Pakistan

Failure to close mosques, control virus in Pakistan may be bad for entire Muslim ummah: doctors

In contrast to many other Muslim countries, Pakistani clerics and government officials have refused to close mosques attended by millions each week, where hugs and handshakes are common. AFP/Asif Hassan/Files

KARACHI: A failure to close mosques, which attract huge gatherings especially during the holy month of Ramazan, and control the coronavirus in the country may be bad for the entire Muslim community, Pakistani doctors warned, appealing to ulema to reconsider their agreement.

Terming the coronavirus pandemic “a deadly but unseen enemy”, the doctors in a letter called upon the ulemas and religious scholars, as well as the government, to heed their “few but strong reservations based on early observations”.

“These are unprecedented times, not just for the Muslims of Pakistan but encompassing the whole humanity”.

“We as doctors, are at the helm of dealing with patients suffering from Coronavirus, which can rapidly transform from a mild illness to a fatal disease,” they added.

‘Failure of Pakistan’

The medics stated in the letter that should the pandemic — which is already worsening day by day and number of cases continue to rise exponentially — get out of control, “it will not just be a failure of Pakistan as a country but it may have substantial unwanted and unforeseen effects on the whole Muslim ummah”.

“We may become inadvertent facilitators to the detriment of whole Muslim ummah and the humanity,” the health professionals argued, saying Pakistan would never want the world to see the generous and united global Muslim community in a bad light.

In their recommendations, the doctors highlighted the various issues underlying the Pakistani people that many know about but fail to tackle. They said the country’s mosques “are predominantly filled by people above the age of 50”.

“Quite a few videos in the last 48 hours have surfaced demonstrating that more than 80% of the people attending for prayers were indeed above the age of 50, in fact mostly in their 60s, and 70s.”

Admitting that this was expected as it was challenging to ask people to change their lifelong habit of praying in mosques, they added: “This has resulted in a violation of the first and foremost principle of preventing the spread of the virus in the most vulnerable group.”

‘Significant influx of corona positive patients’

As Ramazan, the holy month of fasting, is just around the corner, the medics noted that there would be higher attendance, longer waiting times and stays, and prolonged gatherings at mosques, especially due to Taraweeh prayers.

“It is all but certain that this will cause significant mayhem, as the mosques practicing social distancing will only be able to accommodate 20-25% of the regular namazis, which will further worsen the situation,” they said.

The health professionals also warned of other issues, such as “conflicts between worshipers, mosques management and law enforcement agencies”, which they said had been recently observed as well.

Underscoring that there has been “a significant influx of corona positive patients”, they said they are expecting the number of virus cases and deaths to rise exponentially over the next few days, causing “significant pressure on our already compromised health system”.

‘Prepared to be’ martyrs

“We fear that allowing congregational prayers in larger number in our mosques may contribute to such fatal outcomes,” they stressed. “All these issues are not just likely to cause jeopardy to reputation of Islam and that of our ulema-e-karam but it will lead to unwanted loss of lives of us and our fellow brothers.”

The doctors added that they were “prepared to be amongst the martyrs by saving human lives” but if they died — as their peers around the world were dying — “there won’t be many resources including manpower to look after our patients”.

The doctors also said it was crucial to understand Pakistan’s social fibre where “mismanagement, indiscipline and not following or obeying the rules is predominantly common; where educated people do not follow the day-to-day traffic rules (for example) and miscommitment in our dealings is a norm”.

Given such a society, they warned that it would be “almost impossible for ulema-e-karam, mosques’ management, and administration to make people abide by the conditions mentioned in the consensus document, especially in densely-populated areas of country where people are generally not educated and unable to comprehend the consequences of such violations”.

Comparing mosques with businesses and shops was not valid either, they added but requested government and business community to also “practice patience and keep the markets and non-essential shops continue to close and only home deliveries should be allowed”.

‘Fort of Islam’

Similarly, any other non-religious gatherings, too, should be curtailed.

“We strongly advise the government that there shouldn’t be a softer stance on other day to day activities as the Coronavirus will not distinguish people based on the nature of the activities but the strength, quantity, and duration of such gatherings.

“We respectfully and humbly ask you to review your recent decision regarding the mosques and request you to please take a step back to the previous position of only allowing up to 5 namazis in the mosques as this is in the best interest of Islam, Pakistan, our respected Islamic scholars and general public,” the health professionals appealed.

They added that Pakistan was, is, and “will be considered as fort of Islam” but underscored that the Muslim community’s “enemies all across the world not only want to see us weaken but they are desperately and ardently waiting to see us as a complete failure”.

Signatories

Among the signatories are Dr Faisal Mahmood — the head of the Aga Khan University Hospital’s (AKUH) Infectious Diseases Department — and Indus Health Network CEO Dr Abdul Bari Khan, as well as research-active consultant Dr Khurum Khan, who trained at the Northern Ireland Cancer Centre and Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust London.

Dr Muhammad Shamvil Ashraf, an oncologist who is the executive director at Indus Health Network and opened The Children Cancer Hospital (CCH), is also part of the doctors who penned the letter.

Prof Dr Syed Razi Muhammad, the managing trustee at Muhammad Medical College in Mirpurkhas and an editorial board member of the Joint Committee of Royal Colleges of Surgeons of London, Edinburgh, Glasgow & Dublin, was also included in the letter, as were Dr Saad Niaz of South City Hospital, Dr Abdul Basit Rao of Malir Medical Services, Dr M Hanif Chatni of Patel Hospital, and Dr Mughis Sheerani, a neurologist at the AKUH Clifton Medical Services.

Among the other doctors were Prof Dr Fareed Akbar Shah, a general surgeon at the National Medical Centre (NMC) Karachi and Ibn-e-Seena Hospital, Prof Dr Syed Zahid Jamal, a cardiologist at NMC and the National Institute of Cardiovascular Diseases (NICVD), Dr Muhammad Yahya Chawla of Indus Health Network and a board member at the AKUH, and Dr Raza Sayyed, a cancer surgeon at Patel Hospital Zainab Panjwani Memorial Hospital and Dr Ziauddin Hospital.

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