Shaikh Ahmad Kutty and Faisal Kutty
disinfect the ground around the Kaaba, the cubic building at the Grand Mosque,
in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, on March 7.
Some religious institutions are continuing
with their gatherings by limiting the number of worshippers. The risks are too
serious given the composition of such gatherings and their proximity to each
Every religious institution must lead by
example and suspend all such gatherings. The vast majority of mosques exercised
responsibility and suspended prayers and gatherings even before public health
called for this, but a few remain open.
decision of mosques to remain open boggles the mind because they proclaim to be
following prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), who unequivocally taught the
Indeed, one of the five higher objectives
(maqasid) of the Sharia is the preservation of life. Therefore, Muslims are
mandated to take all steps to prevent harm. This would obviously include taking
all steps to prevent the spread of diseases.
It may be surprise to many that the Prophet
preached the idea of quarantine almost 1,400 years ago when he said, “no person
who is afflicted with a communicable disease should be brought near the
He also said, “If you learn of a city with a
contagious affliction, do not enter it; if you are in it, do not leave it [to
prevent spreading the disease].” The Prophet also advised people to keep away
from those with infectious diseases. In one incident when someone with what was
considered a contagious disease stretched out his hands to give him the oath of
allegiance, the Prophet did not take his hand but assured him gently, “We have
already received your oath of allegiance.”
The Prophet himself set the precedent of cancelling
congregational prayers during natural phenomena, such as heavy rains or
flooding. Indeed, he taught, “Where there is a potential tangible harm, it
ought to be removed.”
Moreover, it is an often-quoted admonishment
of the Prophet that those who consume garlic should stay away from public
prayer gatherings until the foul smell is gone for the fear of being offensive
to others. How can those who proclaim to follow him endanger the lives of others
for the sake of gaining the additional benefits of congregational prayer? The
all-powerful and most merciful God is everywhere, can accept prayers wherever
performed and can certainly appreciate our concern with the global COVID-19
Years later the Caliph Umar Ibn Khattab
demonstrated these teachings. On his way to what is Syria today he heard that
it was infected with cholera and decided to return to Madinah. When a companion
asked, “Are you fleeing from the decree of God?”, Umar replied, “Not at all;
instead, we are fleeing from one decree of God to another!”
Umar then asked, “If you were to take your
herd away from a drought-stricken area to a fertile valley, aren’t you
complying with the decree of Allah?” Umar reinforced the idea that accepting
the will of God does not in any way contradict the human free will and freedom
to work to realize beneficial goals, nor to prevent possible harm.
Islamic principles provide guidance in this
unprecedented situation. The consensus of the scholars is that people who are
sick or fear getting sick are excused from attending congregational prayers.
Likewise, those who are detained or imprisoned (and therefore in isolation) are
also in this category.
Experts over the last few weeks have been
preaching that proper hygiene and washing oneself are critical in this battle
against this deadly disease. For Muslims, these practices should be nothing
In a hadith that any Muslim child can recite
from memory, the Prophet taught that “cleanliness is half of faith.” In fact,
the Prophet instructed, “Wash your hands after you wake up. You do not know
where your hands have moved while you slept.” He further taught that the “The
blessings of food lie in washing hands before and after eating.”
A practicing Muslim is further instructed to
pray five times a day. Ideally, before each of these prayers, one is directed
to perform ablutions that mandate washing the hands, arms to the elbow, face,
cleaning out the nostrils and even cleaning the ears.
Lastly, another teaching, which many will
appreciate in this era of toilet paper shortage, the Prophet taught that after
using the toilet, water must be used to thoroughly clean the private parts.
Muslims have no reason to ignore the public
health directives to focus on their cleanliness and quarantining themselves. In
fact, it is arguably a religious obligation.
Shaikh Ahmad Kutty is a senior resident
scholar at the Islamic Institute of Toronto. Faisal Kutty is a lawyer and law
professor at The Dwayne O. Andreas School of Law, Barry University.
Headline: Original: Practicing Islam in the time of COVID-19