In times of adversity, when science has no answer to mankind’s problems and there is no solution in sight, even the most sceptical tend to fall back on faith to give them some hope, but can faith alone solve the problem?
At a time when countries are reeling from the effects of coronavirus and governments across the world are asking for social distancing to prevent the spread of the Covid-19, there are some who have taken to their faith with more zeal and believe that the only way to stop the pandemic is to look for answers within their faith.
The coronavirus spreads between people who are in close proximity to one another through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person sneezes or coughs. These droplets can land in the mouth or noses of people who are nearby and possibly be inhaled into lungs.
It is also possible that a person may touch a contaminated surface and then touch his mouth, nose or possibly eyes to contract the virus. But the biggest problem with the virus is that it manifests itself after a period of 14-15 days. So an infected person who may not be sick may act as the carrier of the virus and spread it unknowingly thereby exacerbating the problem.
In such a scenario, self-isolation and good hygiene becomes important, however, there are those who differ.
Recently tens of thousands of people gathered in Bangladesh for a mass prayer session on Wednesday, despite fears it posed a risk of spreading new coronavirus. The local police Chief said that 10,000 Muslims had gathered in Raipur town to pray “healing verses” from the Koran.
But some eyewitnesses put the figure closer to 30,000. The religious event at Raipur in Lakshmipur district came as Bangladesh confirmed its first death due to the virus. So far 17 people in the country have tested positive, although many experts are sceptical over the official figures.
While it is understandable that people are relying on faith especially in adversity, but what Bangladeshis have overlooked is that a similar religious event in Malaysia in February was confirmed as the source of more than 500 infections.
That event, which was attended by 16,000 people, has also led to confirmed cases in neighbouring Brunei, Singapore and Cambodia. A similar mass religious gathering in Indonesia was cancelled at the last minute this week. On Thursday, the event was finally cancelled but by that time, around 10,000 people – 474 of them people from abroad – had already made their way to Gowa regency in the province of South Sulawesi.
In Iran, hard-line Shiite faithful pushed their way into the courtyards of two major shrines just closed over fears of the new coronavirus, Iranian state media reported Tuesday, as the Islamic Republic pressed on with its struggle to control the Mideast’s worst outbreak.
Roughly nine out of 10 of the over 17,000 cases of the new virus confirmed across the Middle East came from Iran, where authorities denied for days the risk the outbreak posed. Officials have now implemented new checks for people trying to leave major cities ahead of Nowruz, the Persian New Year, on Friday, but have hesitated to quarantine the areas.
Late on Monday night, angry crowds stormed into the courtyards of Mashhad’s Imam Reza shrine and Qom’s Fatima Masumeh shrine. Crowds typically pray there 24 hours a day, seven days a week, touching and kissing the shrine. That’s worried health officials, who for weeks ordered Iran’s Shiite clergy to close them.
But what many of these clerics and their followers are condoning is the fact that while god did insist on cleanliness he also said to balance faith with reason. Muhammad the prophet of Islam over 1,300 years ago propounded the same message to his followers. While he is by no means a “traditional” expert on matters of deadly diseases, Prophet Muhammad nonetheless had sound advice to prevent and combat a development like COVID-19.
Prophet Muhammad said: “If you hear of an outbreak of plague in a land, do not enter it; but if the plague outbreaks out in a place while you are in it, do not leave that place.” He also said: “Those with contagious diseases should be kept away from those who are healthy.”
Prophet Muhammad also strongly encouraged human beings to adhere to hygienic practices that would keep people safe from infection. Consider the following hadiths or sayings of Prophet Muhammad:
“Cleanliness is part of faith.”
“Wash your hands after you wake up; you do not know where your hands have moved while you sleep.”
“The blessings of food lie in washing hands before and after eating.”
And what if someone does fall ill? What kind of advice would Muhammad provide to his fellow human beings who are suffering from pain?
He would encourage people to always seek medical treatment and medication: “Make use of medical treatment,” he said, “for God has not made a disease without appointing a remedy for it, with the exception of one disease—old age.”
Perhaps most importantly, he knew when to balance faith with reason. In recent weeks, some have gone so far as to suggest that prayer would be better at keeping you from the coronavirus than adhering to basic rules of social distancing and quarantine. How would Prophet Muhammad respond to the idea of prayer as the chief—or only form of medicine?
Consider the following story, related to us by ninth-century Persian scholar Al-Tirmidhi: One day, Prophet Muhammad noticed a Bedouin man leaving his camel without tying it. He asked the Bedouin, “Why don’t you tie down your camel?” The Bedouin answered, “I put my trust in God.” The Prophet then said, “Tie your camel first, then put your trust in God.”
Muhammad encouraged people to seek guidance in their religion, but he hoped they take basic precautionary measures for the stability, safety and well-being of all. In other words, he hoped people would use their common sense.