Do We Need to Suspend Congregational Prayers Because of the Coronavirus?

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Friday prayers at Jamia Masjid, Srinagar. File photo: Abid Bhat / KO)

Mehraj Din

Humanity has witnessed innumerable social, political, and medical crisis throughout history. The most recent, with technological and medical revolution at its height is the manifestation of diverse medical crisis.

There have been a number of significant epidemics and pandemics recorded in human history, generally zoonoses that came about with the domestication of animals, such as influenza and tuberculosis. A pandemic is an epidemic occurring on a scale that crosses international boundaries, usually affecting a large number of people. Pandemics can also occur in important agricultural organisms (livestock, crop plants, fish, and tree species) or in other organisms. A disease or condition is not a pandemic merely because it is widespread or kills many people; it must also be infectious. For instance, cancer is responsible for many deaths but is not considered a pandemic because the disease is not infectious or contagious.

new coronavirus was first identified in WuhanHubei, China, in late December 2019, as causing a cluster of cases of an acute respiratory disease, now referred to as coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), which had been identified in December 2019. According to the media report more than 116 countries and territories have been affected, with major outbreaks in central ChinaItalySouth Korea and Iran. On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization characterised the spread of COVID-19 as a Pandemic.

Since our scholars will think or maybe realise that this crisis is worth addressing in Kashmir. I am putting forth this small reading, after collecting/adding/analysing few foundational Islamic texts and what has been said about the issue. Over the last few days, several institutions and mosques asked many scholars about suspending Friday prayers due to the Coronavirus across the globe. Keeping into consideration how state manipulated and international aid was not allowed for Kashmiris in 2014 floods and how there is a serious lack of information about the status of coronavirus in Kashmir. More importantly, however, scholars encourage people to stay in touch with their local public health providers, imams, and fiqh councils.

The classical fiqh literature considered this type of epidemics as Umum al-Balwa and sanctions of Rukshah (ease) in case of congregations and travelling to or leave from such places have been affirmed. Scholars like Taqi Usmani, Suhaib Webb, Shaykh Hamzah Maqbul Maliki, Shanqiti and other scholars have given some justifications from religious texts and scholarly works for taking precautions and at certain places suspending large gatherings, Jumah, and even the congregational religious gatherings, during this difficult time. Kashmir has a history of crackdowns, curfews and situations which has forced us to rethink about various religious obligations. This is no simple matter to engage. Decisions like this are sensitive, but scholars argue that the logic of Islamic law on this issue is clear.

A FOUNDATIONAL PRINCIPLE

It is a fundamental duty for everyone to protect his/her body and that of any of his dependents, to seek to their safety and to keep them away from any harm. A primary principle of Islam is that “preventing harm takes precedent over the acquisition of benefits.” For that reason, alcohol and gambling are prohibited, even though Allah recognizes their benefits: “They ask you about alcohol and gambling. Reply that in both is a great sin and a benefit for people, but the sin is greater.” (Quran 2:219)

THE BOOKS OF USUL AL FIQH

In the books of Usul Al-fiqh, we find dispensation for things when there is a threat to the health and well-being of people. Imam’ Izz al-Din ‘Abd al-Salam explained this dispensation when he wrote:

The section on sharia dispensations and their types. One is the dropping of an act, like congregational prayers, fasting, hajj, or ‘Umrah due to a sharia approved reason.” (Qawa’id al-Ahkam fi Masalih Al-Anam, Vol. 2, Pg. 9)

Thus, there are times when acts can be modified to prevent considerable, often public, harm.

ILLNESS AND THE THREAT OF ILLNESS

Ibn Rushd mentioned a consensus that illness allowed people to miss congregational prayers:

What scholars agree on is that gender and health determine if a person should attend prayers. Thus the consensus is that Jumah prayer is not an obligation upon women and the sick.” (Bidaya al-Mujtahid wa Nahaya al-Muqsaid, Vol. 1, Pg. 224). The Prophet (saas) excused those who were sick from attending congregational prayers:

“Who hears the caller to prayer, but finds no excuse not to respond, his prayer that he prayers (alone) will not be accepted.” The companions asked, “What is an ‘excuse.'” He responded, “Fear or sickness.” (Al-Sunna al-Saghir, Hadith 241.)

Fear of Potential Harm is recognized by Islam:

An axiom states: When something is near to something, it is given the latter ruling. And, A strong assumption is considered in Sharia. Scholars say that because the most excellent defence against this disease is social isolation.

Public health experts in China, Italy, and other parts of the world discourage large gatherings, and as of now in Italy, the entire country is under quarantine. Thus, in this situation, legitimate fear of sickness, based on the opinions of experts, should be treated as sickness, especially with such a contagious virus. This is the advice of experts in the field. It’s a pandemic. Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, testified before congress,

“We would recommend that there not be large crowds. If that means not having any people in the audience as the NBA plays, so be it.”

COMMANDS AND CAPACITY

It is well known that the orders of Allah and His messenger are conditioned on ability. Allah says: “Be dutiful to Allah as best you can.” (Quran 64:16) The Prophet (saas) said: “When I command you do something, do it to your ability.” (Bukhari in his Sahih and Muslim)

A MISTAKEN NOTION

Some people contend that this is “not a big deal; I’m young, and I’ll be fine.” While that may be true, the danger is that a person may be asymptomatic, but he may engage with or sit next to older people, or he may even infect a younger person who has elders at home. Our approach to this virus should not be rooted in selfishness. It is going to take us as a community to defeat it, inshallah.

IF YOU HAVE TESTED POSITIVE

First, lots of prayers and thoughts your way. I ask Allah to cure you and make this a means of your forgiveness. Second, it is not allowed for you to attend community events or congregational acts of worship.

THE FATWA COUNCIL OF IRAQ

“It is not allowed for a person who tests positive for the virus to attend public gatherings such as the Friday prayers and congregational prayers. He should pray at home on in isolation until he is cured.” And, The Prophet (saas) said: A sick person should not mix with a healthy one. (Bukhari in his Sahih collection)

COMMITTEE OF GRAND SCHOLARS IN SAUDI

It was researched what has been sent to it regarding the concession of not attending the Friday prayer and congregational prayers in the case of the spread of an epidemic or fear of its spread. After considering the Islamic texts, its goals, its principles, and the statements of the scholars regarding this issue, the Committee of Grand Scholars clarifies the following matters:

1– It is prohibited upon a person infected with this virus to attend congregational prayers and Friday prayers, because the Prophet (may Allah’s praise and peace be upon him) said, “Diseased (camels) should not enter upon healthy (camels).” [Reported by Al-Bukhari and Muslim], and because of his statement, “If you hear of the outbreak of a plague in a land, do not enter it; and if it breaks out in a land in which you are, do not leave it.” Al-Bukhari and Muslim.

2- If a specialized body decides medical quarantine or isolation is to be administered for someone, it is obligatory upon him to abide by it, and to not attend the congregational prayers or Friday prayer. Prayer should thus be established at home or at the place of isolation. This is because Ash-Shareed ibn Suwayd Ath-Thaqafi said, “Amongst the delegation from Thaqeef there was a man with leprosy. The Prophet (saas) sent someone to him, saying, ‘We have accepted your pledge of allegiance, so return.'” Sahih Muslim

3- Whoever fears that he will be harmed or will harm others, he is permitted to not attend the Friday prayer and the congregational prayers. This is because the Prophet (may Allah’s praise and peace be upon him) said, “There shall be no harm or reciprocating harm.” (Ibn Majah) In all these cases, if he does not pray the Friday prayer, he must pray Dhuhr four rak’ahs.

The Committee of Grand Scholars advises everyone to follow the guidelines, advice, and protocols set by the specialized authorities. It also advises everyone to fear Allah, the Most Mighty and Exalted, and to turn to Him in supplication and humility and to ask Him to remove this tribulation.

EGYPTIAN MINISTRY OF HEALTH AND FATWA COUNCIL

If Muslim scholars are asking the health ministry to prevent the Friday prayers over the fear of the coronavirus spread, the ban is “permissible,” the Egyptian Minister of Awqaf (Endowment), Mohamed Mokhtar Gomaa, announced on Saturday. Speaking in a conference held at Egypt’s Al-Azhar University, Gomaa said that the “overall purposes of Islamic law require the protection of the people.” “In the event of an epidemic that is considered a threat to humanity, necessary measures must be taken to protect the human beings,” he stressed.

DISAGREEMENT(S) OVER SUSPENSION OF JUMAH AND CONGREGATIONAL PRAYERS:

There are also few scholars who argue in favour of keeping the mosques open vis-à-vis the functioning of other institutions. Like in Iran and Italy, with the cases of infection and potential transmission of the virus, and on the suggestion of doctors, like in the example of Turkey and Saudi Arabia, the suspicion is replaced by facts, so they have genuine reason to leave the congregational prayers. On the contrary, in the case of Kashmir, the closure of mosques for gathering and groups, it is not permissible; unless reliable doctors decide that the epidemic has spread terribly, and has affected the society. In other than this case, it is not permissible to leave the gathering and groups and close mosques, because they are among the rituals of Islam, and the rituals are not left on the basis of suspicion and precaution. As we do not close the markets, roads, and public offices, for necessity and need, and we take all the reasons to prevent disease in them and in closing them spoil the public. As well as spoilers in the closure of mosques and deserted the majority and groups more severe.

During Jumah and congregational prayers, including small congregations, precautionary measures need to be taken instead of suspending them. The precautions include proper sanitization of the mosques, bringing personal prayer mats, abstention from handshakes, and shortening of Friday sermons. This takes us back to the hadith of Prophet (saas), purity is part of faith and in such impending crisis, and this is the key to fight this disease.

Tailpiece:

May Allah safeguard us, as this pandemic continue(s) to grow, most of the scholars across the globe especially at place where the plague is already present suggest suspending Jumah and large gathering as well, especially if public health officials warn against them, and of course, if local governments request the same. This answer rests on the shoulders of those two entities, as well as local Imams, local fiqh councils and leadership. It is essential to engage them and heed their advice. We hope to see some response from the local scholars, religious authorities on the issue and hope this was to show the leeway and mercy Islam provides in this situation.

Allah knows best

  • Mehraj Din is an assistant professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at Islamic University of Science and Technology and can be reached at bhat.mehraj7@gmail.com

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