Jokes explain tragedies better. Here is one. In olden days when television was new and people were unfamiliar with this recent invention showing motion pictures on the screen, an old man while seeing a big roaring bear on the screen shook with terror. As he stood up to run away, the guy sitting next to him held his hand, pulled him back and told him, `don’t worry man, this is television and the bear will not step out of the screen to eat you alive.’ But the old man didn’t sit back to watch the show any further. He fled and while fleeing, replied. `You know it’s television, I know it’s television, but the bear doesn’t know that’.
In a life-threatening condition like we are facing today, we shouldn’t play out a joke for a mere laugh. Actually this old and forgotten crack came alive when I read the statement of some religious bodies asking people to come in the mosques for `obligatory prayers’ only. 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’s farz, 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. An infection that can be triggered by a mere touch can swallow millions as a meal. It’s like a sleeping atom bomb and if it goes off, there will be no one left to isolate ourselves from. Still we have the luxury of using isolation as the only anti-virus against Corona.
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. If you tell people to minimize your presence in the mosque what does that mean. The virus knows no time frame and no setting and no situation in which it decides to attack or not to attack. You can’t deny it the gate pass. 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. This `obligatory’ and `non-obligatory’ debate is invalid even if the chances of an epidemic outbreak are the slightest. Well, we can’t avert the inevitable, but we can at least do the little we can. Religion is all about sense. Suspending our five simple senses and invoking our mysterious sixth one is a wisdom of rare breed I don’t subscribe to. Mosques are our centres of religious and social interaction. Mosques we need to assemble an otherwise amorphous mass of people. But prayers are possible only when survival is possible.
We need not explain that an obligatory prayer needs queuing up which again won’t happen without the physical brush which in this situation is considered the first signal to disaster. (Left to me I would suggest the reverse. Offer nafl and sunnah at the mosque, farz at home as the first two don’t demand coming closer, the third does). Asking khateebs to shorten their sermons means inviting a close door audience. Once we huddle together how can we keep the infection from travelling. No medical consultations, the elephant is too big to be searched out through a microscope. Then hurrying home to offer sunnah and nafl is another way of carrying home the invisible, intractable virus which unfortunately is faith blind to make a distinction between a home and a mosque. Too little or too big, too long or two short doesn’t matter, the problem is size neutral. A bullet kills the same way as a bomb does. 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.
After clergy, the second (or in some cases the first) craziest institution is our bureaucracy. There is no doubt that state administration is facing the toughest challenge. In a chaotic landscape like this, we can’t expect overnight miracles from the people in chair. Besides they too are humans and the tragedy that has befallen the public has not spared the government too. If – God forbid – it spreads, it will engulf all on this or that side of the table. So if doctors, city administrators, municipal officers and other emergency departments are sweating out in the open, they do a greater job than the sitting chattering class like ours. We don’t deny them the credit. But the high-ups hold a greater responsibility. Here also certain things refuse to enter your head.
The order that directed students to stay home didn’t extend that `luxury’ to the staff. It was not a picnic holiday you were announcing. Such situations demand preemptive measures. Even if the problem was not as grave then as it seems today, but the coming events had long cast their sinister shadows. Though after a few days the order was extended to staff as well, but the delay defied logic. Better err on the side of caution. Yes panic could unsettle the whole life, but it’s better you save people in panic than you let them die at ease. A sudden shutdown of all institutions would help reduce the risk of infection. Here also the distinction between obligatory and non-obligatory is flattened. We are a poor people. Poor by all standards of poverty. Poor by resources, poor by defense, poor by sense. Our decision-making in most of the cases is actually the reflection of our ego. Hold life on a pause a little longer. Let institutions be closed down for a longer duration (if the threat persists). That loss can be made up later. But here haste can waste lives.
The least we can do is to suspend our status till the fear fades away (or till the bear knows who’s who). Why are passengers subjected to a selective scrutiny at the airport? Our VIPs have other platforms to show how important they are. Smuggling your friends, families and relatives unscreened amid a crowd of common passengers is a potential mass murder. Here also the virus doesn’t know who the hell you are. It’s downloaded into your system without seeking your approval.