Pakistanis flock to markets and mosques as Ramadan starts
Prime Minister Imran Khan has come under pressure for his handling of the virus crisis, after causing confusion by saying Pakistan could not afford the type of sweeping lockdowns seen in other nations.
His government also caved to religious pressure, allowing daily prayers and evening congregations at mosques during Ramadan, albeit with some protective measures in place.
Ramadan in Asia
Ramadan is a holy month for the world's Muslims. It is a month of peace and the time in which the Koran was first sent down from heaven to the Prophet Mohammed. The fasting takes place from sunrise to sunset and means abstinence from eating, drinking and sex. It is a form of worship. Those who fast should gain a better appreciation of the predicament of the poor and the destitute. Ramadan is also a month devoted to intensive prayer and social welfare. Our slide show presents impressions of Ramadan from the varied Islamic cultures all across Asia.
During Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, the breaking of the fast, or ''Iftar'', begins at sunset. A Pakistani family celebrate ''Iftar'' on the square of the 17th century Mughal Badshahi Mosque in Lahore
A father and son in Indian Kashmir conduct the cleansing ritual to prepare themselves for the obligatory prayers. Ramadan is also a time devoted to intensive prayer and spiritual reflection
Every country has its own culinary customs for the ''Iftar'' celebration. In Pakistan, for example, the fast is broken with dates, pakora, choley and chutney. A short prayer is uttered before the breaking of the fast
Muslims are required to share their food with the poor during Ramadan. Here in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, food is prepared for residents of the entire city
Iftar dinner for jobless men in Afghanistan. Alongside the declaration of faith, daily prayer, the pilgrimage to Mecca and the giving of alms, fasting is, as one of the five pillars of Islam, an integral element of the faith
Children, such as this boy, who is a member of the Chinese Hui minority, are exempt from fasting. Pregnant women and the sick are also not required to fast
Women conducting ''Tarawih'' prayers at the Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta. Tarawih prayers are extra prayers performed at night during Ramadan
Ramadan sees increased numbers of the faithful visiting holy shrines, to express their wishes and prayers. Iranian Shiites touch the grave of Saleh at his mausoleum north of the capital Tehran
Close to the historic Eyüp Sultan Mosque in Istanbul, people enjoy the short night before the next day of fasting begins
Household outgoings soar during Ramadan. Many people are not only spending more money on food, they also buy prayer mats and other religious articles. Market in Bangladesh
China is home to around 22 millions Muslims, members of the Hui and Uyghur minorities. Many of them are fasting this month. Two Hui Muslims read the Koran in this Chinese mosque in Beijing
The beginning and the end of Ramadan are determined with the sighting of the crescent of the moon. This year, the holy month began on 1 August and will probably continue until the 30 or 31 of August
In a snub to Khan's leadership, Pakistan's powerful military on Friday urged people to pray at home, warning the "next 15 days are crucial".
But that advice was largely ignored or downplayed across much of the country, home to about 215 million people who often live in cramped, multi-generational quarters.
In Rawalpindi, the garrison city adjacent to Islamabad, thousands of shoppers thronged popular markets, some without wearing protective gear, to buy food for evening iftar meals that celebrate the end of each day's fasting.
Similar scenes unfolded in the northwestern city of Peshawar and in the eastern city of Lahore.
Muneeb Khan, 27, said he was fed up with wearing a mask and gloves.
"How long are we going to wear them? I am tired of it, now it depends on my mood, sometimes I wear it and sometimes not," he told journalists as he shopped at a pharmacy.
At Islamabad's mosques, worshippers were thinner on the ground than typical for Ramadan's first day, but elsewhere social distancing guidelines and a ban on older worshippers were widely ignored.
Zafar Mirza, the prime minister's special advisor for health, decried the rush to the markets and pleaded with people to stay home.
"This is against the guidelines and directives," he told reporters. "Pakistan is passing through a very crucial phase and if we do not take preventive measures, this disease will spike very quickly."
Doctors associations have repeatedly called on the government to impose a comprehensive lockdown as pressure grows on the country's already struggling health system.
So far Pakistan has recorded more than 12,000 confirmed COVID-19 infections and 256 deaths – but with only limited testing, the real numbers are believed to be much higher.
The World Health Organization has warned that without effective interventions, Pakistan cases could soar to 200,000 cases by mid-July.
"The impacts on the economy could be devastating, doubling the number of people living in poverty. We must act in solidarity, with a coherent, coordinated approach," the WHO, quoting chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said on Twitter.
Asad Umar, who heads the national coronavirus task force, told reporters authorities had approved a "smart lockdown" aimed at testing people, then tracking or quarantining those who are positive.
"Ramadan is a decisive month," he said. (AFP)