COVID-19 has been declared as pandemic by WHO, as it has spread globally (affecting over 150 countries) and the worst affected countries are China, Italy, and Iran; India declared a complete “lockdown” to prevent its spread. As of writing this Column (20th March, 1600 Hrs), WHO’s worldometer figures show that there are 246,881 “Coronavirus cases”, 10,064 “deaths” due to this virus, and 88,510 “recovered” cases.
Right now, this pandemic is discussed globally (and in our context as well), at four levels: (i) from health/ medical point of view; (ii) from religious perspective (iii) from politico-economic point of view, and (iv) as a conspiracy theory (for later two categories, see, for example, Drs Muzafar Shaheen and Abrar ul Haq Wani, “Corona Virus Epidemic: Politico-economic Fall Out”, Greater Kashmir, 16th March; Daniel Pipes, “Conspiracy Theories in a Time of Virus”, The Washington Times, 17th March and Gary C. Gambill, “Daniel Pipes COVID-19 Conspiracy Theories ‘Need to be Refuted’”, Middle East Forum Webinar, 19th March).
Besides publishing the advisories from various (inter) national Government agencies, all newspapers in Kashmir, on daily basis, publish opinion pieces (OpEds) related to the history of corona virus (COVID-19), its preventive measures, precautions and safeguards (Do’s and Don’ts), and religio-medical perspectives on COVID-19. On 20th March, 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”, GK; “Advice: Corona Pandemic (COVID19)”, Rising Kashmir; “Why Kashmir Needs Lockdown Redux”, Kashmir Observer; “Corona Paranoia: Some practical advice on how to be calm and carry on”, Kashmir Reader, etc.). This has increased after Kashmir confirmed first case of corona virus (see, for example, GK news item, “Fist Coronavirus case in Kashmir as Khanyar Resident tests positive: Govt.”, 18th March).
The 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”.
The Newsweek, on 17th March, published an Opinion piece by Dr Craig Considine (“Can the power of Prayer alone stop a Pandemic like the Coronavirus? Even the Prophet Muhammad [pbuh] thought otherwise”), which, in my modest opinion, can be described as a best OpEd on balancing Religion, Religious (Islamic) Beliefs and Rationality. Dr. Craig (Department of Sociology at Rice University) is a scholar, professor, global speaker, media contributor and the author of The Humanity of Muhammad: A Christian View (2020), and Islam in America: Exploring the Issues (2019).
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): there were varied (religious rulings/ opinions) and announcements regarding same in Kashmir, which were not based on Maslaha (public welfare; public good) but just to show dominance of one ideology over another, one sect over another.
It is true that, as Muslims, we should have firm belief in al-Qadr (pre-destination) and in that all good and bad (khayr wa sharr) is from Allah. 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). 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).
Let me cite just few examples: Cleanliness, performing Wudu (ablution), etc., are mandatory for us, as Muslims, as go the Traditions: “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 Corona virus 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 and 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 in his Newsweek piece, Dr Craig has quoted it and other Traditions and has shared it on his twitter handle (@CraigCons), calling it “A timely hadith in light of COVID19”. 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 are protesting and forcing the government to bring back those (Kashmiris) who are in countries like China, Iran, etc.? As Dr Craig has rightly mentioned that “Muhammad [pbuh] encouraged people to seek guidance in their religion, but he hoped they take basic precautionary measures for the stability, safety and well-being of all. In other words, he hoped people would use their common sense.” Moreover, one sees that there are different interpretations of the words CORONA (in English, Urdu, And Arabic) taking it as an abbreviation which connotes this and that.
Bottom Line: 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 try to be experts in each field and on every issue. ……. Last, but not the least, Trust in Allah, have firm 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 in such a critical juncture/ crucial moment. Let sanity prevail over our insanity and rationality/ seriousness over vainness/ non-seriousness (both in the capacity of beings humans and Muslims). The author is Assistant Professor, Islamic Studies, at GDC for Women, Pulwama (J&K).