Thousands defy lockdown for funeral of Muslim cleric in Bangladesh

New Delhi/Dhaka: Thousands of people on Saturday defied the countrywide lockdown to attend the funeral of a Muslim cleric in Bangladesh, triggering fears of rapid spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

The news media in Bangladesh reported that thousands of people, without masks and in clear violations of social distancing, participated in the funeral prayers of Khelafat Majlish’s ‘Nayeb-e Amir’ Maulana Zubayer Ahmad Ansari, held at a madrasa in Bertola village under Sorail Upazila of Brahmanbaria district. The cleric had passed away at his home last night.

The gathering was so large that the authorities did not bother to stop it, media reports said.

Noted Bangladeshi author who lives in exile in Sweden, Taslima Nasreen tweeted that 50,000 people had attended the funeral prayers, defying the ban on mass gatherings during the lockdown. “Stupid government didn’t even try to stop these stupid people,” she tweeted.

Nasreen was driven out by religious fundamentalists for her critical commentary on Islam and Muslims in her 1993 book ‘Shame’.

Like many other Muslim majority countries where religious congregations are turning out to be a major multiplier in the coronavirus pandemic, the Saturday funeral gathering could become Bangladesh’s hotspot for the outbreak. So far, over 2,100 people have tested positive and 84 have died due to coronavirus in Bangladesh.

Religious hardliners have thrown a major challenge in Muslim majority countries. For example, in Iran, hardline Shia Muslims stormed shrines even as they were shut after hundreds had tested positive for Covid-19. A group of over 53 senior clerics in Pakistan recently warned the Imran Khan government against the ban on religious congregations during the lockdown.

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