By Dr Aliyu Tilde
The scenes of locked mosques on Fridays and shut down churches on Sundays are not portraits to behold by the religious in ordinary times. But our times are not ordinary. So governments have decided to seal them pending when they can be safely opened without constituting an avoidable danger to public health.
I have read and heard a number of people equating mosques and markets in relation to lockdown during this pandemic.
The question they always ask is the same: Why would the once a week, 10-minute Friday prayer be banned while markets are open for hours many times a week?
Many of them have even gone ahead to accuse that it is a deliberate attempt to undermine religion. The truth is there is some exaggeration here.
There just cannot be a Friday congregation that lasts only 10 minutes. It is impossible. The least it can take from opening the mosque to closing it is 40 mins to one hour. I bet you. When death is not at hand, debate becomes a past time of men.
When it arrives, it leaves no room for contention and everyone takes to his heel even when the muezzin would be calling the faithful to prayer. Yes, coronavirus is yet to reach many communities and their inhabitants can afford the luxury of debate.
But we should be intelligent enough to learn by instruction, not by experience. Age also matters here. I have not heard any sixty and above gambling with coronavirus for the obvious vulnerability of their group.
Most of the contention is held by the young who know that they are less vulnerable. It is a luxury granted by the geography of the disease. In cities where it is ravaging, people are packing their healthy aged parents into hideouts, preventing anyone from visiting them. No question of congregational prayer.
If you do not have an aged parent and feels young, please have mercy on the parents of others. Do not drag us to the slaughter house.
On the surface, markets and prayer congregations may appear similar in that they both gather people from different places. But a scratch underneath reveals a world of difference between the two, especially in Africa.
Let us take a look at some of such differences that engender their differential treatment in our fight against corona. The first is that markets are optional to many and hardly attract the majority.
In a family of 8 males, fewer than 3 may go to a market for the whole week. Most are on farms or offices or are living in rural communities where the markets are less congested. Old people like me hardly visit markets. We send others.
The Friday congregation, for example, on the other hand is compulsory on all adult males and is attended also by most children of seven years and above. The per capita coverage of Friday prayer is therefore much higher than that of a market.
Elders, from experience, who are most vulnerable to the virus usually go there first and stay much longer because they can afford more time. Imagine Kano on Friday or any Muslim dominated town.
The whole town becomes empty during those thirty minutes to one hour. All males have converged into few spots in the town or city where they will sit together, body to body, in rows, not more than a metre apart, some coughing, some sneezing and all breathing at one another point blank, and end in greeting one another before departing.
They leave as they came, in long procession, speaking, chatting, shaking hands, until they reach home. Secondly, markets are more dispersed in time and space than places of worship. People go to markets at different times.
The three in a family of eight males that we mentioned will rarely be in the market on the same day of the week. And even when they go, they hardly visit the same place. Friday and Sunday congregations take place at the same time and spot.
That is why there is little wisdom in allocating just a day or two as free days in a lockdown. In such days, markets mimic congregations and become perfect inoculation centres for the virus. If they must open, which they should, market days should be more numerous.
Three is the architecture of the two spaces. Markets are mostly open and divided into shops. The space per capita is higher. Mosques and churches keep the majority in enclosures: large rooms with high human density, which become stuffy before the congregation ends.
They are hardly habitable to such large numbers of people except for the aided ventilation of ceiling fans and ACs, which aggravate the dispersal of the virus. The germ from a single cough is carried by the strong wind of the ventilator to several metres before it finally drops on the floor or on another human – if it is not lucky to be inhaled already.
The fourth is the statistics. There are more mosques and churches in Africa than there are markets. The advent of Pentecostal churches and Pentecostal mosques have not helped matters.
Friday mosques and Sunday churches are found in all communities, while markets of the COVID-19 dream are found only in few. It means that if you prevent congregations, you are blocking more inoculation sites than you would with markets. Fifth, comes necessity.
Religious congregations are not as compelling as are markets. God has provided alternatives to worship centers in the face of danger to life. Why must we be more Catholic than the Pope. Why do we seem to like the religion more than its inventor who revealed it to us?
People can pray in their homes or neighbourhood mosques in place of a Friday congregation. Even the prayer can be abandoned to save life or property, said the scripture. As we have seen, markets cannot be closed for a long period.
They have to be opened to enable access to livelihoods. Unless the pandemic becomes so acute, we can do without long closure of markets. Sixth difference is economics. Closing markets in an agrarian economy can be catastrophic.
The loss to farmers that cultivate perishable crops like tomato or marketers that deal in meat or milk will be devastating. Beyond that, closing businesses for a long time means ruining income of the majority.
Earnings in the non-formal and private sector will stop for many. Poverty, the immortal friend of disbelief, will abound. Faith will be in danger. The devil will persuade the affected to question why God allowed such a catastrophe to befall them.
Markets must, therefore, even in the interest of faith, be opened as many times as the situation permits while we continue speaking to the considerate Almighty from the comfort of our homes. What could be more beautiful?
Finally, the seventh: the arithmetic. If both markets and congregations serve as high inoculation sites for the virus, which is wiser: giving the virus two chances or allowing it one only?
Imagine both sites are opened – more people will contract the virus than when only one is opened. If majority of people are given a choice on which to open and which to close, I have no doubt that the majority will be persuaded by reason and compelled by necessity to open the markets and close the congregations.
That is the choice of government. The natural choice. Permit that a congregation should not be more than fifty and thousands will troop in without a single face wearing a mask.
Command us to observe a social distance of six feet and we will stand cemented to each other, as it were, in rows, pretending piety when we cannot keep a trust of a kobo. Say that borders are closed, we will take every pain in following bush paths and bribing border.
Source: Daily Trust
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