Our religion Islam is a social religion driven by a community spirit, whether it was Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, at the macro level defining all residents of Madinah – including non-Muslims – as part of his Ummah, or individual mosques at the micro-level serving the needs of those nearby as a prayer and socializing center.
As humanity braces itself for an indiscriminate killer, the COVID-19 virus, most mosques around the world have taken the decision to stop congregational prayers.
In the UK for example, the Bradford Council for Mosques, representing 110 mosques, and at least a quarter of the British Muslim population, released a statement on March 18th advising all mosques to suspend their congregational daily prayers, the Friday prayers, all madrasa activities, and that janazas will only be performed at the cemeteries.
Commenting on this much needed extraordinary move, Sofia Buncy from the Muslim Women in Prison Project, based at the Khidmat Center in Brandford, said,
“It was by no means an easy decision and was very overwhelming for the scholars but they were all in agreement Alhamdulillah. They knew what to do, but it was the pain in the heart of the Mufti’s at having to ‘cancel’ the Jumu`ah prayer and the symbolism of it.”
Similar advice has been offered by the Muslim Council of Britain, whose Secretary-General, Harun Khan said, “We all have a public duty to protect one another from harm.”
Closed Prayer Spaces
The most solemn news came on March 19th when authorities effectively stopped congregational prayers in the two holiest sites of Islam, Makkah, and Madinah.
For days, in the former, the lack of worshippers circumnavigating the Ka`bah in Makkah has brought sadness to many. The complete shutdown is bringing a sense of despair.
But Muslims should not despair as God does not ‘live’ in the Ka`bah. In fact, God says in the Qur’an, “We are closer to a person than their own jugular vein” (50:16)
So while for most Muslims around the world, who are engaged in community prayers, the value and rewards of prayer – finding spiritual peace – can and will always be accessible to all.
British Muslim, Shadim Hussain, CEO of My Foster Family, published an article in The Independent newspaper identifying a difficult time for many British Muslim families who tend to live in extended families.
“We are all social creatures, but maybe Muslims are more social than most. We eat together – often from one plate, sharing utensils and side dishes. For many Muslims, social intimacy like handshakes and hugs are so hardwired into their behavior that the week-old invention of “social distancing” is both alien and absurd to them.”
Understanding how we live, how we can change our behaviors and finding better ways of managing our response to COVID-19 are therefore fundamental to how to protect ourselves from the harm of this virus.
Advice on Self-Isolating
Demonstrating the evolving role of a charitable organization, the British Muslim charity Islam Relief has published a COVID-19 blog on how best to look after ourselves during this crisis. Authored by Tufail Hussain the interim UK Director, the advice is broken into four areas:
– Preventing the spread
– Looking after the community
– Don’t stockpile
– Help humankind
Indeed the Islamic philosophy as taught to us by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is to be kind to our neighbors, so much so that he once said: “He is not a believer whose stomach is filled while his neighbor goes hungry.” (Nasai, Sunan al Kubra).
So while many of us will find ourselves self-isolating, human decency requires us not only to look after ourselves, but also to look after our neighbors, irrespective of their faith. It is this which builds Prophet Muhammad’s concept of an Ummah – a community of people who come together to ensure one another’s safety.
On a post on Facebook, Yahya Birt, a British-American Muslim, who is a writer and academic, famously the son of former Director-General of the BBC, asked,
“So what is the temporary role of the mosque without a congregation? Well, it could use technologies to reach out to the communities at home. The old technology of radio can be extended beyond Ramadan licenses to cover the whole crisis period. Streaming services via the internet could be used to provide education through the madrasas and continue the mosque’s adult learning provision.”
Understanding this need, British Muslim TV, which is free to watch on Sky and also via their website, will be broadcasting a special Friday service to “support the elderly and vulnerable members of the community in self-isolation.”
Remaining in High Spirits
As we face the greatest global health challenge of our generation, it is important to remain in positive spirits. Writing on his personal Facebook page, the founder of a leading Muslim media platform wrote:
“AA -Okay Facebook Ulema bredrin …..how do I pray Jumu`ah at home? I am okay up until the Wuddu bit ….. so the question is:
1. What is the ‘Niyah’ intention for prayer?
2. How many Rakats?
3. Can I set up my laptop and watch an old khutba ….recreate a mosque kind of thing….. make some announcements …..Collect money from my kids…. (come on, I am joking)”
This IS a very serious time. But a calm, sensible approach with good humor will help all of us manage where we are and make our journey through this difficult time that much easier.