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Crowding into mosques for Friday worship is a touchstone of life for Muslims around the world. But this moment is unprecedented. For the first time in Muslim history, communities ranging from Kenya to Saudi Arabia, from Britain to Kuwait have shuttered or curtailed access to mosques. Not so in Pakistan, where clerics are defiant. NPR's Diaa Hadid reports from Islamabad.
DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Men walk into the mosque for Friday prayers in this Islamabad suburb. They're dressed in their nicest clothes. The ground floor is packed. Others clamber up a spiral staircase to find space upstairs. The preacher's begun his sermon.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Non-English language spoken).
HADID: Pakistan's taken a piecemeal approach to the coronavirus pandemic. In some provinces, shops are closed. In others, big gatherings are banned. There's a shortage of protective gear for health workers. And doctors warn this pandemic will overwhelm this largely poor country of 220 million people.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Non-English language spoken).
HADID: the clerics here say the mosques will stay open. Shutting them down would invite God's anger at a time when they need his mercy. Saleh Mohammed arrives on his motorbike. He's here to find solace. And in a mosque, his prayers will be heard.
SALEH MOHAMMED: (Through interpreter) We are coming here because God says, when you are in trouble, come to me. I will help you out.
HADID: Sadiq Bhutt is a retired civil servant. And he says things just can't be that bad.
SADIQ BHUTT: (Non-English language spoken).
HADID: He says if the pandemic was serious, the government would've shut down all the mosques. But mosques belonging to Pakistan's Shiite minority are closing. They're heeding the call of prominent Shiite clerics. And leading Pakistanis, including the president, are urging people to stay home. But critics say the government fear is angering powerful religious groups, so they won't enforce a ban. Those groups partly rely on mosque donations for funds.
As we report, a woman walks up to us.
FATIMA MERAJ: I was just passing through, and I saw you. So I just came away to know, what is going on over here?
HADID: Fatima Meraj says the mosques have to stay open but with precautions.
MERAJ: You are not buying the food from a market. Will you stop that? No. If we cannot stop eating, if we cannot stop drinking water, so how can we stop going to the mosque?
HADID: She says this is a religious country. And here, an act of faith is as essential as drinking water.
Diaa Hadid, NPR News, Islamabad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.