Durrani, 52, is among thousands of devout Muslims flouting Pakistan government orders issued late last month banning religious congregations of five or more people to stem the spread of the coronavirus. The disease has so far infected more than 5,300 people and killed 93 in the world’s second-most populous Muslim country.
“Our prayer leader told us that the virus can’t infect us the way it does Western people,” Durrani told Reuters. “He said we wash our hands and we wash our face five times a day before we say our prayers, and the infidels don’t, so we need not worry. God is with us.”
The Islamic lobby holds immense clout in Pakistan, a country of over 200 million people. Religious parties have not been successful in electoral politics but they are able to whip up large, often violent, crowds on matters pertaining to religion, such as in support of the country’s harsh blasphemy law.
“Religion and prayers are an emotional issue for many people in Pakistan, and the government has to be sensitive to that,” Mirza Shahzad Akbar, a special assistant to Prime Minister Imran Khan, told Reuters.
More than 60% of the coronavirus cases in Pakistan have so far been linked to Muslims returning from pilgrimages in the Middle East and followers of the Tablighi Jamaat, an orthodox proselytizing group.
But the worry is of a big spike coming from the congregational prayers held in mosques, especially on Fridays, the Islamic sabbath. The numbers in attendance at prayers are likely to increase with the onset of the holy month of Ramadan within two weeks, and authorities are struggling to cope.
While the Council of Islamic Ideology, a body that advises the government on religious issues, has called on clerics and the public to cooperate with government measures, several priests and local leaders have opposed the ban.
A prominent leader of a religious party told a crowd of hundreds of people gathered for a funeral last week that government orders to limit congregations were unacceptable.
“If you do this, we will be forced to think that mosques are being deserted on America’s instructions,” Mufti Kafayatullah told the crowd. “We’re ready to give our lives, but not ready to desert our mosques.”