COVID-19: Prophetic Pronouncement on Government’s Restriction on Worship in the Mosque

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By: Is’haq Muhammad Habeebulla, Al-Agbedewi

It is not any news to the world that the notorious nature of COVID-19 has forced the various world governments to issue policies and guidelines to the religious community on how to go about their religious gathering in designated public places of worship. While some religious leaders politely complied, some grudgingly obliged and others refuse to comply. This write up examines one of the current methods of halting the spread of the virus adopted by various governments and puts forward a brief explanation of the prophetic views on the issues as it affects places of worship.

One of the methods adopted by various governments to halt the spread of COVID-19 is to ask people to stay at home. Depending on the severity of the spread of COVID-19 in a location, the lockdown may be partial or total. With regard to the restriction in the mosque, the present Supreme Head of the Worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Hazrat Mirza Masroor AhmadATBA has explained various policies and guidelines issued by the governments:

“Due to the pandemic that has recently spread, numerous world governments have implemented restrictions…that congregational prayers are not allowed at mosques. And if it is allowed, then no more than two or a few people can convene together, and they too should be members of the same household…others are saying family or people living together can convene” (retrieved from Al Hakam Magazine).

The punishment for violating this order ranges from heavy fines up to $750,000, imprisonment or death sentence, depending on the profile of the convicted person and the country of jurisdiction. Do governments have the right to enforce isolation of a sick person, social distancing and restriction of movements to the places of worship among the healthy bearing the fact that it is with God that all solutions lie?

The first prophetic response to the above question is in favour of the freedom of right to decision making for humanity. In his wisdom and love for peace and in his quest to see that people’s freedom to make a choice is not violated in order to gain personal blessings and true peace of mind, the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) advised the person with contagious disease to voluntarily isolate or quarantine himself. He said: The plague (contagion) patient who remains in his home with patience and expectation of reward, knowing that nothing will befall him other than Allah’s decree will attain the reward of a martyr (Sahih al-Bukhari, 2829 and Sahih Muslim, 1914). Nothing is more comforting than to guide and give a patient the freedom to make the right choice and the glad tiding of becoming a better being in the aftermath of the sickness.

He also guides the healthy not to seek to put themselves into destruction by freely mixing with the infected person unprotected. He said: Run away from the one with contagious disease as you would run away from a lion (Sahih Bukhari, Vol 7, Book 71, number 608). This only means guard yourself against the contagious disease and it does not in any way mean that the sick person should be left to fend for himself for that would mean the person would still have to move about. There are various narrations also stating the blessings for those who take care of the sick.

Regarding social distancing, the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing be on him) himself practiced social distancing. It is reported that a leper once intended to pledge allegiance to him; in doing so, he would have to touch the hand of Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing be on him). To teach people how to practice social distancing in spite of strong faith in Allah – for no one has stronger faith in Allah’s protection than Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing be on him) – he kindly sent word to the leper that his pledge had already been accepted, so he should isolate himself by staying at home (Sunan ibn Majah).

With regard to the restriction of movement and travel ban, the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said: Do not enter a land where the plague has broken out; don’t leave where the plague has broken out. (Sahih Bukhari, Hadith 5739 and Muslim, Hadith 2219).

Hence, the prophetic verdict generally on isolation, social distancing and restriction of movement is that the governments have the right to enforce them in the case of contagious diseases where people fail to willingly observe these guidelines – where the infected refuse to isolate or quarantine themselves or the healthy seek to freely mingle with the infected unprotected- especially in this age that the means of transportation has made the world a global village where both those who subscribe to the teaching of Muhammad (peace and blessings be on him) and those who do not intermingle easily. For the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said: Those with contagious diseases should be kept away from those who are healthy(Sahih Bukhari 6771 and Sahih Muslim 2221). This and other prophetic pronouncement give the government permission to enforce isolation, social distancing, and travel ban in order to halt the spread of the contagious diseases for it is only people in the authority that can enforce travel ban or restrictions of movements.

However, for true and obedient Muslims, enforcement may not need to come into play as these teachings of isolation, social distancing, restriction of movement and travel ban of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) have been pleasantly upheld by the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) as explained above with regard to leper and further put to practice by the companions as a religious injunction during the Khilafa of Umar (r.a) when there was outbreak of plague in Amwas. (Sahih Bukhari, Hadith 5729 and Sahih Muslim, Hadith 2219). And there is a perfect example to be followed in the teaching of Muhammad and his Khulafa.

Moving from general restriction to the restriction on attending the places of worship, the first Prophetic response found in this case also is in favour of freedom of conscience for humanity. Generally, the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) practice as a head of state proved that everyone has freedom of religion; the government has no right to dictate which religion the citizenry should practice. On the contrary, as head of state, he protected the religious right of everyone. (The Holy Prophet (saw): A Messenger of Peace and Reconciliation by Tommy Kallon)

However, just as the government is to guarantee and protect the freedom of conscience for its citizens, it has the right to also enforce restriction and issue guidelines in a state of emergency concerning access to places of worship when there is a notorious and extenuating condition which might put the life of citizens in grave danger. Abu Huraira reported that the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing be on him) said: He who eats of this plant (garlic) should not approach our mosque and should not harm us with the odour of garlic (Sahih Muslim, Book 4, Number 1144).

 It is narrated that Hazrat Umar once asked a leprous woman who was circling the Holy Ka’aba to go back home as it would be better for her (and other). (Prophet Muhammad’s teaching regarding pandemics by Aizaz Khan). Another Hadith reported by Nafi’ said: Once, in a cold night, Ibn ‘Umar  pronounced the Adhãn for the Salat (prayer) at Dajnan (the name of a mountain) and then said, “Offer Salat (prayer) at your homes”, and informed us that Allah’s Messenger used to tell the Mu’adhin to pronounce Adhan and say, “Ala Sallü fir-Rihal [offer Salat (prayer) at your Ar-Rihal (homes or camps)]” at the end of the Adhan on a rainy or a very cold night during the journey (Bukhari, Vol 1, Hadith 632).

The Hadith narrated by Abu Huraira indicates that anyone with contagious disease should keep away from the place of worship. If such a person does not, the government can enforce it as Umar did for it is from the teaching of that Hadith Umar who was the authority at the time reminded the leprous woman to go back home. The Hadith narrated by Nafi recognizes the right of the government to give guidelines for the people to stay at home in case of any situation that may put their lives in danger or difficulties as a result of coming to the places of worship whether they have confirmed cases of the contagious diseases or not. It is good to note that Ibn Umar did not pass new judgement for as people tend to be surprised why would he ask them to keep away from the place of worship on account of rain, he reminded them that it is the teaching and practice of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him).

In case, one were to argue that in the first Hadith, it is the individual that have contracted the infectious disease that were restricted from the place of worship and not the healthy worshipper, so only people with the contagious disease (for example COVID-19) should be made to stay at home, then the second Hadith asked everyone to stay at home on account of what rain – blessings from Allah – might put people through. Now compare rain from heaven which irrigates the land and bring forth means of livelihood for our sustenance to the devastating rain of COVID-19 which does not only destabilize the economic condition of a nation but also take the lives of people and put the survivor in great difficulties.

Moreover, although there is no systematic research on how fearful people are about the COVID-19, however, it does become clear that COVID-19 does not only put the lives of those affected in danger, it also spread fear and panic among those who are not affected – fear about the nature of its transmission, fear of inability to discern one who contracted the diseases at early stages. One easily perceives the odour from the mouth of a person who ate garlic, but at the early stages, it is not easy to detect a person with COVID-19. This means the infected can transmit to others unknowingly or deliberately before they are detected. And there is also the fear of inadequate facilities to cater for the sick. Hence, if it is not on the apparent condition of the infected individuals and the risk of spreading the pandemic, on account of fear, just as in the case of what rain may put people through, the government can issue guidelines to also stay at home.

But with God, solutions to all problems lie and it is Him that should be feared more than the spread of COVID-19 for everything is under His control. This is true. It is also good to bear in mind that no one can please God except in the way He wants to be pleased. And the path to follow for God to be pleased is to follow the path Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) laid down, especially if we want God to be pleased with us and remove this calamity from us:

“Say, if you love Allah, follow me then will Allah love you and forgive you your faults. And Allah is Most Forgiven, Merciful” (Qur’an 3:32).

In his Quranic commentary, the Second Supreme Head of the Worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Hadhrat Mirza Bashirudeen Mahmud Ahmadar explained this verse thus:

“Those who seek to love God and attain to His nearness must follow the guidance of the Prophet of Islam, which will make them the beloved ones of God. This is the only door now left open for the attainment of divine love…” (The Holy Qur’an with English Translation and Commentary (2002) Nazarat Nashro Ishaat, India, Vol 1, p.309)

Take for instance, if the world had heeded the teaching of Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) from the very beginning of the outbreak of the contagious disease, it could not have become a pandemic. Therefore, let us look at how the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) worshipped at the time of fear.

The Prophetic practice with respect to worship in a state of fear depended on the degree and severity of the hazard. Aisha was asked about the Prophetic way of life and manner. She replied that his way of life is dictated by the Qur’an. In the Qur’an, we read:

“Watch over Prayers, and the middle Prayer, and stand before Allah submissively. If you are in a state of fear, then say your Prayer on foot or riding; but when you are safe, remember Allah as He has taught you that which you did not know” (Qur’an 2:239-240).

These verses were placed in the midst of discussion about conjugal relation. One may consider them oddly placed. But as the arrangement of chapters and verses in the Qur’an are done under divine wisdom, the verses may be prophecies that when the world would immerse itself in merrymaking, and like the gullibly newly wedded couple, deems itself self-sufficient and become negligent of the commandments of its Lord, God would visit it and put it in a state of extreme fear where even the worship may be impossible collectively and individual would be forced to submit to God personally. Hardly would anyone deny that today, the people do not only seek to reject God, they also seek to legalize things that God has made forbidden.

Back to our discussion on how the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) worshipped at the time of fear, in his Quranic commentary, the Second Supreme Head of the Worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Hadhrat Mirza Bashirudeen Mahmud Ahmadar explained the above verses thus:

“The form in which Prayers are to be performed in time of ordinary fear or danger is mentioned in 4:102, 103; but the present verse refers to a state of extreme fear when one cannot observe even the form of ordinary Salatul Khauf” (Prayer in a state of fear). (The Holy Qur’an with English Translation and Commentary (2002) Nazarat Nashro Ishaat, India, Vol 1, p.309)

The prayer in time of fear mentioned in 4:102, 103 is that of the ancient way of warfare, of course, it may still be relevant somewhere. The combatant faced each other and fight to the death. As the enemy could be sighted, the Muslims are taught another method of observing congregational prayer. But with the advancement in technology, the system of warfare has greatly changed. Gone are the days when soldiers faced each other in the front row and fight to death. All that is needed now is a press on the button of a drone, chemical weapons or nuclear weapon on the most crowded area. I pray Allah to save humanity. Hence, it is not correct to equate the fear arising from the coronavirus to that of the time of ancient method of warfare to justify one’s reason not to obey the guidelines of restriction of movement in order to halt the spread of COVID-19 as some scholars do. Moreover, scholars with such ideology fail to understand that the system of warfare has changed with the improvement of technology. Little wonder, some scholars still encourage their innocent followers to throw stone at those with rifle. Today, not only the enemy is overwhelming, he is not also seen coming and his target is a crowded location like the places of worship. This is what COVID-19 is to humanity today.

In summary, whether COVID-19 is believed to be a biological warfare or the effect of 5G technology or the natural pandemic as discussed by Al-Hafiz Yunus in “Covid-19: Quran’s Response to the Conspiracy Theories and Speculations,” it has spread fear and panic in the world which was never experienced before with respect to the places of worship and which pushed the government at various places to naturally respond to it in such a way to protect its citizens by issuing guidelines and restrictions to the places of worship. Hence, the Prophetic response is, this decision should be respected and followed for this is not ordinary fear. As Narrated by Nãfi’ that Ibn ‘Umar said that “The Prophet said, ‘If the number of the enemy is greater than the Muslims, they can offer Salãt while standing or riding (individually)’. (Bukhari, Vol 2, Hadith 943).

This restriction of movement to the place of worship is to be obeyed until people are declared safe from the risk of the spread of the pandemic. As the verse says “…when you are safe, remember Allah as He has taught you that which you did not know (Qur’an 2:239-240). This also shows that this state of fear would come to pass. When the issue is over, then people can go back to the physical place of worship collectively.

As the true worshippers tearfully feel the pain of not seeing the beauty of gathering in the mosques, Muslims should remember that there is a “Mosque that COVID-19 couldn’t close as written by Sabahat Ali Rajput. Strive to find it in time.

Moreover, as pointed out in the above verses (Qur’an 2:239-240), perhaps, God Who has seen that people have neglected His commandments and are going against His instructions, want us to echo His name in our various home individually or as family for a while in order for Him to show us mercy and save us from the destruction our hands are leading us to, as the Holy Founder of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community said:

“If you want to live safely and desire peace in your homes, you should pray a great deal. Fill your home with prayers. A home in which prayers are offered regularly is never destroyed by God.” (Malfuzat Vol.3, pg.232).

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