In spite of the growing COVID-19 pandemic, more than 8,000 Muslim pilgrims from across Asia gathered for a religious gathering in Gowa, a town in Indonesia’s South Sulawesi province, on Wednesday.
“We are more afraid of God,” said one of the organisers, Mustari Bahranuddin, when asked about the risk of spreading the virus among participants.
While the Indonesian authorities convinced the organisers to cancel the event last minute on Thursday, the pilgrims had already gathered. They are being isolated and escorted by police and local officials out of fear that they could contribute to the spread of the virus, with arrangements being made for them to leave Gowa.
The gathering was organised by the global evangelical Muslim movement Tablighi Jama’at, also responsible for the 16,000-person gathering in Malaysia last month that has led to nearly two-thirds of Malaysia’s current cases. Singapore’s MOH is still trying to track down the Singaporean participants of that gathering.
Also on Wednesday, 10,000 (or 30,000 if eyewitnesses are to be trusted) Muslims gathered in Raipur town, Bangladesh to pray for healing and protection from the virus. The event went ahead without permission from authorities and despite appeals from authorities to avoid crowded areas.
While there have been 17 reported cases in the country, limited testing has left experts sceptical about the official figures.
Ayodhya, a city in India’s Uttar Pradesh state is expected to go ahead with the Ram Navami Mela, a fair for the Hindu festival celebrating the birthday of lord Rama. The week-long fair is set to happen from 25 March to 2 April with an estimated turnout of one million devotees.
Ayodhya’s chief medical officer advised against holding the fair, but the local government gave it the go-ahead to avoid a “Hindu backlash”, to the delight of Hindu saints and Hindutva organisations.
At the same time, the local government has announced that they will be banning entry of devotees to the city during the festival, and the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh and saints in Ayodhya have appealed to citizens to perform religious ceremonies at home and avoid religious gatherings.
As for the fair itself, some precautions have been announced. Many major celebrations have been cancelled and devotees will be asked to wear masks and told of the necessary “do’s and don’ts”, though how effective these measures will be is suspect.