Hyderabad: Mosques in Hyderabad continue to witness large number of worshippers even as Covid-19 has cast a pall of gloom elsewhere.

Most mosques in the city witness a good turn out during the congregational prayers five times a day. The rush is more especially during the Zuhr Namaz (afternoon prayers) and Maghrib Namaz (evening prayers). Of course, the maximum rush is seen during the Juma Namaz (Congregational prayers on Fridays).

So far no attempt has been made to restrict the assemblage in Masjids as a precautionary measure to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Neither the Masjid Committees nor the Imams, who lead the prayer, have asked the worshippers not to gather in large numbers or to offer Namaz at their homes. Many concerned citizens are of the view that curbs ought to be placed on congregational prayers temporarily as is being done in many Muslim countries.

There is a provision in Sharia to give up congregational prayers in times of emergencies. During the period of the Prophet of Islam when it rained heavily in Madinah, the people were told to offer Namaz at their homes instead of heading to the mosque. The mu'azzin during 'azan' (call to prayer) deviated from the usual words to tell people to offer Namaz in their homes.

With the outbreak of the deadly coronavirus, mosques in some Middle East countries including Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, and UAE have revived this age-old practice asking people to say prayers at home. Video clips of the azan with the words 'Assaltu fi buyutikum' (pray at home) instead of 'Hayya alas-salah' (come for prayer) have gone viral.

"We should also follow the same and restrain people from coming to mosques for the time being. When the government has taken a proactive measure to shut down educational institutions, gyms, bars, and clubs why not stop Friday congregational prayers to safeguard people from the deadly virus?” asked Mujtaba Hasan Askari of Helping Hand Foundation. “

However, there are few takers for this harsh measure. A large number of Muslims believe that the virtue of praying in big gatherings is immense. Those who run the risk of infection can keep away from mosques rather than stopping everyone from coming. But given the coronavirus pandemic, some feel, there is nothing wrong in observing restrain in the interest of safety.

As of now, Telangana is passing through Stage-2 of the epidemic but there is every possibility of community-level infection spreading if adequate steps are not taken. With Friday prayer just a day away will Ulema and religious leaders come forward to take a call on this matter and assist the government in checking the challenge posed by Covid-19?

J.S. Ifthekhar

J.S. Ifthekhar is a senior journalist with nearly four decades of experience. Ifthekhar cut his teeth in journalism at the Indian Express before he moved to The Hindu. He was also associated with the Siasat Daily, Telangana Today, Deccan Chronicle, Onlooker magazine, Newstrack, Detective Digest and a few news agencies. He has written on different subjects and aspects of Hyderabadi life. However, his passion remains literature in general and Urdu poetry in particular. He is equally concerned with culture, heritage, civic affairs and problems confronting the man in the street. As a journalist he has taken up cudgels on behalf of the underprivileged and many of his stories in The Hindu saw the government promptly taking corrective measures. Ifthekhar has authored two books - Hyderabad - The Nawabi City on The Move and Haj - The Spirit Behind it. He has also translated two books from Urdu to English. His third book - Urdu Poets and Writers , Gems of Deccan  - is just released. Loves to write and writes to live. Can't imagine doing anything else.

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