Let’s apply mind

On COVID-19 Pandemic, Religion-Science Debate, and Kashmiri Social Media 'Experts'
Let’s apply mind
Representational Pic

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 ofview; (ii) from religious perspective (iii) from politico-economic point ofview, and  (iv) as a conspiracy theory(for later two categories, see, for example, Drs Muzafar Shaheen and Abrar ulHaq Wani, "Corona Virus Epidemic: Politico-economic Fall Out", Greater Kashmir,16th March; Daniel Pipes, "Conspiracy Theories in a Time of Virus", TheWashington Times, 17th March and Gary C. Gambill, "Daniel Pipes COVID-19 ConspiracyTheories 'Need to be Refuted'", Middle East Forum Webinar, 19th March).

Besides publishing the advisories fromvarious (inter) national Government agencies, all newspapers in Kashmir, ondaily basis, publish opinion pieces (OpEds) related to the history of coronavirus (COVID-19), its preventive measures, precautions and safeguards (Do's andDon'ts), and religio-medical perspectives on COVID-19. On 20th March, almostall 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)", RisingKashmir; "Why Kashmir Needs Lockdown Redux", Kashmir Observer; "CoronaParanoia: 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 KhanyarResident tests positive: Govt.", 18th March).

The GK, in its Editorial ("Corona Pandemic:Is time running out?") on 19th March also advised that some "uncomfortabledecisions" need to be taken by the government as well as public in order tostop spreading the COVID19 and "Before it take[s] a steep rise" in this part ofthe world. Earlier, the 'Dawn', in its Editorial on 18th March ("ReligiousPrecautions") also mentioned that "the novel coronavirus has affected routinelife around the globe" and thus many countries and cities "are opting forlockdown to stop the spread of the contagion". Highlighting the issue of thedecision taken by religious scholars and organizations regarding religiousgatherings and Friday congregational prayers the Editorial concluded:"Decisions need to be taken rationally, not emotionally, which is why religiousscholars and the government must come up with a plan to address issues ofpublic worship during the virus pandemic without further delay".

The Newsweek, on 17th March, published anOpinion piece by Dr Craig Considine ("Can the power of Prayer alone stop aPandemic like the Coronavirus? Even the Prophet Muhammad [pbuh] thoughtotherwise"), which, in my modest opinion, can be described as a best OpEd onbalancing Religion, Religious (Islamic) Beliefs and Rationality. Dr. Craig(Department of Sociology at Rice University) is a scholar, professor, globalspeaker, media contributor and the author of The Humanity of Muhammad: AChristian View (2020), and Islam in America: Exploring the Issues (2019).

The fact is that the COVID19 crisis isfaced 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 orIndia, Saudi Arabia or Pakistan. However, one is confused to see the trend thathas arisen, especially on social media, where everybody is trying to be an"expert" (health as well as religious). One must remember that 'Religion' hasits 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 disputesand differences (like the one related to offering Friday Congregationalprayers): there were varied (religious rulings/ opinions) and announcements regardingsame 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 havefirm belief in al-Qadr (pre-destination) and in that all good and bad (khayr washarr) is from Allah. It is also incumbent on us that we should neither giveheed to rumours nor should one indulge in spreading them, for it is against theQur'anic ethics (Q. 49: 6). We, as a Muslim community, should not forget theQur'anic dictums that "But [Prophet], give good news to those who aresteadfast, those who say, when afflicted with a calamity, 'We belong to God andto Him we shall return'" (Q. 2: 156-57) and "Say, 'Only what God has decreedwill 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 theTraditions: "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 offood lie in washing hands before and after eating"; "Those with contagiousdiseases should be kept away from those who are healthy"; etc. These are also theprecautionary measures suggested by medical experts for not getting affected byCorona virus and Muslims and non-Muslims have taken refuge from thesetraditions. But the sad part is that social media is filled with posts onhighlighting the importance of these Islamic customs and traditions and inhumanity's safety from COVID19 by adopting these as preventive measures. Sameis the case with banning of hijab in some European/ Western countries and ofusing masks and of relating the two. More importantly, social media is floodedwith highlighting this Prophetic Tradition (that "If you hear of an outbreak ofplague in a land, do not enter it; but if the plague outbreaks out in a placewhile you are in it, do not leave that place") which has gone "viral" now andis shared by one and all (though with different perceptions and in variedperspectives).

Even in his Newsweek piece, Dr Craig hasquoted it and other Traditions and has shared it on his twitter handle(@CraigCons), calling it "A timely hadith in light of COVID19". True. It hasrelevance 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 asa precaution and remedy for critical situations like COVID19 and on other handare protesting and forcing the government to bring back those (Kashmiris) whoare in countries like China, Iran, etc.? As Dr Craig has rightly mentioned that"Muhammad [pbuh] encouraged people to seek guidance in their religion, but hehoped they take basic precautionary measures for the stability, safety andwell-being of all. In other words, he hoped people would use their commonsense." Moreover, one sees that there are different interpretations of thewords CORONA (in English, Urdu, And Arabic) taking it as an abbreviation whichconnotes this and that.

Bottom Line: Don'tindulge in debates and discussions to show Islam (or any specific IslamicTradition or custom, etc.) is right or wrong or science and scientists arehelpless or of no value/ have failed. Don't even try to prove superiority orinferiority, success or failure, of Religion over Science or vice-versa. Don'ttry to be experts in each field and on every issue. ……. Last, but not theleast, Trust in Allah, have firm belief in Religion (Islam/ Islamic Customs andTraditions) and follow the Do's and Don'ts (Precautions/Advisory) issued byWHO, national and local health agencies and experts and by different governmentadvisories—that is what is direly needed in such a critical juncture/ crucialmoment. Let sanity prevail over our insanity and rationality/ seriousness overvainness/ non-seriousness (both in the capacity of beings humans and Muslims).Theauthor is Assistant Professor, Islamic Studies, at GDC for Women, Pulwama(J&K).

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