, but the largest cluster of Covid cases in the country relates to the Tableeghi Jamaat congregation— 20,000 people are under quarantine!
Experts argue that the government has been hobbled in its Coronavirus response not only by the activism of the clerical class against any restrictions on Muslim religious life but also by the Prime Minister’s strong public identification as a Muslim who envisions Pakistan as a new Medina, reproducing the city state as it was governed by the Prophet of Islam Muhammad in early seventh century.
As Cyril Almeida, former columnist in Dawn, tweeted, maybe the problem isn’t that the government and establishment are afraid of mullahs.
What we should ponder on is — What if Imran Khan and the boys [meaning the military establishment] actually agree with the mullahs?