virus outbreak of massive proportions has killed tens of thousands, infected
nearly a million and caused major changes to the way humans interact, travel,
eat and live. The nearest similar disaster was the Spanish flu in 1918 that had
infected 500m people and killed about a quarter of the world’s population at
the spread of Covid-19, measures are being taken to isolate countries,
consisting of travel bans and restrictions on movement of people outside their
homes. This means dire changes to daily routines, including obtaining food,
carrying out necessary work, providing health services and undertaking social
One of the
main actions of human beings is meeting religious obligations: to God and to
the people. The first is met through prayer, which, for Muslims, means
congregational prayers on Fridays and funerals, fasting, umrah and Haj.
Christians visit churches; Hindus and Sikhs go to temples; and Jews attend
synagogues. Most countries have banned gatherings of more than three to five
people, since the virus spreads fast among those who are in close proximity to
each other. Religious gatherings that have people interacting with each other
closely can be a major cause for the rapid spread of the virus.
the deadly nature of the virus and the increasing number of infections and
deaths, most Muslim countries have suspended congregational prayers on Fridays,
including Turkey and Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt, Jordan and Malaysia. Saudi Arabia
and several other states have declared fatwas to this effect, no prayers are
being held in Makkah and Madina, and Saudi Arabia is dissuading Muslims from
making Haj arrangements. These are extreme measures, but the danger to humanity
is also extreme.
Muslims Disobey Orders From The Authorities?
understandable that many Muslims will feel an emotional pinch on being deprived
of collective prayer; many students of religious learning will be concerned
over the distancing they must practise from their teachers. Should Muslims
disobey orders from the authorities and continue to gather in large numbers for
Friday and funeral prayers? After all, if one is to contract the illness, she
or he will do so as per God’s will. And who can question His will?
This is the
sentiment of many Muslims, including many clerics, who seem to have ignored the
writ of the government in Pakistan. Hundreds of cases in Punjab have been
traced to the holding of religious gatherings, including spreading it to Gaza,
and mosques up until recently were full of worshippers sitting in close
proximity to one another.
violations are contrary to what we can understand from Islamic teachings. We
find examples of the Prophet (PBUH) excusing sick persons from attending Friday
prayers (Al-Sunna al-Saghir: 241). In times of plague, he advised people to
neither travel to nor from the infected place (Sahih Bukhari: 5730).
time, health experts who could provide detailed information about the spread of
infectious diseases did not exist. He gave overall advice, taking guidance from
the Quran that places human life and its protection as the ultimate
responsibility of human beings. Our lives and bodies belong to God and we must
do what we can to protect ourselves and others from potential harm. A primary
principle is that the possibility of harm takes precedence over potential
benefit (2:219). Fear of potential harm and the extent of the ability to deal
with it are determinant factors in the rules of fiqh.
also asked people to make efforts for protection as best as they could: the
rest would be up to God. A famous hadith calls for tethering the camel, not
leaving its protection to God.
reminds human souls of the time before existence, when all had witnessed to
being His servants. Islam’s core is to make humans aware of this meeting and
our return to Him, to connect us with God and with each other. We can
contribute to this by avoiding the possibility of harm and supporting each
other during times of hardship. Refusing to stay away from gatherings is a
deliberate denial of the sanctity of life and health, and certain clerics are
doing a disservice to themselves and others if they insist on congregations.
response to this global danger must be highlighted by all-out and collective
action to serving those who may be less fortunate in terms of access to food
and other essentials. It may not be enough to dole out charity. We need to
share what we have with others who depend on daily earnings, reaching out to
them individually and in small groups so as not to violate the idea of physical
distancing. This is a challenge also to our religious clerics to carry out
their duty, and call people to show compassion and love, instead of engaging in
unnecessary debates that encourage people to ignore health warnings.
Sattar is a freelance contributor with an interest in religion.
Headline: Muslim response
Source: The Dawn, Pakistan