Ramadan on collision course with virus for Asia’s Muslims

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by David Stout and Sajjad Tarakzai

Across Asia, home to about half of the world’s Muslims, the coming Islamic holy month of Ramadan is on a collision course with the coronavirus pandemic as clerics call on the faithful to cram into mosques.

Authorities have tried to limit the fallout during the sacred period of fasting, which starts Thursday, but in many cases religious leaders have brushed aside concerns about activities that could spread COVID-19.

In Bangladesh, clerics lashed out at attempts to reduce the number of people going to mosques, and demanded the country’s secular government allow millions of Muslims to join daily and weekly prayers.

“The quota on the number of worshippers imposed by the government is not acceptable to us. Islam does not support imposition of any quota on worshippers,” said Mojibur Rahman Hamidi, a senior member of the hardline Hefazat-e-Islam group.

Islamic leaders in Bangladesh, where tens of thousands of people defied a nationwide lockdown Saturday to attend the funeral of a top preacher, reminded people it is “mandatory” for a healthy Muslim to attend prayers in a mosque.

In Pakistan, devotees said worship is more important than coronavirus concerns.

Authorities have buckled under religious pressure, allowing daily prayers and evening congregations at mosques after clerics promised to instruct religious leaders to clean their facilities regularly.

In the run-up to Ramadan, mosques have been filling up across Pakistan with hundreds attending Friday prayers, sitting shoulder to shoulder and paying little heed to social distancing.

“I will take all the preventive measures, washing my hands and using my mask but it doesn’t mean I will stop attending prayers, especially during Ramadan,” taxi driver Zubair Khan told AFP in the northwestern city of Peshawar.

The virus threat at large religious congregations has been highlighted in recent weeks by three waves of infections in Asia, linked to separate, massive Islamic congregations in Malaysia, Pakistan and India. (AFP)

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