It is sobering to contemplate how so much of the world has been gripped – and so quickly – by the Coronavirus pandemic. Many of us are understandably worried about the implications in the coming days and weeks for those who are most vulnerable to the infection including the elderly and those with compromised immune systems.
Still, we know that we are not entirely without hope. There is a famous saying of the Prophet Muhammad about how for every disease there is a cure. The physicist David Deutsch once notably urged us to write into stone the phrase “problems are soluble”. We know that acting vigorously to suppress the chain of transmission will slow down the spread of the disease. We also know that the Coronavirus will have a unique genetic code and that scientists are examining it with a view to creating a vaccine that will eventually immunise us against it. And we should not forget that the word science comes from the Latin “scientia” – meaning knowledge. So, it is people with knowledge – scientists – that will find the vaccine.
One thing we can be pretty damn sure of is that the vaccine will not be found by a Mufti or an Imam (or a priest or a rabbi – unless they happen to also be scientists).
So, it has been curious to observe the response of some Muslim religious “scholars” (I use the word in the loosest possible way) to the Coronavirus pandemic and to see what they have been advising their followers to do.
Earlier this week, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson notably flanked by two scientists, Chris Whitty (Chief Medical Officer) and Sir Patrick Vallance (Chief Scientific Adviser) called on all Britons to immediately avoid all unnecessary contact and travel and to stay away from meeting places such as pubs and theatres – for the obvious reason that it would help slow down the transmission of the virus and therefore help to save many lives.
Fortunately, several of the UK’s main religious organisations including the Muslim Council of Britain, the Anglican Church and the United Synagogue took note and very sensibly urged the immediate suspension of all communal prayers in their respective places of worship. After all, prayers can be performed at home where there is much less risk of unwittingly transmitting the virus to others.
However, some in the Muslim community do not appear to have got the message. At Islamic Portal, in a note written by Yusuf Shabbir (and “approved” by Mufti Shabbir Ahmad and Mufti Muhammad Tahir) he urged that mosques should remain open for congregational prayer “until and unless the government places a total restriction on religious places”. Apparently, the government’s guidance that “all unnecessary contact” be avoided was not explicit enough for Yusuf Shabbir.
In a separate article the day previously the very same Yusuf Shabbir had written an article entitled “How Can Coronavirus Be Stopped?“. What do you think Yusuf Shabbir suggested was the way to stop Coronavirus? To support and listen to our scientists? Erm, no, not quite. Here is what he said – and I quote:
In addition to adopting precautions and abandoning sins, the following are some actions that can help bring this epidemic to an end:
- Perform the five obligatory Ṣalāh
- Regularly do Istigfār and Tawbah (repentance).
- Engage in the dhikr of Allah Almighty especially Tasbīḥ & Takbīr
- Regularly read durūd
- Give as much optional charity
- Perform two Rakʿat Nafl Ṣalāh individually
- Supplicate to Allah with masnūn supplications for well-being and protection (see this link for some examples)
- Do not panic-buy or hoard goods
- Exercise Ṣabr (patience), Shukr (gratitude) and Tawakkul (reliance)
- Contemplate death and the power of Allah Almighty
May I perhaps suggest that a sure fire way for UK Muslims to reduce the level of ignorance amongst their ranks is to stop listening to people like Yusuf Shabbir?