Coronavirus: Muslim ‘Ulama – A Failure of Leadership

Just a few days ago, I lamented how slow some Muslim “scholars” were in recognising the danger posed by the coronavirus and questioned why many of them had not yet called for the suspension of congregational prayers in our mosques. After all, last Monday (March 16th 2020) the government – following advice from our leading scientists – had updated their guidelines to make clear that we should now “avoid all unnecessary contact” and called on people to stop going to places where people congregate including pubs and restaurants and cafes. It was naturally obvious to all human beings with active brain cells that this “unnecessary contact” must also include all forms of communal worship. Hence, the Muslim Council of Britain, the Anglican Church and the United Synagogue (the largest Orthodox Jewish grouping) all very sensibly issued a call for an immediate suspension of communal prayers at their respective religious places of worship.

Sadly, this was not taken up by many Muslim religious “scholars”. Some associated with the Dar al-Ulums (ironically “Houses of Knowledge” in Arabic) in Blackburn and Bury advocated that mosques should remain open for congregational prayer “until and unless the government places a total restriction on religious places.” Yusuf Shabbir who runs the Islamic Portal website associated with the above two institutions wrote an article entitled “How can Coronavirus be stopped?”. His answer was not to say that we should immediately adopt strict social distancing measures and avoid all unnecessary contact as our scientists had advised. In a 10-point plan he said the answer was to perform the five daily prayers, fast, pay zakat etc.

Over at Islam21c.com, Haitham al-Haddad issued a fatwa on Friday 20th March 2020 saying the following:

I have stated on many occasions that I categorically disagree with the full closure of mosques (when there is an alternative such as reducing congregations), the reason being that no one has the right whatsoever to control the Houses of Allah. He assigned them for Himself. One of the scholars of the second generation (tābi’īn), Amr Ibn Maymūn al-Awdi said: ‘I found the companions of the Prophet ﷺ saying: The mosques are the houses of Allāh on the earth and it is a duty on Allāh to honour those who visit them’.

In the days following the MCB’s statement last Monday, many mosques to their credit announced that they would not be holding the congregational Friday prayers on their premises and said they were suspending all daily congregational prayers until further notice. Their actions have undoubtedly contributed to reducing the numbers of people that will be affected by the coronavirus.

However, many other mosques decided to continue holding daily congregational prayers and to go ahead and hold the mass Friday prayers. A video has been circulated online showing a large queue of people waiting to go inside Masjid Umar in Leicester (where many mosques remained open for congregational prayers) for Jumu’ah just two days ago, for example.

This represents a colossal failure of leadership and a failure to understand the most basic teachings of Islam and the sanctity of human life. People like Yusuf Shabbir and Haitham al-Haddad simply do not deserve the title of religious scholars. They are not. They are actually a menace to other human beings – as stupid people often are.

Just last month, a Tablighi Jamaat mass gathering in Malaysia facilitated a massive outbreak of coronavirus which the country is now desperately trying to contain and which doctors believe has now spread to other neighbouring countries. Two-thirds of Malaysian CV cases have now been traced back to that religious gathering.

This is because CV is often asymptomatic. You may look to be perfectly healthy but you can still be a carrier of the virus and pass it on to others. This is why the government and scientists have been so strongly urging us to avoid all unnecessary contact with others.

Earlier today, some of the religious scholars associated with the institutions I have named above issued a new announcement in which they now grudgingly appear to accept that their congregation should now pray at home though they say the mosques should still remain open for “a limited group (four or five) of appropriately selected individuals” to continue to perform the congregational prayers. How they intend to ensure that these individuals will not be or become carriers of coronavirus is not made clear.

In the coming days many of us in the UK will lose our loved ones – especially the elderly and those with weakened immune systems – to this virus. It is regrettable though not surprising given their past performance in previous years that many of our religious “scholars” failed this crucial test of leadership regarding protecting human lives. If this tragic episode encourages UK Muslims to become more prepared to question, criticise and challenge the views of people like Yusuf Shabbir and Haitham al-Haddad and other religious leaders who advocate stupidity then that will at least be one positive outcome from this terrible crisis.

May God grant us all knowledge and the ability to utilise it for the greater good of others. Ameen.

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6 Responses to Coronavirus: Muslim ‘Ulama – A Failure of Leadership

  1. muhammed patel says:

    Now is definitely NOT the time to blame individuals who have dedicated their lives to serve the Deen of Allah. Closure of a masjid is no small issue that can be decided on a whim. Multiple factors need to be considered. Alhamdulillah due diligence was shown by our ulama.

    There will always be those whose hearts are filled with hatred and envy. Whose minds are polluted with arrogance and pride. Individuals who will seize every opportunity to criticise, malign and pour scorn on the ulama.

    Allah unite us all and grant us understanding.

  2. ‘Ulama are not Gods. Those individuals I mentioned are fallible human beings who decided that they knew better than our scientists. They have quite likely contributed to the spread of Covid-19 by delaying the closure of the mosques. For that they need to be held accountable. No one is above criticism, certainly not small minded religious clerics. Look what happened in Malaysia following the Tablighi Jamaat gathering there.

    • Ash says:

      Boris Johnson and his spin doctors thought they new better. Despite having the best scientific advice available, even boasted about shaking the hands of CV patients during hospital visit. And failed to practice his own governments advice of social distancing. For the record many other Scholars such as Riyadh Ul Haq called for the suspension of congregational prayers. Over all a totally moronic article by Mr Bunglawala designed to settle personal scores with individuals. Who do not agree with his Dawkins inspired revisionist Islam

      • Not sure what your gripe is – I did say many mosques and religious leaders did quickly answer the call from the MCB and suspend all congregational prayers – and I praised their quick response. My post was criticising those that did not. Also, not sure why you think I have “personal scores” to settle with the individuals I named. To the best of my knowledge I have never met or spoken with either Yusuf Shabbir or Haitham al-Haddad. I simply criticised the positions they adopted over Covid-19 and pointed out how dangerous it is to have religious leaders who are scientifically illiterate giving advice to the masses.

  3. Amatullah S. says:

    Dear Inayat,

    You have made reference to Yusuf Shabbir’s stance in two of your most recent articles. You may be unaware that the article was issued on 17 March after consulting with local Public Health England officials as clearly stated in the article and subsequent article.

    Three days later on Friday 20 March, Yusuf Shabbir issued further advice advising that the decision to close Masjids should be respected. This was further to updated advice from local Public Health England officials. This was the day schools closed. Until this point, schools remained open. This is a crucial point. For details, refer to this link: https://islamicportal.co.uk/masjids-limiting-congregational-salah-due-to-coronavirus-update/

    A day later on Saturday 21 March, Yusuf Shabbir was a signatory to a collective statement by some of the leading scholars that advised in practical terms the closure of the mosque except for 4-5 key workers to manage burials and other essential services. Refer to this link: https://islamicportal.co.uk/statement-of-senior-uk-scholars-on-coronavirus-and-masjids-urdu-and-english/

    I noted that references to both articles were added promptly on the 17 March article: https://islamicportal.co.uk/coronavirus-should-masjids-close/

    You may also be interested to learn that Yusuf Shabbir has issued guidance for doctors working on the frontline providing exemption to postpone the Ramadan fasts where necessary. Several NHS Trusts have based their policy based on this. Refer to this link which was issued on 7 April: https://islamicportal.co.uk/fasting-in-ramadan-for-covid-19-doctors-and-nurses/

    There are also other articles authored by Yusuf Shabbir in relation to burial and allowing for flexibility in this regard (burial without bathing, mass graves) where necessary.

    It is perfectly reasonable for one to disagree with Government policy or Public Health England’s stance. However, I sincerely hope you will reflect on both your articles and amend them as necessary, taking into account that the various articles written by Yusuf Shabbir on Covid-19 clearly demonstrate that at all times he and his colleagues have taken into account the advice of the Government and local officials. They are, through their advice, providing an invaluable service to the British Muslim Community.

    Jazakallah khair and take care,
    Amatullah

    • Thank you, Amatullah. As I pointed out in my articles, the UK govt issued a call on Monday Match 16 asking us all to avoid all unnecessary contact. That same day the MCB (along with the Anglican and Jewish organisations) called on mosques to stop congregational prayers. Unfortunately, Shabbir did not seem to pay heed to this and dithered. Hence my criticism. Also, his guidance on how to combat Covid-19 was just ridiculous (and irresponsible) as I also pointed out in my blog.

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