To close down mosques or not

Tough times are revealing times. Individual discloses character once faced with a hardship, so does a collective. The extreme crisis in the wake of Covid-19 outbreak exposed societies, polities, systems, sciences, and human attitudes. Among these is the Muslim mind, and the societal expression of its religiosity. Once again the lid is taken off our mind, clothes off our societal body, and we are bare.

Difference of opinion apart, can we can take a step back, and have the courage to look at our bare body. How do we look like as a collective. The controversy over Friday prayers, and also over the daily prayers in mosques, gives a peek into Muslim mind. Why do we always project ourselves as a global nuisance? It hurts, seriously.  As a member of a Muslim society, with a deep sense of belonging, it doesn’t agitate me, it benumbs. What was a matter of plain intuitive response, turns into an intense debate. When any kind of human gathering is a live threat to life, and this is a proven thing, our religious scholars still want people to pray collectively in mosques. (In the first instances why ask religious scholars when it is the realm of state administration.) Then they dilute it a bit, still later, under intense public and state pressure, they further retreat from their initial opinion, but never accept the obvious. This brought us, once again, ridicule and contempt.

But before coming to the religious scholars who insisted to pray in mosques even when the entire world is locked down, something else hurts too. And this has nothing to do with religious scholars, or religiously minded people among us. It pertains to us all, particularly those who study and teach science. And those who are part of economic, political, and management systems. While the scientific communities around the globe are hard after finding a vaccine to this virus, we are only waiting like beggars to receive our share. Isn’t this also a collective shame. Isn’t this also a pity that none of our Muslim states, Muslim institutions, and Muslim scientists are anywhere in the race to cutting edge discoveries, or can establish best practices for others to copy.  The point is that not just a Moulvi Sahab, but all of us are part of the great Muslim decline – of mind, of character, and of skill.

Even in the case of religious mind, we all contribute to this degeneration. If only we could take our religion – in terms of knowledge, conduct, and tradition – tad seriously, the condition of the religious scholarship would not have been as dismal as it is today. Religion may be a part of our ritual, and some collective symbolism, but as a serious and meaningful entity it is far removed from our lives. ( I’m not preaching.) When, as a collective, we don’t invest in it, why expect returns. Our expediency, and hypocrisy, in this matter is overwhelming. We have struck a bargain; create ease for each other. Never mind, go on doing what we do in our respective spheres. There will be no serious interjection from one side into another. This is an ugly symbiosis.

As long as this ease is ensured, our religious scholars are game with the laity, and as long as it doesn’t disrupt our regular life as commoners, we are ‘respectful’ of them all. But when crisis strikes, regular relationships, disrupt. And then there is always a minuscule number in any society that has this bad habit of reading stuff across disciplines, and are exposed to thinking; they are the ones who trade in trouble.

The question, whether in a pandemic, we should gather in a mosque to offer prayers, or do it individually at home, has brought that trouble to surface. The easiest way to negotiate  the trouble is to vent our agitated minds. Each side abusing the other. It becomes a charged up exchange between an ‘idiot Moulvi’ and an ‘evil liberal’. Meanwhile, the world  sniggers.

Can we calm down, and think of it as a general affliction, and not a permanent sickness with any of our sections. Can we ensure that in an exchange of opinions, respect doesn’t become a casualty, and gradually we upgrade our skills to talk with each other. If an honest, rigorous, and uninterrupted conversation continues, and its effects start taking hold, we can negotiate difficult situations with considerable ease.

Look at this; in just a couple of days, how the opinions improved. In the beginning any slight disruption in the routine prayers was unacceptable, but finally it was limited to an Imam, a Mu’zzen, and one odd servant staff of the mosque. Leaving aside the idiots and extremists in all sections of our society, majority of the people do have the  capacity to tell right from wrong.

If we walk beyond this Mr-Moulvi binary, and seriously analyse our problems, we can all contribute to solutions. Our problems are before and beyond Covid pandemic, so we have a huge task at hand.

Tailpiece: Don’t forget what happened at the Gurduwara in Kabul. Understanding and application of religion in Muslim societies is a grave problem. As a society, Kashmiri Muslims need a serious and thoughtful engagement with this. And if someone says that it was done as a revenge on what was done to Kashmiri Muslims, it becomes even more serious. Saying, not-in-my-name, won’t suffice. The killings in the Kabul Gurduwara are actually more painful than the covid pandemic. May God bless all those who lost lives in that place of worship. Amen.

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