Thousands of people packed into mosques in Tajikistan on Friday to attend Islamic prayers before a ban on religious gatherings comes into effect to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Thousands of men walked and prayed in tight formation at the central mosque in Tajikistan's capital Dushanbe.Most were wearing masks.
"We try not to fear, we walk under God and are grateful to him," said Saabzali Kosimi, a 71-year-old clergyman present at the mosque.
Tightly-controlled Tajikistan -- the poorest of the republics to gain independence from the Soviet Union -- is one of the few countries in the world that claims to have no coronavirus infections.
And while private media reports appear to cast doubt on that claim, worshippers told AFP in Dushanbe said that they believed the country was virus-free.
The government-controlled religious authorities have banned "public prayers and religious rites" from Saturday. The ban will remain in place "until the stabilisation of the epidemiological situation in the world."
Farkhod Rakhmatulloyev, a 42-year-old entrepreneur, told AFP on Friday that he had come to the mosque "to pray for "peace and prosperity.""Thank Allah that in our prospering Tajikistan we do not have this illness."
Most other mainly Muslim countries have already placed restrictions on public prayers.
Earlier this week Dushanbe's municipal government banned mass public events for a holiday honouring the capital on Saturday.
But in March, long-serving President Emomali Rakhmon presided over celebrations involving thousands of people across the country in honour of the Nowruz spring holiday that is one of the most important dates in the Tajik calendar.
Leaders the world over were advocating social distancing at the time.
Saadullo Gaibzoda, a jobseeker attending prayers on Friday said he understood why the government had decided to impose the ban on public worship.
"Everything that the authorities introduce is done for our health, for our well-being, for our children," Gaibzoda said.
More than 90 percent of Central Asian country's population adheres to Islam but the government is secular and wary of the religion's popularity.