Faith and Fear: Pakistan's COVID-19 Response
Religion plays an important role in people’s lives across the world, particularly in times of adversity.
When the COVID-19 crisis began to spread, many people belonging to diverse faiths felt it was important for them to gather at their place of worship instead of staying at home.
Outside a church in the US, a woman says: “Virus feeds on fear. I don’t have fear, I have faith.”
And as Muslims across the world halted congregational prayers to stop the spread of COVID-19, Islamic social organisations have focused on charity and solidarity to get the most vulnerable through the pandemic. Yet in Pakistan, following campaigns by conservative clerics, the government lifted the lockdown on mosques during Ramadan, potentially risking thousands of lives.
redfish went on the ground in a country of which 96% of its population are Muslim and investigated on how some mosques shunned initial government restrictions and decided to remain open, despite official and medical warning advising against it.
redfish’s crew interviewed Mufti Masood Ahmed - an Imam in the biggest city of Karachi - who kept his mosque open for Friday prayers. “People living in small houses or slums don’t have anywhere else to go for social interaction. If there’s one place where they can take a break, it’s the mosque.”, he said.
Pakistan is the fifth most populated country in the world and it is estimated that over 40% of the population live in slums, with a national average of 6 to 7 people per household. For many of them, social distancing isn’t an option - both within their homes and on the streets around them.
redfish also interview Zafar Abbas, a social worker who has been helping daily wage earners who have lost work due to the lockdown. He discussed how honouring the Quran’s tenet of charity, zakat, and practising solidarity and compassion is arguably more important than congregational prayer in such time of crisis. “Without a doubt, this is also a form of worship. When everyone is depressed and has no means to earn a livelihood and my rider reaches their home and gives them a little gift from JDC so they can cook food and eat well for the time being, then I don’t think there’s a greater blessing for them than this.”
All around the world, authorities and clerics took the step of halting communal Islamic prayers to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Saudi Arabia took the lead by closing down the holy mosque in Makkah from March 2020, despite the fact that it holds immense symbolic and spiritual value for all Muslims.
From Morocco to Libya to Indonesia, where such steps had often never been taken even in wartime, the Muslim clergy also decided to shut down mosques and prioritise safety.
As more people gather to pray during the holy month of Ramadan, COVID-19 cases are expected to increase rapidly. Pakistan’s poor health infrastructure just isn’t equipped to deal with a public health crisis of this scale.