Jokes explain tragedies better. Here is one. In olden dayswhen television was new and people were unfamiliar with this recent inventionshowing motion pictures on the screen, an old man while seeing a big roaringbear on the screen shook with terror. As he stood up to run away, the guysitting next to him held his hand, pulled him back and told him, `don't worryman, this is television and the bear will not step out of the screen to eat youalive.' But the old man didn't sit back to watch the show any further. He fled andwhile fleeing, replied. `You know it's television, I know it's television, butthe bear doesn't know that'.
In a life-threatening condition like we are facing today, weshouldn't play out a joke for a mere laugh. Actually this old and forgotten crackcame alive when I read the statement of some religious bodies asking people tocome in the mosques for `obligatory prayers' only. Keeping in view the coronathreat our religious scholars have urged Muslims to offer sunnah and nafl athome and gather at mosques only for farz. Good thinking. But the problem is this.You know it's farz, we know it's farz, butthe virus doesn't know that.
What has happened to us. At a time when the whole human raceis facing a survival threat, we choose to reserve our mental energy by notusing our minds when it's most needed. This incurable infection to our commonsense is deadlier than the world-notorious Covid-19. The whole world cries outloud. There is no medicine, no vaccine, no magic. The only way this coronamonster can be kept at bay is to maintain social distancing as much aspossible. An infection that can be triggered by a mere touch can swallow millionsas a meal. It's like a sleeping atom bomb and if it goes off, there will be noone left to isolate ourselves from. Still we have the luxury of using isolationas the only anti-virus against Corona.
Realizing the danger even the two biggest centers ofcongregation Makkah and Madina have been closed down. Except the emergencyservices – the bare minimum required to sustain life – everything else has beensuspended. It's an extraordinary situation that demands an extraordinaryresponse. If you tell people to minimize your presence in the mosque what doesthat mean. The virus knows no time frame and no setting and no situation inwhich it decides to attack or not to attack. You can't deny it the gate pass. It'snot a jurisprudential debate where different schools of thought will come outwith different inferences. We don't arrange an intellectual discussion to focuson a challenge that stares us with all horror. There is no brainstormingrequired to address something that can storm our brains and bodies once forever. This `obligatory' and `non-obligatory' debate is invalid even if the chancesof 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 awisdom of rare breed I don't subscribe to. Mosques are our centres of religiousand social interaction. Mosques we need to assemble an otherwise amorphous massof people. But prayers are possible only when survival is possible.
We need not explain that an obligatory prayer needs queuingup which again won't happen without the physical brush which in this situationis considered the first signal to disaster. (Left to me I would suggest thereverse. Offer nafl and sunnah at the mosque, farz at home as the first twodon't demand coming closer, the third does). Asking khateebs to shorten theirsermons means inviting a close door audience. Once we huddle together how canwe keep the infection from travelling. No medical consultations, the elephantis too big to be searched out through a microscope. Then hurrying home to offersunnah and nafl is another way of carrying home the invisible, intractablevirus which unfortunately is faith blind to make a distinction between a homeand a mosque. Too little or too big, too long or two short doesn't matter, theproblem is size neutral. A bullet kills the same way as a bomb does. We requestall socio-religious organizations to issue a simple statement withoutexplaining what to do when? Lock it all. Stay home. Worship in isolation. Oncethe threat will fade away – and we pray it does – then throng in millions andthank God for giving us another chance to live on His earth. But till then makeyour home your mosque.
After clergy, the second (or in some cases the first)craziest institution is our bureaucracy. There is no doubt that stateadministration is facing the toughest challenge. In a chaotic landscape likethis, we can't expect overnight miracles from the people in chair. Besides theytoo are humans and the tragedy that has befallen the public has not spared thegovernment too. If – God forbid – it spreads, it will engulf all on this orthat side of the table. So if doctors, city administrators, municipal officersand other emergency departments are sweating out in the open, they do a greaterjob 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 refuseto enter your head.
The order that directed students to stay home didn't extendthat `luxury' to the staff. It was not a picnic holiday you were announcing.Such situations demand preemptive measures. Even if the problem was not asgrave then as it seems today, but the coming events had long cast theirsinister shadows. Though after a few days the order was extended to staff aswell, but the delay defied logic. Better err on the side of caution. Yes paniccould unsettle the whole life, but it's better you save people in panic thanyou let them die at ease. A sudden shutdown of all institutions would helpreduce the risk of infection. Here also the distinction between obligatory andnon-obligatory is flattened. We are a poor people. Poor by all standards ofpoverty. Poor by resources, poor by defense, poor by sense. Our decision-makingin most of the cases is actually the reflection of our ego. Hold life on apause 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 canwaste lives.
The least we can do is to suspend our status till the fearfades away (or till the bear knows who's who). Why are passengers subjected toa selective scrutiny at the airport? Our VIPs have other platforms to show howimportant they are. Smuggling your friends, families and relatives unscreenedamid a crowd of common passengers is a potential mass murder. Here also thevirus doesn't know who the hell you are. It's downloaded into your systemwithout seeking your approval.