A group of over 50 senior clerics in Pakistan has warned the government against the ban on religious congregations amidst the coronavirus outbreak and said the authorities should instead abide by religious norms and allow more worshipers in mosques to seek forgiveness from Allah. Also Read - COVID-19: Silicon Valley Prepares For Layoffs, Reduction in Salary And Job Freeze

The government has banned prayer congregations of more than five people as part of its measures to curb the spread of the deadly coronavirus, which has infected over 5,715 people in Pakistan. Also Read - Pakistan Extends Nationwide Lockdown Till April 30 as COVID-19 Cases Near 6000-mark

Despite the government’s pleas to observe social distancing, over 53 senior clerics of Rawalpindi and Islamabad belonging to the Wafaqul Madaris al Arabia on Monday held a meeting in Jamia Darul Uloom Zakria in Islamabad to discuss the ban on prayer congregations, the Dawn News reported. Also Read - Troubled by Denial of Food to Pakistani Hindus, Christians: USCIRF

The meeting — attended by clerics representing various seminaries, banned groups, proscribed persons and political and non-political parties — warned the authorities against the ban and said government leaders should abide by religious norms and seek forgiveness.

The warning came before the government could come up with a plan to curb the spread of COVID-19 during the holy month of Ramazan, which will begin in the last week of April.

Pir Azizur Rehman Hazarvi, president of the Jamia Darul Uloom Zakaria in Islamabad, said, “The closure of mosques, shutting down Friday prayers and Taraweeh is unacceptable to the countrymen.”

Hazarvi, who is also the patron of Jamiat Ulema Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), insisted that in order to get rid of the virus, it was imperative to seek forgiveness from Allah and increase the populace in mosques.

A video clip released by the clerics on Tuesday showed leaders of various political and non-political organisations — including JUI-F, Aalmi Tanzeem Khatam-i-Nabuwat, seminaries such as Taleem ul Quran Raja Bazar and a representative of banned group Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat — sitting in close proximity of each other.

The meeting did not acknowledge the official directives of a maximum of five persons inside mosques for the collective prayers as the clerics said that the testing times demanded more time for prayers and announced that apart from the five times prayers, Friday and Taraweeh congregations will continue.

The clerics, however, agreed to take precautionary measures like use of hand sanitisers, removal of rugs and carpets, washing of floors, cleaning of hands with soaps and social distancing. Hazarvi said, “The senior clerics have noted that all efforts will be made to avoid clash and confrontations with the government and the state institutions.”

Lal Masjid’s cleric Maulana Abdul Aziz also continued to challenge the authority of Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) administration by openly flouting the stipulated precautionary measures, the report said

Every week, Aziz releases footage of huge congregations gathered for Friday prayers, denouncing the restrictions imposed by the government. As a result, the number of mosques organising large Friday congregations is increasing in Islamabad.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of National Health Services on Tuesday said 342 new COVID-19 cases have been registered in the last 24 hours, taking the total number to 5,716.

Punjab recorded the maximum number of 2,826 cases, followed by Sindh at 1,452, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) 800, Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) 233, Balochistan 231, Islamabad 131 and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) 43.

While 1,378 people have recovered, 96 died and 46 are in critical condition, the ministry said.

A total of 69,928 tests have been performed, including 3,157 during the last 24 hours, it said.