Pakistan’s leading religious scholars issued a statement calling for the reopening of mosques across the country this week.

The government had restricted congregation prayers in mosques to five people or less since the last week of March to slow down the spread of the novel coronavirus. However, jurist Taqi Usmani, leading the committee of clerics, said that restricting the prayer to three to five people was “not proving practical” and these impediments had to to be removed. He added that, “In the present conditions, five daily prayers along with precautionary measures are essential”.

In addition to the five daily prayers, clerics called for the resumption of Friday prayers as well. They also outlined preventative measures to be taken by mosques such as the removal of carpets, disinfection of prayer areas and use of hand sanitizers. The committee stated that the lockdown didn’t apply to mosques and that they will be resuming congregational worship.

The restrictions on mosques, in wake of the pandemic, were met with severe backlash in Pakistan. There were incidents  of mobs attacking policemen who tried to enforce these bans; often times the police would simply turn a blind eye to those gathering at mosques to prevent conflict.

Considering the call made by religious scholars this week, Minister for Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri confirmed that the government will officially lift the restrictions on daily congregational prayers in mosques. Permission will also be granted for Friday prayers, which draw thousands every week to mosques, and tarawih prayers during the upcoming month of Ramadan.

Pakistan stands as an outlier on this issue compared to much of the Muslim world. Most mosques around the world remain closed . These include Islam’s three most holy sites of Mecca, Medina and the Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.

The public outcry against the closing down of mosques and defiance of government orders also appears to be unique to the country. In contrast to Pakistani clerics, who deemed the congregational worship a ‘necessity’, many of the leading religious bodies around the globe have approved of such restrictions considering the Covid-19 pandemic. Examples of these include the Egypt’s Dar-al-Ifta, UAE’s fatwa council and the Fiqh Council of North America.

Pakistan faces significant challenges in fighting the Covid-19 outbreak. The country lies east of Iran which at one point was the epicenter of the outbreak. Travelers returning from Iran first brought the virus into country which has since seen a steady increase in cases. While the number of deaths has remained low so far, it is feared that easing restrictions on mass gatherings will result in super-spreading which will cause the situation to get far worse.