Coronavirus: The Death of Religion?
Amidst a global pandemic some sectors of society have found themselves ecstatically celebrating the “death” of religion as many religious institutions find themselves closed or in the process of closing in order to stop the spread of the virus. Masajid, Churches, Synagogues, and Temples are all taking steps to stop the spread of the virus. CNN reports:
First, many religious leaders modified their rituals, hoping to contain the spread of coronavirus. Now, some are taking more drastic measures, canceling worship services, closing religious schools and shuttering holy sites.
Like sports leagues, museums and other cultural institutions, millions of churches and mosques, synagogues and sanghas, temples and gurdwaras are temporarily closing to guard against spreading the virus.
For many spiritual leaders, the decision to shut their doors is difficult. Religious rituals are meant to be enacted, soul and body, traditionally alongside other believers.
But the present dangers of the deadly virus are too great to ignore, many religious groups have decided, leading to a cascade of cancellations worldwide in the last 48 hours.
What these groups (mainly atheists) seem to be misunderstanding is that while some faith-healing Churches are indeed shutting down, this polemic can generally only be applied to a few religious groups that do preach that they perform miracles regularly. This polemic however is highly ineffective against mainstream Sunni Islam where we do not teach that as Muslims we are magically protected against any and all types of disease. In fact, Allah specifically mentions the opposite in the Qur’ān:
Do people think once they say, “We believe,” that they will be left without being put to the test? – 29:2 (translation by Dr. Mustafa Khattab, The Clear Qur’ān).
Indeed, the word ‘test’ (يفتنون) encompasses the additional meanings of harm, trials, and tribulations. One form of these tests are in the form of viral diseases in which the Prophet (peace be upon him) advised us to practise quarantining:
Sa’d reported: The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “If you hear of a plague in a land, then do not go into it. If it happens in land where you are, then do not go out of it.”
This narration is found in both Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī and Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim. One may even say that this is a form of social distancing. Within Islamic legal jurisprudence there are also two main foundational principles:
- المشقة تجلب التيسير – al Mashaqqa Tajlib at-Taysīr (Hardship begets ease).
- لا ضرر و لا ضرار في الاسلام – La Ḍarar wa La Ḍirar fī al-Islām (In Islam we do not cause harm to ourselves or others).
It is due to these two considerations (the latter of which is a hadith of the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him as recorded by both Imām adh-Dhahabī and by Imām al Hākim) that many Muslim-majority countries and many Muslim communities throughout the world began suspending prayer in congregations, as well as all activities at their Masajid:
- Saudi Arabia suspended visiting religious sites, especially with regard to Makkah and Madinah.
- Kuwait suspended Friday prayers at Masajid throughout the country.
- The UAE prohibited the sick, the elderly and those at risk of infection from attending Friday congregational prayers.
- In Egypt they have stated it is permissible to ban the Friday congregational prayers due to viruses like the coronavirus.
- In Canada, the Canadian Council of Imams and the Muslim Medical Association of Canada jointly suspended all Masjid activities.
This is therefore an evidence that we are not a people lacking the faculty of reason, or that we have abandoned hope in our faith, or that science has won against religion (this in itself is a false dichotomy), but rather it is an evidence for the truth of Islam that despite such difficult circumstances our faith has a means by which we can accommodate and manage public health issues. In Islam, we do not have this distinction between faith and science, both work in congruence with each other and are not apart from the other. Had that been the case, then we should not find any statement from the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) advising us on the plague or on diseases in general.
Indeed, we also find a narration from the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) that cleanliness (purity) is half of faith:
Abu Malik al-Ashari reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Purity is half of faith, and the praise of Allah fills the scale. Glorification and praise fill up what is between the heavens and the earth. Prayer is a light, charity is proof, and patience is illumination. The Quran is a proof for you or against you. All people go out early in the morning and sell themselves, either setting themselves free or ruining themselves.”
Keeping ourselves, our clothing, and our belongings clean in general is a great way at combatting the spread of the virus. Therefore this polemic is only effective against pockets of Muslims who are ignorant of their Islam and of religious groups who do not adhere to the truth of Islam, but it is not a polemic against Islam in and of itself. Therefore, this current crisis does not affect the truth of Islam, but rather demonstrates the perpetual reality and authenticity of the message from Allah and from His messenger.
and Allah knows best.