Islam, COVID-19, and the Divine Decree
When becoming a martyr serves as an incentive to become infected.
Natural disasters can raise pressing questions for religious believers who believe in a sovereign God. One question which inevitably arises is, “What is God doing in this?” For the almost 2 billion Muslims who make up a quarter of the world’s population, this is an important question. How might Muslims respond when they seek to frame a spiritual response to the pandemic? And what spiritual resources might their faith offer them in the face of this disruption to their lives?
For Muslims, there are specific religious obligations which social distancing requirements interfere with, especially communal prayer in mosques, pilgrimage, and washing the body of the dead.
Over recent months, most Muslim organizations around the world have been supporting social distancing measures brought in by their governments to control the pandemic. In Saudi Arabia Muslims were ordered not to perform their prayers at mosques, but to perform them in their own homes. The Australian National Imams Council issued a ‘Public Statement’ on 18 March, which gave Australia Muslims similar advice.
Islam offers a system of guidance for human behavior. Ordinary Muslims are expected to follow the guidance provided by those who are more knowledgeable about Islam than they, and ultimately the guidance issued should be based upon the Quran and the Sunna (the example and teaching) of Muhammad. These sources, to which legal reasoning is applied, are the foundation for the practice of Islam. Complying with this guidance is believed to bring benefits in this life and the next.
Most Muslim scholars would say that attending Friday communal prayers is obligatory for all Muslim men. The Quran instructs Muslims to leave their places of work on Friday and hurry to prayer (Sura 62:9), and there is a tradition of Muhammad which says that recording angels sit at the gates of mosques to keep track of all who attend (so their participation will be rewarded). But how to comply with this requirement during a pandemic?