COVID-19 has been declared as pandemic by World Health Organization (WHO), as it has spread globally (affecting over 150 countries) and the worst affected countries are China, Italy, Spain, Germany, USA, and Iran, and India declared a complete “lockdown” to prevent its spread. As of writing this Write-Up, WHO’sworldometers data (last updated on 22 March, 06: 15 GMT) show that there are 308,540 “Coronavirus cases”, 13, 069 “deaths” due to this virus, and 95,829 “recovered” cases.
Besides publishing the advisories from various (inter) national Government agencies, all newspapers in J&K (especially from Kashmir valley), on daily basis, publish Opinion pieces (OpEds) related to the history of coronavirus (COVID-19), its preventive measures, precautions and safeguards (Do’s and Don’ts), and religio-medical perspectives on COVID-19, especially after “Fist Coronavirus case in Kashmir” was found (see, for example, “Coronavirus: First positive case in Kashmir”, Rising Kashmir [RK], 18th March). From 20th March (and before that as well), almost all newspapers from Kashmir had carried their OpEds on preventions, precautions, and safeguards against the spread of COVID-19 (see for example, “Here is what People should Know”, Greater Kashmir [GK]; “Advice: Corona Pandemic (COVID19)”, RK; “Why Kashmir Needs Lockdown Redux”, Kashmir Observer [KO]; “Corona Paranoia: Some practical advice on how to be calm and carry on”, Kashmir Reader [KR]; “Corona vs Kashmir” and “Coronavirus: Hitting Like tsunami” (GK); “What coronavirus has taught us about inequality” and “Coronavirus challenge underscores the necessity for ‘action in absence of crisis” (RK); “A Lesson Coronavirus is about to teach the World”, (KO); “Covid19: Challenge of 21st Century” (RK); “The virus doesn't know that” and “Stay In, Stay Put” (GK), etc.
After government announced closing the educational institutions due to Corona, GK, in its Editorial “Corona Pandemic: Is time running out?”, on 19th March also advised that some “uncomfortable decisions” need to be taken by the government as well as public in order to stop spreading the COVID19 and “Before it take[s] a steep rise” in this part of the world.
Earlier, the ‘Dawn’, in its Editorial on 18th March (“Religious Precautions”) also mentioned that “the novel coronavirus has affected routine life around the globe” and thus many countries and cities “are opting for lockdown to stop the spread of the contagion”.
Highlighting the issue of the decision taken by religious scholars and organizations regarding religious gatherings and Friday congregational prayers the Editorial concluded: “Decisions need to be taken rationally, not emotionally, which is why religious scholars and the government must come up with a plan to address issues of public worship during the virus pandemic without further delay”.
On Wednesday and Thursday (18th & 19th March), most of the religious organizations/ ‘Ulama (Religious scholars) issued varied fatwa (religious rulings) and official notices about offering and not–offering the Friday prayers in congregation.
Soon after this announcement was made, social media users (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc.) from Kashmir (and Kashmiri diaspora) acted like “experts” and “analysts” on religion and religious issues as well as on the COVID19.
There was a surge of posts like “I am going to” and “I am not offering” Friday prayers in congregation. Same was seen after the Friday prayers were over. Some posted about the Khutbah (Friday sermon) being made unnecessarily long; other posted about offering Zuhr instead of Friday congregation prayers, and many others posted, and indulged in (let me say futile, pointless, and fruitless) discussions, about different stands taken by different religious organizations/ schools.
This should have been done unanimously by ‘Ulama (representing different ideologies and schools) based on Maslaha (public welfare/ good), but it seems that this too was done to show dominance of one ideology over another, one sect over another, and one scholar over another (very sad and pathetic indeed!!)
The fact is that the COVID19 crisis is faced by humans, globally; it has nothing to do with a particular country or (religious) community. It has affected humans, be it in China or Italy, Iran or India, Saudi Arabia or Pakistan.
However, one is confused to see the trend that has arisen, especially on social media, where everybody is trying to be an “expert” (health as well as religious). One must remember that ‘Religion’ has its own domain, and science has its own, both should not be used or misused, especially in crucial times like this, as having dominance over one another.
Neither should we indulge in debates and discussions that give rise to disputes and differences (like the one related to offering Friday Congregational prayers). Dr MehboobMakhmoodi, in his column on “Corona vs Kashmir” (GK, 21st March) rightly mentioned that on 18th March the “local clergy under the banner of MutahidaMajlis-e-Ulema [MMU] met to discuss the way forward, specifically about the prayers in Masaajid. Surprisingly, they decided to go ahead with 5 joint obligatory prayers in Masjid. This essentially meant they did not advise people to stay home. ... Corona’s viciousness & our preparedness is only one step away from each other.
If it leaps forward, we cannot handle it. MMU’s decision clearly means to wait for Corona to actually hit us before a concrete call is taken. It was disappointing, to say the least. On the other hand, there are some other Ulema who are calling for a congregation, specially to make supplication (Dua) for this virus to go. I may take the liberty to call it ‘throwing a corona party’. This is not the way of Islam”.
Let me cite just few examples: Cleanliness, performing Wudu (ablution), etc., are mandatory for us, as Muslims, as goes the Prophet (pbuh) Traditions (Ahadith): “Cleanliness is part of faith”; “Wash your hands after you wake up; you do not know where your hands have moved while you sleep”; “The blessings of food lie in washing hands before and after eating”; “Those with contagious diseases should be kept away from those who are healthy”; etc. These are also the precautionary measures suggested by medical experts for not getting affected by the Coronavirus and Muslims and non-Muslims have taken refuge from these traditions.
But the sad part is that social media is filled with posts on highlighting the importance of these Islamic customs and traditions and in humanity’s safety from COVID19 by adopting these as preventive measures. Same is the case with banning of hijab in some European/ Western countries (like France) and now of using masks and of relating the two.
More importantly, social media is flooded with highlighting this Prophetic Tradition (that “If you hear of an outbreak of plague in a land, do not enter it; but if the plague outbreaks out in a place while you are in it, do not leave that place”) which has gone “viral” now and is shared by one and all (though with different perceptions and in varied perspectives).
Even the Newsweek, on 17th March, published an Opinion piece by Dr Craig Considine (Department of Sociology at Rice University) “Can the power of Prayer alone stop a Pandemic like the Coronavirus?
Even the Prophet Muhammad [PBUH] thought otherwise”), has quoted it and other Traditions and has shared it on his twitter handle (@CraigCons), calling it “A timely hadith in light of COVID19” (in my modest inion, this piece can be described as a best OpEd on balancing Religion, Religious (Islamic) Beliefs and Rationality, and I recommend it to be read by everyone). True. It has relevance and we should have firm belief in the blessed words of the Prophet (pbuh).
But isn’t it our double-standard when, on one hand, we use this hadith as a precaution and remedy for critical situations like COVID19, and on other hand, many of us are protesting and forcing the government to bring back those (Kashmiris) who are (stuck) in countries like China, Iran, etc.?
Moreover, one sees that there are different interpretations of the words CORONA (in English, Urdu, And Arabic) taking it as an Abbreviation which, for them, connotes this and that.
Mr AijazUlHaq (in his Sunday Column, “The Virus does not know that”: This goddamn Corona is too blind to differentiate obligatory from non-obligatory, staff from students, VIPs from the ordinary”, GK, 22nd March) puts it beautifully and I quote these lines form his column: “Keeping in view the corona threat our religious scholars have urged Muslims to offer sunnah and nafl at home and gather at mosques only for farz. Good thinking. But the problem is this. You know it’sfarz, we know it’s farz, but the virus doesn’t know that. What has happened to us.
At a time when the whole human race is facing a survival threat, we choose to reserve our mental energy by not using our minds when it’s most needed. This incurable infection to our common sense is deadlier than the world-notorious Covid-19. The whole world cries out loud. There is no medicine, no vaccine, no magic.
The only way this corona monster can be kept at bay is to maintain social distancing as much as possible. ... Realizing the danger even the two biggest centers of congregation Makkah and Madina have been closed down.
Except the emergency services—the bare minimum required to sustain life—everything else has been suspended. It’s an extraordinary situation that demands an extraordinary response. ... It’s not a jurisprudential debate where different schools of thought will come out with different inferences.
We don’t arrange an intellectual discussion to focus on a challenge that stares us with all horror. There is no brainstorming required to address something that can storm our brains and bodies once for ever. ... We request all socio-religious organizations to issue a simple statement without explaining what to do when? Lock it all. Stay home. Worship in isolation. Once the threat will fade away—and we pray it does—then throng in millions and thank God for giving us another chance to live on His earth. But till then make your home your mosque”.
It is true that, as Muslims, we should have firm belief in al-Qadr (pre-destination) and in that all good and bad (khayrwasharr) is from Almighty Allah—the Supreme Authority who controls everything in this universe and in whose power is life and death.
It is also incumbent on us that we should neither give heed to rumours nor should one indulge in spreading them, for it is against the Qur’anic ethics (Q. 49: 6-7, “Believers, if a troublemaker brings you news, check it ﬁrst, in case you wrong others unwittingly and later regret what you have done”).
We, as a Muslim community, should not forget the Qur’anic dictums that “But [Prophet], give good news to those who are steadfast, those who say, when afflicted with a calamity, ‘We belong to God and to Him we shall return’” (Q. 2: 156-57) and “Say, ‘Only what God has decreed will happen to us. He is our Master: let the believers put their trust in God’” (Q. 9: 51).
Dear Fellow Kashmiris (and everyone indulged in ‘unnecessary’ debates/ discussions and instead of doing what is necessary right now)! At this critical juncture, don’t indulge in debates and discussions to show Islam (or any specific Islamic Tradition or custom, etc.) is right or wrong or Science and Scientists are helpless or of no value/ have failed.
Don’t even try to prove superiority or inferiority, success or failure, of Religion over Science or vice-versa. Don’t act like “experts” and “analysts” in each and every field and on every issue and topic.
Have Trust in Allah, strong belief in Religion (Islam/ Islamic Customs and Traditions) and follow the Do’s and Don’ts (Precautions/Advisory) issued by WHO, national and local health agencies and experts and by different government advisories—that is what is direly needed at this critical juncture/ crucial moment.
Don’t make the current pandemic crisis as something about ‘Religion vs. Science’, or about ‘No Science Only Religion’, but it should be about ‘Religion and Rationality’ (practical implementation of the Prophetic saying that “Tie your camel first, then put your trust in Allah”). In sum, it is not time for debates and discussions, but for adopting and embracing precautions and safety measures.
Author is Assistant Professor, Islamic Studies, at Govt. Degree College for Women,Pulwama