- Letting the virus loose
The coronavirus pandemic has become a global threat and there is an unqualified consensus among all nations and experts that the only way its spread could be prevented is to exercise strict social distancing and by the imposition of complete or partial lockdowns according to the prevailing situation. Almost all the countries of the world are therefore putting lot of emphasis on preventive measures. Along with the closure of businesses and other places of public gatherings the people have also been barred from assembling at their places of worship.
The Muslim countries including Saudi Arabia recognizing the threat to human lives and the gravity of the situation have also banned congregations in the mosques including the Kaaba and the Masjid-e-Nabvi. The prayers in them have been banned since March 19.There is a possibility than even the Hajj might have to be cancelled this year.
Reportedly, Saudi Hajj Minister Muhammad Salih bin Taher Banten, told a Saudi TV channel, “The Muslims who are expected to perform Hajj at least once in their lives – should wait before concluding contracts. Under the current circumstances, as we are talking about the global pandemic, from which we have asked God to save us, the kingdom is keen to protect the health of Muslims and citizens”. If Saudi Arabia cancels 2020 Hajj it will not be for the first time that that would happen. It has happened almost 40 times since the first Hajj by the Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) (in which it was purified from pagan practices) in 629. It had to be suspended or cancelled due to conflicts, plagues and epidemics.
The agreement might be good from the perspective of amity with the clergy and taking consensual measures, but it surely is a perfect recipe for an exponential increase in the number of coronavirus cases. It will not be administratively possible for the government to make sure that the prayers were held the way they have been conceived to be held
The highest religious body of Saudi Arabia, the Council of Senior Scholars, also urged Muslims worldwide to pray at home during Ramadan saying “Muslims shall avoid gatherings because they are the main cause of the spread of infection and shall remember that preserving the lives of people is a great act that brings them closer to Allah”. Earlier, Saudi Grand Mufti Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah bin Muhammad Al-Sheikh had said “ Ramadan Taraveeh prayers can be performed at home if not at the mosque due to the preventive measures taken to fight the spread of the coronavirus”.
Prayers have also been suspended at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque since March 23 until further notice. The doors of the mosque and of the adjoining Dome of the Rock were shut a week before implementation of the full ban. Al-Aqsa is the third most sacred site for Muslims. That is the place from where the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) began his night journey to heaven.
Similarly Sheikh Zayed’s Grand Mosque in UAE has been closed for prayers and visits since March 15. Located in Abu Dhabi, the capital city of the United Arab Emirates, the site is the country’s largest mosque and the principal place of worship for daily, Friday and Eid prayers. The Grand Mufti of UAE in his edict has said that suspending prayers in UAE mosques as a precaution against the coronavirus is a decision based on Sharia and public health. In an exclusive interview with Gulf News, Dr Ahmad Abdul Aziz Al Haddad, who is also head of the fatwa (Islamic edict) department at Dubai’s Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities Department (IACAD), said “Sharia is all-encompassing and puts appropriate solutions for such emergency conditions. The basis for suspension of prayers stems from the principle of mitigating danger and harm to the people. One of the general rules of Sharia is to defend against harm. There is great harm that could result from the spread of this virus. Sharia is all encompassing and puts appropriate solutions for such emergency conditions. Thus, people are asked to pray at their homes to ensure they remain protected and safe.”
According a Hadith in Sahih Bukhari the Prophet said, “If you hear of an outbreak of plague in a land, do not enter it; … if plague breaks out in a country where you are staying do not run away from it.” There could not have been a more authentic narrative about people staying put and maintaining social distancing in the event of the spread of an epidemic or the pandemic like the corona virus.
However it is really regrettable to note that the clergy in Pakistan is not prepared to heed either the Hadith and measures adopted by other Muslim countries to discourage congregations at worship places, nor the edicts issued by the religious scholars of the Islamic world. First they agreed to the guidelines given by the government regarding daily and Juma prayers, and then after two weeks retracted from their commitment and announced that from 14 April onward the mosques would be open for all kinds of prayers including taraveeh during the month of Ramadan. This forced the government to reconvene a moot of the Ulema to discuss the new development and adopt a consensus-based strategy. The government has almost conceded their demands with certain restrictions and guidelines.
The government probably did this to avoid any ugly situation and placate the clergy under the compelling circumstances but the worrying factor is that who would make sure that the conditions put forth for such congregations would be implemented in letter and spirit. Some newspaper have published a picture of Juma prayer at Lal Masjid in Islamabad where the people and Iman seem to have set aside all the precautionary and preventive measures by sitting shoulder to shoulder and attending the prayers in big numbers.
So far Pakistan has not been affected by the virus as badly as other countries of the world, thanks to the lockdown enforced by the government. But I do not feel comfortable with the idea of allowing the mosques to hold prayers as per the agreed agenda. The agreement might be good from the perspective of amity with the clergy and taking consensual measures, but it surely is a perfect recipe for an exponential increase in the number of coronavirus cases. It will not be administratively possible for the government to make sure that the prayers were held the way they have been conceived to be held.
Agreed that collective prayers in the mosques have a great significance from the Islamic point of view but it is also an irrefutable reality that Islam gives more importance to the human lives than prayers in the situations of danger to human lives. I think the people must understand it and avoid going to the mosques for daily, Juma and taravee prayers. That is how they can save their own lives and their countrymen besides sustaining government efforts to fight the pandemic.