On a typical day, the skies in Afghanistan echo with the voice of muzzin, or the person performing the adhan, an Islamic call to prayer. “Hurry to prayer” and “Hurry to salvation” are the key messages in the five-times daily call mostly broadcast over loudspeakers to attract congregates to mosques.
But this week, Afghans are hearing a different message. “Allah Salu Fee Rehalikum,” an Arabic phrase meaning “Offer your prayer at home,” emphasizes the need to stay at home during the coronavirus pandemic that has killed tens of thousands globally.
Some Muslim ulema, or clerics and prayer leaders, in Afghanistan have invoked at old practice used during epidemics to call on congregates to avoid gathering at mosques and instead offer their prayers at home.
A recent fatwa or religious ruling by leading clerics in Afghanistan has asked mosques across the country to amend the call to prayer. Instead of calling on Muslims to “hurry to prayer” and “hurry to salvation” at mosques, it calls on them to “pray at home.”
Muhammad Arif Attaee, a senior cleric in the capital, Kabul, says the adhan now calls on Muslims to offer prayers wherever they live.
“The message is that: Don’t come to the mosque because you now have a valid excuse,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan. “The ulema in Afghanistan have recently issued this fatwa or religious edict, which emphasizes the message: pray at home.”
The new wording in the call to prayer has surprised many. Faizan, a Kabul resident, says he was stunned to hear this new additional phrase in the adhan but couldn't immediately decipher its message. “I don’t speak Arabic so didn’t immediately understand what the cleric was saying,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan.
The new fatwa calling on people to avoid congregating at mosques was issued in Kabul on April 5. It also calls on the warring sides in Afghanistan to end fighting to help prevent the spread of coronavirus infections and helps those suffering from it. The fatwa says a limited number of congregates going to mosques on Friday must observe a one-meter distance between them.
Attaee, says that similar to the permission of offering your prayer through signs when gravely ill or injured, it is permitted to keep a distance because of a valid reason such as preventing the spread of the coronavirus.
“As the call for not flocking to mosques is new, so far we have not seen much difference in the number of congregates,” he noted while discussing its immediate impact. “It might make a big difference if all the Muslim ulema support it.”
In some Muslim societies, conservative clerics have defied and even resisted government efforts to close mosques or ban large religious gatherings as part of lockdowns to slow down the spread of the coronavirus. Last week, a mob clashed with police after a cleric opposed a local curfew aimed at stopping Friday Prayers in the southwestern Pakistani city of Karachi.
But other Islamic countries have been more successful in imposing lockdowns or even complete curfews. Before Afghanistan, many clerics in various Muslim countries such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia had issued similar religious rulings to emphasize the stay-at-home message to contain the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 83,000 people globally.
Afghanistan so far has recorded over 400 coronavirus cases and the country has recorded at least 13 deaths from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus infections. But the war-torn impoverished country has conducted fewer tests, and its fragmented healthcare system is not ready to deal with an influx of patients suffering from COVID-19 complications.