Since then it seems impossible to curb the excesses of this policy. Nobody dares discuss religious topics these days, because such voices are quickly branded as heretics and infidels and must fear for their own life and limb.

Threat of economic collapse

The current situation could have disastrous consequences. Pakistan is still at the beginning of the pandemic. If the number of infections rises dramatically, the already ailing Pakistani economy is likely to collapse completely.

A few weeks ago, one of the world's leading economists and professor at Princeton University, the Pakistani-born Atif Mian, advised the Pakistani government to take immediate action and implement a nationwide shutdown before the pandemic reaches a scale that would hit the country hard.

Medical staff protesting about the lack of personal protective equipment in Quetta on 6 April 2020 (photo: AFP/B. Khan)
We need protection: for weeks, medical staff in Pakistan have been complaining about the lack of protective equipment. The government reaction has not stopped short of reprisals: 50 doctors, who publicly demanded more protective equipment, were arrested in the town of Quetta at the beginning of April. Meanwhile, dozens of doctors and nurses have started a hunger strike against the lack of protective equipment in the fight against the coronavirus. There are currently about 8,000 cases of COVID-19 in Pakistan, half of them in the province of Punjab

The Pakistani government is now finding it difficult to implement its own measures consistently. The measures are by no means anti-religious or even anti-Islamic. After all, in times of epidemics, Islam demands that protective measures be taken, since the protection of human life is one of the highest legal rights, the so-called maqasid ash-sharia.

During the Prophet Muhammad's lifetime, community prayers in mosques were suspended during storms and the Prophet himself commanded people to practice self-isolation in times of epidemics. Islamic theologians in Egypt or Saudi Arabia have derived their prohibition of gatherings in mosques from these accounts. Even the holiest mosques of Islam in Mecca and Medina are subject to such restrictions.

The clergy's defiant rejection of these measures is causing horror and disapproval in some sections of the Pakistani population.

The sooner Pakistani society and government puts religious leaders in their place, the better and more effectively the country will be able to tackle the pandemic. But it will take courage to do so.

Mohammad Luqman

© 2020

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