The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic is the latest humanitarian crises that has united our world and countries are battling this new threat to human life and our survival. This is a special feature to highlight the Muslim communities reactions towards the coronavirus particularly the measures undertaken by many Islamic countries for its containment and spread.
Since the initial days of the pandemic outbreak, we have observed mixed reactions from Muslims worldwide, ranging from the total denial of the health risk to distorted arguments void of religious perspectives.
In many Muslim countries, there was social unrest and protests against the closure of mosques and restrictions from holding the religious events. The anger of Ummah was fueled further by prominent religious personalities for instance, in Morocco the Salafist preacher Abu Naim published a video on social media condemning the policy measure of mosques closures. However, he was arrested on charges of “inciting hatred” and “undermining public order.”
We are aware that Salafism is an ultra conservative fundamentalist reform movement within Sunni Islam and during this year’s pandemic many of its preachers have been promoting incorrect religious debates that created confusion, social unrest and mass demonstrations. Taking Abu Naim’s lead, other Salafists also started to condemn the coronavirus measures put into place by governments of many Islamic countries. In Kuwait we observed the Salafist imam Hakem al-Mutairi openly condemned the closures of religious sites, including the mosques and the suspension of daily prayers across the region.
These irresponsible actions were followed by people demos across the cities of Tangier, Fes, Sale, and Tetuan where Muslims defied the movement control and prayed together in public. Similar incidents took place in other parts of the world within populations of Muslim countries or migrant diaspora in the West.
Unfortunately, the role played by many conservative and closed minded religious leaders became a part of the problem as many governments were unprepared for facing the pandemic.
Moreover, it is condemnable that Islamic leadership at such a challenging time would manipulate the masses by promoting obscurantist and bizarre religious arguments. In their minds, the coronavirus is not hard to explain. Their speeches in street protests, mosques, on televisions and social media are just mind blowing, if not mind boggling!
Full of illogical and extremely reckless narratives, many took it upon themselves to declare that, “The world has only to learn from the lessons of the ancient peoples mentioned in the Qurʼān, peoples who experienced the wrath of Allah like the peoples of Noah.”
We were given outlandish descriptions such as coronavirus has originated from the widespread fornication and adultery. If not that, many Islamists in their political aspirations tried many to imply that the humanitarian crises brought on with the pandemic outbreak is a divine retribution. One can well imagine the confusion and scare they went on to diffuse among the Muslims populations worldwide.
At the same time, Muslim militant groups also started spouting their take on the pandemic with commentary such as “The virus is God’s army that destroys the kafirs (or otherwise – the infidels) which according to them is Allah’s will on the infidels, apostates and polytheists“.
In my country Pakistan, as well as some other South Asian countries, imams argued against closure of mosques and religious schools, according to them “Islamic prayers protect from COVID-19 and that Muslims should not fear to come in mosques and carry on life as it was before the pandemic.” These tensions caused civil disorders and strikes but the governments negotiated with the Islamic leadership and enforce the lockdown quarantines.
We also saw that some Islamic states used the ongoing pandemic to push forward their conspiracy theories, take the example of Saudi Arabia that went on to blame the Muslim Shi’ites for the COVID-19 pandemic, and in Africa the Egyptian media initially dismissed the coronavirus as a hoax.
Islam as a religion is very clear on the “preservation” of human life which is considered a duty among its followers, therefore such distorted narratives of Quranic and Sunnah teachings hold no value within the faith.
The Muslim countries governments tackled such confrontations by adhering to the principles that “sanction the protection of human life and its survival” and authorities in almost all of Muslim countries had closed mosques, suspended group prayers and Friday gatherings. Even the month of Ramadan, fasting was a somber affair among the Muslims and there were movement control orders against socialization.
Please stay tuned for part II, by my co-author Papatia Feauxzar who will digress on the Islamic teachings on health care and pandemic measures.
We urge you to follow the covid-19 regulations to stay safe and Covid free!
Islamic History tell us of many teachings to take away when facing a plague. The first and widely known hadith from our Prophet (ﷺ) said, “If you hear of an outbreak of plague in a land, do not enter it; but if the plague breaks out in a place while you are in it, do not leave that place.”— (Sahih al-Bukhari 5728, Book 76, Hadith 43.) In other words, we must practice social distancing.
When the outbreak of covid started early past December 2019, I witnessed many religious leaders in the US also say that the enemies of Islam were preventing believers from performing religious rites. Hajj rites to be precise. Whether or not this theory is right remains elusive to the general public since much of covid intel is classified. Thankfully, the reality of the outbreak made the same religious leaders recant their previous statements and urge their followers to self-quarantine and follow Prophetic advices including washing hands regularly especially before eating, covering one’s faces when sneezing and staying clean around the clock as cleanliness is a requirement of the Islamic faith since ablutions are advised to be performed a minimum of five to seven times before each of the five fard prayers of the day and two nafil prayers ; duha salat and tahajjud. If we adhere to these guidelines, normally the ummah should be the least affected by the covid virus. In parenthesis, if your wudu is still valid between salats, strive to wash your hands frequently throughout the day and avoid touching your face unnecessarily.
However, like any other communities we have also been hit the hardest when we shouldn’t have. Why?
Many Imams have fallen like flies around the world such as in countries like Iran. My country of birth, Ivory Coast, was even hit because a beloved prominent Imam passed away due to exposure to covid. These communities’ leaders were hit because they were public servants exposed to many of their congregants refusing to social distance and constantly seeking their counsel even in dire quarantine times.
The tight-knit nature of immigrant communities also makes it harder to get the outbreak under control in the US. We forget that many of the sahabas, may Allah be pleased with them, including the Prophet (ﷺ) preferred a life of seclusion the majority of the time for zuhud purposes. It’s not a religious requirement to always pray in jamat or groups. Yes, it reaps more rewards but our personal silah—connection with Allah should be more of a priority.
Furthermore, saying that covid is a punishment on the kafirs can’t be verified. Islamic texts also indicate that a plague is also martyrdom for the believers because many sahabas and their families during the time of Prophet (ﷺ) and shortly after fell victims to social outbreaks outside of their capabilities and reach. They were declared martyrs.
The composition of these martyrs ranged from good souls who helped quarantine the sick population from the healthy ones as islamically prescribed. This selfless sacrifice and act is the reason they were declared martyrs. For these reasons, let’s continue to pray for the people on the frontlines; the nurses, the doctors, and the essential workers who have to show up daily so that our economy’s wheels keep turning. We all have families and ourselves to feed and support. Alhamdullilah ala kulli haal.
To end, other fell as martyrs because the outbreak was already in the land and because of Prophetic teachings, they refused to leave the land to run away from the disease and “save themselves.” They could have but they didn’t. This is the kind of love our predecessors had for Islam and its teachings. It pained many Caliphs to see their friends stuck in faraway lands when outbreaks spread but they stuck to Prophetic teachings and let it go. We are just travelers in this life after all, and they must have realized that. Let’s follow in their footsteps and practice safety for the benefit of society as a whole. Allahu alim.
‘The Written vs. NOT Written Stuff’ is the copyrighted online series on issues within the global Muslim communities- joint initiative of two Muslimah writers, Papatia Feuxzar & Saadia Haq. Readers feedback is appreciated, please do drop us a line here or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bio Saadia Haq: The brainchild of this blog, she’s a Pakistani feminist writer and an investigative journalist on human rights issues. Bio Papatia Feauxzar: an American author of West African descent, the online magazine editor and the unwavering writer of Between Sisters, SVP and creator of Fofky’s; an Online Book and Coffee/Tea Shop.
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