Muslims attend Friday prayers at Baitul Mukarram National Mosque amid concerns about the spread of coronavirus infection in Dhaka, on 20 Mar, 2020.
Muslims attend Friday prayers at Baitul Mukarram National Mosque amid concerns about the spread of coronavirus infection in Dhaka, on 20 Mar, 2020. Photo: Reuters

Things are getting out of hand for Bangladesh. Coronavirus (COVID-19) infection is no longer a story of China or Italy now.

No fatwa - 'Bangladesh won't be affected by coronavirus because most of its population is Muslim' or 'the virus is a curse for China' - could stop the deadly virus from arriving here.

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The government has so far announced three deaths and 33 infected with COVID-19 amid fears that cases may still be underreported while the world has seen around 15,000 deaths and 350,000 infection cases as of today.

The world knows no remedy for the disease. The only measures the countries successful in containing the COVID-19 have taken are quarantining, social distancing, locking down cities and keeping personal hygiene.

Like other countries, Bangladesh government has started taking some steps, but has done nothing to prevent congregational prayers at mosques.

Banning congregational prayers will obviously not be an easy decision for the Bangladesh government. It's a sensitive issue for a Muslim-majority South Asian nation.

Yes, this decision is going to rake up many objections. The authorities may even find defiance of the ban by many. But how can we forget that saving lives comes first?

Right now, we have no other alternatives other than curbing congregational prayers including jum'a namaaz. We must also ensure other religious communities follow the same so that they can't arrange any gatherings.

Point to be noted that I'm against all kinds of social gathering whether it's congregational prayers or an election until, the danger of coronavirus passes.

Here are some of my points why the Bangladesh government must take the decision to curb congregational prayers at masjids right now.

*The second COVID-19 death victim, a 73-year-old man, was not an overseas returnee neither anyone of his family had any travel history. His son Iqbal Mahmud informed the IEDCR that his father used to go to masjids regularly to say his prayers in congregation. Another man of Mirpur's Tolarbagh, who was a neighbour and close to the death victim, died on Sunday. Family members of the man suspected he could have been another victim of COVID-19. From this, we can easily understand how dangerous congregational prayers could be.

*In one of AP's analyses 'Virus at Iran’s gates: How Tehran failed to stop outbreak', the news agency identified Iran's failure to halt its shrines where devotees gathered round the clock. So, we don't want Bangladesh to become another Iran.

*The coronavirus stopped communal Muslim prayers in many mosques from Indonesia to Morocco. In Saudi Arabia, authorities have closed off access to the holiest sites in Islam over concerns about the virus. As Sunnis, Bangladeshi Muslims wholeheartedly follow Saudi Arabia's instructions. Why aren't our alems and ulemas looking to Islam's holiest sanctuary? This is, no doubt, a matter of concern.

*The Islamic Foundation urged Muslims to come to mosques only to offer Farz prayers of Jum’a last week. But, many imams breached the instructions and inspired people to listen to their lectures. As we make rules on our own, the government must take the difficult decision of suspending congregational prayers until the crisis is over.

*As per Islamic rules and directives of the prophet Mohammad (PBUH), if there’s any chance for any sick person to get affected by a risk of death or fear of outbreak of any epidemic then people can avoid going to mosques. According to a hadith, prophet Mohammad (PUBH) had been on a tour along with some of his associates. At that time, people were facing serious difficulties to go to mosques due to chilling weather, rain and storm. Then the prophet asked one of his associates to say in azaan (call to prayers) to say prayers at home or where you were.

*Another hadith says that the prophet Mohammad (PBUH) has a direction that the inhabitants of an area where any pandemic spreads should not come out while the people of other areas should not visit the affected area on health grounds. Islamic scholars in Saudi Arabia and Gulf countries reached a decision in line of the holy Quran and hadith that people should say prayers now at home instead of mosques for safety reasons and check the coronavirus outbreak. No Islamic scholar opposed the decision. So why can't we follow it?

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*As practising Muslims, we must follow the life and teachings of prophet Mohammad (PBUH). The prophet had to migrate (622 CE) from Makkah to Medina in order to escape a danger of persecution. If COVID-19 is a danger, why wouldn't we save ourselves from the pandemic?

Have we heard the joke where a preacher falls in the ocean and starts praying to the Almighty. When a boat comes by, the captain yells, “Do you need help, sir?”

The preacher calmly says, "No, God will save me."

A little later, another boat comes by and a fisherman asks him, "Hey, do you need help?"

The preacher replies again, "No, God will save me."

Finally, the preacher drowns and goes to heaven. He asks God, "Why didn’t you save me?"

God replies, "Fool, I sent you two boats!"

Allah (SWT) is always there for us whether we pray at home or at masjids. But during this pandemic, we can't forget what Allah (SWT) says in the holy Quran [Surah 5 verse 32] "if anyone saves a life, it shall be as though he had saved the lives of all mankind."

On an encouraging note, perhaps we are underestimating the people. Is everyone fanatic enough to insist on congregating in the mosque for namaaz? In a growing number of mosques in Bangladesh, the respected and learned imams and muezzins have changed the call to prayer and in the azaan ask the people to stay at home and pray. The mosque goers have accepted this willingly and with appreciation. There will always be the rabble-rousers, but the majority of our people are moderate. The authorities must take the stern decision now. Allah (SWT) has given us this life. Who are we to snatch it away?

Imam Hossain, a journalist at Prothom Alo, can be reached at imam.hossain@prothomalo.com