Recently, I had a teleconference with a well-known and revered scholar of Islamic studies, Dr Aleem Ashraf, who is presently heading the department of Arabic in one of the central universities in Hyderabad. I sought his opinion about social distancing and the ongoing worldwide lockdown to fight coronavirus. Dr Aleem said with literary flourish: “Sometimes, observing ‘khalwat’ (isolation) is prudent. It is a state of the mind wherein we put ourselves in complete seclusion, neither bothered about what others would say about us nor interested in listening to what they might be indulging in – slandering some, praising others”.
He went on, “Normally, we spend our time mostly in interacting with others and as a consequence, we get almost no time for ourselves. Hence, I am inclined to believe that coronavirus has bestowed on us the golden opportunity to truthfully keep to ourselves and our God within the precincts of our homes.”
Those Flouting COVID-19 Guidelines Are Not Aware Of ‘True Islam’
Most of us are aware that Prophet Muhammad used to practice ‘khalwat’ (isolation) in Ghar-e-Hera. In addition, it has been one of the favourite methods of Sufis to ‘reach God’. Long ago, in his medical encyclopaedia The Canon of Medicine, the renowned Persian polymath, physician and thinker Ibn Sina (980-1037), who is also known as the father of early modern medicine, argued in favour of adopting the isolation mode to control the spread of disease. Some argue that the word ‘quarantine’ originates from the Arabic term ‘al-Arba’iniya’ (the fortieth), which Ibn Sina used to describe as his isolation method.
Moving on, Dr Aleem emphasised that we, and specially our Muslim brethren, must be told that observing social distancing to prevent the spread of a pandemic is not at all against Islam. On the contrary, this would be the most sacrosanct deed in this hour of peril.
People who are flouting the lockdown and still going to religious places / mosques to offer prayers, are certainly not aware of true Islam.
One can say for them, “deewnae gar nahin hain to hoshiyar bhi nahin.” Compared to all the major grounds where ‘tanha-Namaz’ (prayer in isolation / without congregation), is permissible (such as during heavy rain, illness, travel, doing research work, even having garlic or onion, the pungent smell of which could irritate fellow namazi etc.), coronavirus is thousand times more damaging and dangerous, and cannot be clubbed with the rest to justify ‘bajamat-namaz’ (praying in congregation) at the moment.
Obligatory for All to Observe Lockdown Rules Amidst Corona Crisis
Thanks to the ignorance and unseemly acts of carelessness of one organisation (which could have been avoided with a little forethought), an entire community has been targeted and chided by people in the most crass manner possible. We are confounded and baffled by this. Therefore, it becomes essential to take necessary steps and devise a methodology to forestall such incidents, so as to prevent their repetition by any religious community or its critics.
The holy month of fasting, Ramzan, begins on Thursday, 23 April. In normal times, for any Muslim family, Ramzan, unlike any other month, is full of many indoor and outdoor rituals and religious activities. Hordes of namazis flock at mosques to offer prayers. Women and children throng busy, overcrowded markets for Eid shopping. Hundreds of people gather at iftar parties, attend the Ramzan special prayers ‘Taraveeh’ and ‘Alwida’.
But today, when the entire world is grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic, it becomes obligatory for one and all to respect and follow the lockdown guidelines issued by the Union and State governments, as well as the local administration.
The flouting of protocols by any community or individuals, acts as a major hindrance to the country’s battle against a killer virus. Here, I would like to highlight an important observation made by Dr Randeep Guleria (Director, AIIMS, Delhi) in a recent newspaper interview where he says: “It must be recognised that the collective battle against COVID-19 has to be won at the community level, rather than the hospital level.”
In Islamic Literature, Much Has Been Written About Social Distancing & Isolation
Dr Aleem reiterates that in Islamic literature, there is lot of mention of social distancing, isolation and lockdown. There is a very famous hadith about a town which is plagued with an epidemic, and in which the Prophet said: “If you hear of a plague in a land, do not enter it; and if it breaks out in the land where you stay, do not leave.”
Other scholars, ascetics and theologians also grant that a true Muslim is one who does not harm other human beings.
Also, as per the basic principles of Islamic Jurisprudence, the preservation of faith, life, intellect, lineage and wealth are paramount. Out of these five necessities, at least three are backing social distancing in this time of strife, which is perhaps one of the major deterrents against coronavirus.
Hence, it would be better for all community vanguards, incumbent Shaher-Kazis, Imams of different mosques and elders of Muslim families to convince the rank and file of the community, especially the youth, to perform the Ramzan-specific observances inside their homes until the current crisis fizzles out.
COVID-19 Crisis: Need of the Hour Is to Adopt Scientific Approach
Religion also expects us to demonstrate patience in a tough situation. Hence, in the name of religion, we should not go out of our homes and organise or join any religious events outside, which could lead to the spread of COVID-19.
We must recognise that the need of the hour is to adopt a scientific approach to tide over the crisis. One mistake could lead to disastrous consequences affecting one and all — including our near and dear ones.
Besides, we have to acknowledge that right now, the entire world is struggling, gasping as it were, to survive against the onslaught of a virus that has no antidote. In this hour of global emergency, what we need the most is – ‘national unity and international cooperation’.
It is incumbent upon us to follow the norms of responsible behaviour as good citizens. We need to win this battle – together.
(The author is director at an engineering and IT services company in Hyderabad and a columnist. This is a personal blog and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)