Hyderabad: "The strict enforcement of lockdown by police is quite right. It is not a punishment but in your own interest to protect you from Corona virus which is spreading fast, Cooperate with the Telangana government and the police".

"Don't go out unnecessarily and become the cause of spreading the virus. Cooperate with police". These messages in Urdu are being announced not from police or GHMC vehicles but from mosques in some parts of Hyderabad's old city. The public address systems installed in mosques for giving 'azan' (prayer call) are now being used to warn people about Covid-19 and the necessary precautions to be taken.

A few mosques like Masjide Shaikh Hussain in Bandlaguda, Masjide Abubakar in Ghousia Nagar, Masjide Ishaq in Achireddy Nagar and Madinah Masjid in Umda Hills have come up with this novel idea to disseminate information about Covid-19. Three times a day these pre-recorded messages are being repeatedly pronounced from the Masjid minarets.

Social messaging from mosques may sound strange but it's not altogether a new thing in these parts. The Masjide Ishaq is the first place of worship to take this initiative last year when it threw open its doors for a primary health clinic run by the Helping Hand Foundation (HHF). The Masjid Committee started using the loudspeaker normally meant for 'azan' to inform people about the availability or otherwise of doctors and medicines at the community clinic. "And this proved to be a big help to people living in and around the Masjid", says Mujtaba Hasan Askari of HHF.

The word that goes from a place of worship carries lot of impact. "This is why we now decided to make announcement about Covid-19 and the precautionary measures like social distancing to be taken", says Mr Askari.

With the number of red zones and containment clusters increasing in the old city, police and health authorities are asking people to stay home and not to stir out unnecessarily. But there are few takers for this advise and people are seen flouting the lockdown rules. However, when the same message comes from a mosque it carries lot of weight. "From Tuesday the messages are being aired from the mosques and it is proving beneficial", remarked a Masjid Committee member.

Leveraging the public address systems of mosques, which are now closed, for social causes is seen as a powerful communication tool to disseminate information about precautions to be taken to check Covid-19. There are about 7000 mosques in the city and if all of them come forward to sensitise the community about better compliance of government regulations then the battle against the scourge could be easily won. On its part the HHF is trying to reach out to different mosques to adopt this strategy.

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. Currently he is working on his third book - Poets and Writers of Deccan. Loves to write and writes to live. Can't imagine doing anything else.

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