Dr Tauseef Ahmad Parray

COVID-19 Pandemic and Kashmir: Refrain from acting as an “Expert” and “Analyst” on Social Media

COVID-19 Pandemic and Kashmir: Refrain from acting as an “Expert” and “Analyst” on Social Media
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~It is not about ‘Religion vs. Science’, or about ‘No Science Only Religion’, but about Religion and Rationality~

Dr. Tauseef Ahmad Parray

COVID-19 has been declared as a pandemic by World Health Organization (WHO), as it has spread globally (affecting over 150 countries) and the worst affected countries are China, Italy, Spain, Germany, USA, and Iran, and India declared a complete “lockdown” to prevent its spread. As of writing this Write-Up (1300 Hrs, 21st March), WHO’s world meter data (as on 21 March, 06:15 GMT) shows that there are 276,469 “Coronavirus cases”, 11,417 “deaths” due to this virus, and 91,954 “recovered” cases.

Right now, this pandemic is discussed, globally (and in our context as well), at four levels: (i) from health/ medical point of view; (ii) from a religious perspective; (iii) from the politico-economic point of view; and (iv) as a conspiracy theory (for later two categories, see, for example, Drs Muzafar Shaheen and Abrar ul Haq Wani, “Corona Virus Epidemic: Politico-economic Fall Out”, Greater Kashmir [GK], 16th March; Daniel Pipes, “Conspiracy Theories in a Time of Virus”, The Washington Times, 17th March and Gary C. Gambill, “Daniel Pipes COVID-19 Conspiracy Theories ‘Need to be Refuted’”, Middle East Forum Webinar, 19th March).

Besides publishing the advisories from various (inter) national Government agencies, all newspapers in J&K (especially from Kashmir valley), on daily basis, publish Opinion pieces (OpEds) related to the history of coronavirus (COVID-19), its preventive measures, precautions, and safeguards (Do’s and Don’ts), and religion-medical perspectives on COVID-19. On 20th March, almost all newspapers from Kashmir had carried their OpEds on preventions, precautions, and safeguards against the spread of COVID-19 (see for example, “Here is what People should Know”, GK; “Advice: Corona Pandemic (COVID19)”, Rising Kashmir [RK]; “Why Kashmir Needs Lockdown Redux”, Kashmir Observer [KO]; “Corona Paranoia: Some practical advice on how to be calm and carry on”, Kashmir Reader [KR], etc.). This has increased after Kashmir confirmed the first case of corona virus (see, for example, GK news item, “Fist Coronavirus case in Kashmir as Khanyar Resident tests positive: Govt.”, 18th March). Same was the case today (21st March): see for example, “Corona vs Kashmir” and “Coronavirus: Hitting Like tsunami” (GK) “What coronavirus has taught us about inequality” and “Coronavirus challenge underscores the necessity for ‘action in absence of crisis” (RK); “A Lesson Coronavirus is about to teach the World”, (KO), etc. The trend has seen an increase after Kashmir confirmed the first case of corona virus (see, for example, GK news item, “Fist Coronavirus case in Kashmir as Khanyar Resident tests positive: Govt.”, 18th March).

After the government announced closing the educational institutions due to Corona, GK, in its Editorial “Corona Pandemic: Is time running out?”, on 19th March also advised that some “uncomfortable decisions” need to be taken by the government as well as the public in order to stop spreading the COVID19 and “Before it takes [s] a steep rise” in this part of the world. Earlier, the ‘Dawn’, in its Editorial on 18th March (“Religious Precautions”) also mentioned that “the novel coronavirus has affected routine life around the globe” and thus many countries and cities “are opting for the lockdown to stop the spread of the contagion”. Highlighting the issue of the decision taken by religious scholars and organizations regarding religious gatherings and Friday congregational prayers the Editorial concluded: “Decisions need to be taken rationally, not emotionally, which is why religious scholars and the government must come up with a plan to address issues of public worship during the virus pandemic without further delay”.

On Thursday, most of the religious organizations/ ‘Ulama (Religious scholars) issued a varied fatwa (religious rulings) and official notices about offering and not–offering the Friday prayers in congregation. Soon after this announcement was made, social media users (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.) from Kashmir (and Kashmiri diaspora)—acting like “experts” and “analysts” on religion and religious issues as well as on the COVID19—there was a surge of posts like “I am going to” and “I am not offering” Friday prayers in congregation. The same was seen after the Friday prayers were over. Some posted about the Khutbah being made unnecessarily long; others posted about offering Zuhr instead of Friday congregation prayers, and many others posted about and indulged in (let me say futile, pointless, fruitless) discussions about different stands taken by different religious organizations/ schools. This should have been done unanimously by ‘Ulama (representing different ideologies and schools) based on Maslaha (public welfare/ good), but it seems that this too was done to show the dominance of one ideology over another, one sect over another, and one scholar over another—very sad/pathetic indeed!!

The fact is that the COVID-19 crisis is faced by humans, globally; it has nothing to do with a particular country or (religious) community. It has affected humans, be it in China or Italy, Iran or India, Saudi Arabia or Pakistan. However, one is confused to see the trend that has arisen, especially on social media, where everybody is trying to be an “expert” (health as well as religious). One must remember that ‘Religion’ has its own domain, and science has its own, both should not be used or misused, especially in crucial times like this, as having dominance over one another. Neither should we indulge in debates and discussions that give rise to disputes and differences (like the one related to offering Friday Congregational prayers). Dr. Mehboob Makhmoodi (in his today’s GK column “Corona vs Kashmir”, https://www.greaterkashmir.com/news/opinion/corona-vs-kashmir/) rightly mentioned that

On March 18th, our local clergy under the banner of Mutahida Majlis-e-Ulema met to discuss the way forward, specifically about the prayers in Masaajid. Surprisingly, they decided to go ahead with 5 joint obligatory prayers in Masjid. This essentially meant they did not advise people to stay home. Interestingly, they asked people to do Sunnah & Nafawil prayers at home, thereby shortening their stay in Masjid. How does that help? The Fardh prayer is to be done shoulder-to-shoulder, with your feet touching the other person’s. Sunnah is done separately. If you have done your Fardh in the congregation, it hardly matters if you also do your Sunnah before you leave. Rasoolullah (SAW)’s teachings are evident as people faced the threat of plague those days. Indeed, we must put our trust in Allah, but only after tying our camels. On the same day, Kashmir’s first positive case of Corona surfaced in Khanyar. It’s true that we do not experience Pandemic quite often in our lives. This is why there’s a big section of people who are unable to take it seriously until someone near them is actually afflicted. However, this would mean a reaction, not caution. Corona’s viciousness & our preparedness is only one step away from each other. If it leaps forward, we cannot handle it. MMU’s decision clearly means to wait for Corona to actually hit us before a concrete call is taken. It was disappointing, to say the least.

On the other hand, there are some other Ulema who are calling for a congregation, especially to make supplication (Dua) for this virus to go. I may take the liberty to call it ‘throwing a corona party’. This is not the way of Islam, as said earlier that epidemics/pandemics are not unprecedented in Islamic history. Allah has established laws to govern this universe. This is what we call ‘Science’. Science is not to be compared with Islam. Its creator is God. This is where some people take science as an enemy and perceive listening to scientists as surrendering their faith. Anyway, He can indeed break these laws when He wishes, and that’s what we call a miracle (Mojiza). However, we have not been asked to rely upon miracles, as they don’t happen often”.

Let me cite just a few examples: Cleanliness, performing Wudu (ablution), etc., are mandatory for us, as Muslims, as goes the Prophet (PBUH) Traditions: “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”; “Those with contagious diseases should be kept away from those who are healthy”; etc. These are also the precautionary measures suggested by medical experts for not getting affected by Coronavirus and Muslims and non-Muslims have taken refuge from these traditions. But the sad part is that social media is filled with posts on highlighting the importance of these Islamic customs and traditions and in humanity’s safety from COVID19 by adopting these as preventive measures. The same is the case with banning of hijab in some European/ Western countries (like France) and now of using masks and of relating the two. More importantly, social media is flooded with highlighting this Prophetic Tradition (that “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”) which has gone “viral” now and is shared by one and all (though with different perceptions and in varied perspectives).

Even the Newsweek, on 17th March, published an Opinion piece by Dr. Craig Considine—a scholar, professor, global speaker, media contributor at Department of Sociology at Rice University and the author of The Humanity of Muhammad: A Christian View (2020), and Islam in America: Exploring the Issues (2019)—“Can the power of Prayer alone stop a Pandemic like a Coronavirus? Even the Prophet Muhammad [pbuh] thought otherwise”), has quoted it and other Traditions and has shared it on his twitter handle (@CraigCons), calling it “A timely hadith in light of COVID19” {In my modest inion, this piece can be described as the best OpEd on balancing Religion, Religious (Islamic) Beliefs and Rationality, and I recommend it to be read by everyone: https://www.newsweek.com/prophet-prayer-Muhammad-covid-19-coronavirus-1492798}. True. It has relevance and we should have a firm belief in the blessed words of the Prophet (PBUH). But isn’t it our double-standard when on one hand we use this hadith as a precaution and remedy for critical situations like COVID19 and on other hand are protesting and forcing the government to bring back those (Kashmiris) who are in countries like China, Iran, etc.? As Dr. Craig has rightly mentioned that “Muhammad [pbuh] 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.” Moreover, one sees that there are different interpretations of the words CORONA (in English, Urdu, And Arabic) taking it as an Abbreviation which connotes this and that.

It is true that, as Muslims, we should have a firm belief in al-Qadr (predestination) and in that, all good and bad (khayr wa sharr) is from Almighty Allah—the Supreme Authority who controls everything in this universe and whose Power is Life and Death. It is also incumbent on us that we should neither give heed to rumors nor should one indulge in spreading them, for it is against the Qur’anic ethics (Q. 49: 6-7, “Believers, if a troublemaker brings you news, check it first, in case you wrong others unwittingly and later regret what you have done, and be aware that it is God’s Messenger who is among you: in many matters, you would certainly suffer if he were to follow your wishes”). We, as a Muslim community, should not forget the Qur’anic dictums that “But [Prophet], give good news to those who are steadfast, those who say, when afflicted with a calamity, ‘We belong to God and to Him we shall return’” (Q. 2: 156-57) and “Say, ‘Only what God has decreed will happen to us. He is our Master: let the believers put their trust in God’” (Q. 9: 51).

Dear Fellow Kashmiris (and everyone indulged in ‘unnecessary’ debates/ discussions and debates instead of doing what is necessary right now)! At this critical juncture, don’t indulge in debates and discussions to show Islam (or any specific Islamic Tradition or custom, etc.) is right or wrong or Science and Scientists are helpless or of no value/ have failed. Don’t even try to prove superiority or inferiority, success or failure, of Religion over Science or vice-versa. Don’t try to be “experts” and “analysts” in each and every field and on every issue and topic. Have Trust in Allah, strong belief in Religion (Islam/ Islamic Customs and Traditions) and follow the Do’s and Don’ts (Precautions/Advisory) issued by WHO, national and local health agencies and experts and by different government advisories—that is what is direly needed at this critical juncture/ crucial moment. Don’t make the current pandemic crisis as something about ‘Religion vs. Science’, or about ‘No Science Only Religion’, but it should be about ‘Religion and Rationality’ (practical implementation of the Prophetic saying that “Tie your camel first, then put your trust in Allah”). Let sanity prevail over our insanity; let rationality/ seriousness prevail over our vainness/ non-seriousness (both in the capacity of beings humans and Muslims); and let religion and rationality go hand in hand, ever and always.

*The author is Assistant Professor, Islamic Studies, at Govt. Degree College for Women Pulwama (Higher Education Department, J&K). He can be reached at tauseef.parray21@gmail.com/ 07298582821

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