Christians hold candles as they offer prayers during an Easter service on the rooftop of their house during the government-imposed nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against the coronavirus in Islamabad on April 12. (Photo: AFP)
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan is facing a barrage of criticism after urging Christians to stay at home and maintain social distancing during Easter.
“Wishing all our Christian citizens a happy Easter. Please stay safe and keep your families safe during the Covid-19 pandemic by praying and celebrating at home; and by observing the national safety protocols,” said the PM in his Easter message.
While some praised the prime minister for wishing the country’s minority community well, others were quick to point out Khan’s silence on Muslim worshipers defying the coronavirus lockdown.
Several video clips have emerged in recent days showing angry mobs beating and chasing male and female police officers during Friday congregations.
The Khan administration is particularly accused of a slow response to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus which has killed more than 114,000 people globally.
According to experts, the federal government wasted a lot of precious time in declaring a ban on daily mosque prayers and Friday congregations.
As a result, more than 700 members of a prominent Muslim missionary group who congregated in Lahore from March 10-12 have tested positive, according to government data. The group is being blamed by some for the local transmission of the virus.
On the other hand, Catholics and other minority groups shut down churches even before the national lockdown was declared.
“Really brave of the PM to call on Christians (2 percent of the population) to pray at home while not once calling on Muslims to do the same despite clerics openly defying govt orders in the capital and across the country,” Ammar Rashid, president of the left-wing Awami Workers Party's Punjab chapter, tweeted.
“PTI folks [supporters of ruling party], stop excusing this deadly cowardice. You can already sense what's going to happen on the mosque front. Under economic strain, the govt will soon open up more sectors and cities for business. Clerics will immediately say now there's no excuse for stopping congregations. The govt will succumb and catastrophe will follow.
“There is no excuse for @ImranKhanPTI's silence on mass prayers. None. Perhaps he can credibly claim that his opposition to the overall lockdown has to do with daily wager incomes. What is the excuse for staying silent on praying at home? Whose livelihoods does that affect?”
A former senator and presidential spokesman, Farhatullah Babar, also urged the PM to give the same advice to Muslims.
“Urging Christians to pray and celebrate Easter at home is right. Similar advice should also have been given to Muslims to offer prayers and juma at home. Better late than never,” Babar said.
Gulmina, a female activist, said: “If you can’t ask Muslims to offer Friday prayers at home, you don’t have the right to stop your minorities. Eid is next month and I hope you ask Muslims to pray at home and not go to mosques for prayers.”