A lack of consensus between religious leaders and the Pakistani government has seen Friday congregational prayers still being held at some mosques across the country, in defiance of government guidelines on social distancing amidst the coronavirus outbreak.
In the capital, Islamabad, hundreds gathered at the Red Mosque, led by hardline religious leader Abdul Aziz, to offer prayers, standing shoulder-to-shoulder and filling the mosque’s main hall to capacity.
Reports indicated that congregational prayers were also held at major mosques in other cities, with varying levels of social distancing.
Aziz, who led an armed standoff between his followers and the government that culminated in Pakistani soldiers raiding the mosque in 2007, was not available to speak on Friday.
Pakistan has seen at least 7,008 coronavirus cases so far, with at least 134 deaths, according to the government’s data. At least 1,757 patients have recovered.
Earlier this week, Pakistan’s government eased a nationwide lockdown, reopening more than a dozen industries and categories of businesses in a bid to stave off spiralling unemployment and economic slowdown caused by the lockdown.
Mosques, however, were advised to restrict congregational prayers to a maximum of five people, all of whom were required to be staff members residing within the mosque’s premises.