The benevolence is remarkable, and still more in the holy month of Ramzan. The spirit of the endeavour transcends religious divides. With the West Bengal government contending with overcrowding amidst a dearth of quarantine centres ~ ‘home quarantine’ is no substitute ~ Covid-19 patients will benefit enormously in the wake of the fatwa by Muslim clerics to allow madrasas to be transformed as quarantine establishments.

These institutions of learning have all too often been criticised for their antediluvian syllabi. As reported in this newspaper, Muslim clerics in the state have directed the madrasas to keep the admission process in abeyance for a few months in order to facilitate the use of their premises as quarantine centres. While the process is yet to be set in motion across the state, it is a reassuring development that the imam of a mosque in Metiabruz has offered the sprawling premises for use as a quarantine centre.

It is fervently to be hoped that communal harmony will be strengthened in the wake of the appeal advanced by the Bengal Imams Association, specifically that it is a gesture to “perform the duty towards the motherland”.

Additionally and perhaps still more importantly, the imams have urged the authorities of madrasas ~ totalling around 2000 in West Bengal ~ “not to wait for the government to do everything but come forward to serve the people in such times of crisis as responsible citizens”. Given that in the manner of conventional schools and colleges, the madrasas are also closed in the wake of the lockdown, now poised to enter Phase 4, the usual process of admission is in suspended animation.

Ergo, it makes sense and eminently so if the buildings that house the madrasas can now function as quarantine centres… on condition equipment and facilities are put in place by the state’s health department. This must be the vital prerequisite. Apart from madrasas, even the authorities of spacious mosques have been urged by the imams to allow their space to be advantageously used as quarantine units.

Not the least because hundreds of thousands of people are now returning to West Bengal by special trains. The religious premises, whether a madrasa or a shrine, can offer shelter and healthcare to those who need to be quarantined but have to languish for dearth of space. The West Bengal government’s quarantine facilities are reported to be “overflowing”, prompting the Chief Minister to recommend “home quarantine” in suitably hygienic circumstances.

While this has prompted the charge that the adminstration has thrown in the towel, the burgeoning crowds and the dearth of space do represent a forbidding challenge, even a source of what doctors call “secondary infection”. Arguably, the authorities of schools and colleges can emulate the signal initiative of the madrasas, at the behest of the clerics.