Contemporary Islam in The Time of Calamity: Coronavirus As An Example
By Nour Rida
With the outbreak of the pandemic Coronavirus, Muslim leaders, with Leader of the Islamic Revolution His Eminence Imam Sayyed Ali Khamenei topping the list urged people to take measures to prevent the spread of the disease. Among advices and instructions were to stop shaking hands, visiting family and friends and mingling with people, which are among the very good social deeds in Islamic thought. Muslim scholars also stressed the importance of carrying out social duty through cooperation, following the sets of rules and regulations and instructions provided by the health sector and the government to contain the pandemic and help save lives. Also, Hezbollah Secretary General His Eminence Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah reiterated the requests of Imam Khamenei in a televised speech and urged people from all faiths and backgrounds to cooperate together on all the levels and by all means. These two, we can say, are of the most prominent leaders of Islam today.
Fueling Islamophobia to fight ultimate humane values?
Unlike Western media propaganda, Islam is not a violent, ignorant and outdated religion. Of course Western and American media have their own agendas under these gibberish pretexts. One of the goals of West’s Islamophobia campaign is their sense of fear that the Islamic culture challenges liberal democracy.
Throughout the Cold War era, not only was there an arms race between the Communist East and Liberal West but also there was a war between the USSR and the US who to defeat each other’s cultures. In the early 1990s the Eastern Bloc collapsed. The West imagined then that no other culture would be able to challenge liberal democracy.
But as time passed, a number of developments took place, while some of the Western theorists, such as Samuel Huntington, presented the theory of ‘clash of civilizations’, stating that Islamic culture and civilization intends to challenge Western culture. Theorists and philosophers, while ignorant about the essence of the religion, made use of political science and theories to fight Islam. In an effort to obstruct any challenges against liberal democracy, the West baselessly claims that Islam doesn’t maintain any shared values with other religions and promotes violence, as analysts say. Of course there are other goals from fueling Islamophobia such as justifying the Western regimes’ military presence in the region or cause strife among Islamic countries, but that needs separate articles to discuss.
Today, in the wake of the Coronavirus, the ultimate humane values of Islam are demonstrated in multiple dimensions, there is no need to stand in face of Islamophobic accusations and take a defensive position, Islam speaks for itself in actions.
With COVID-19 spreading like fire, people in Europe rush into supermarkets and hoard on goods, leaving the poorer in trouble as they wait to get paid to be able to buy their needs, and Western leaders address the people and spread fear among them and tell them to expect the loss of loved ones soon. Meanwhile, Muslim communities in what the West dub as ‘developing countries’ cooperate and carry the burden together, they share rather than carryout the act of hoarding. After all Islam stresses that sharing is caring. Leaders encourage people to be optimistic, pray and be dedicated.
A mindset: Islam and reason do not contradict
Also, even though handshaking and warm physical greeting as well as family and friend gatherings are seen as pleasant good deeds in Islam, but the need to keep a distance and prevent the virus from spreading allows religious Mujtahids or leaders from ordering people to respect the current rules and keep a distance. The same goes for self-quarantine, following the rules set by the country they live in and cooperating in order to help contain the crisis. This does not exclude people from other faiths or backgrounds, sharing is caring for all, from all faiths, backgrounds, nationalities and walks of life. It is not about the little act of handshaking, or about leaders addressing people and asking them not to shake hands it is the philosophy behind the entire mindset and worldview. Also, one important misconception among ‘orthodox’ Muslims or mom-Muslims is that Islamic law is immutable, and that Muslims have to conform to its rules. Of course Islam has various schools of thought and sources, one of which encourages Ijtihad, or what is individual independent reasoning depending on the needs of time. It is a continuous process that allows Islam to be at the service of the people and satisfies their needs at any time and place and based on reason. Islam and reason cannot contradict.
Preserving human life; merit of Islam
On this topic, head of the Sapiential Knowledge Institute in Beirut Sheikh Shafiq Jaradi told al-Ahed news “Of course Islam reassures the importance of preserving good family and social relations. Families are the building blocks of the society and it is important in Islam to preserve good relations and practice love and mercy among them. However, whenever a challenge or danger emerges and becomes a threat to the existence of the family, its existence becomes priority.”
The scholar explained it is because Islam in its essence highlights the importance of protecting human life. The saving of a life is considered one of the highest merits and imperatives in Islam.
“So as in the case of Coronavirus today, it is a danger that threatens the lives of people and therefore, it becomes more important to save the lives of people by taking precautionary measures and declaring what was once as a pleasant good deed as rather a prohibited act. Of course people can still socialize and communicate from afar as in social media for instance.”
Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist; the ultimate example
The scholar stressed that what is more important than the example of shaking hands is the core of the issue.
“Islam has a main rule; being up-to-date and meeting the needs of the current time. Any religious verdict or law does not come out of the blue, but is rather the result of studying the circumstances and conditions of events, time, place and environment. This is the secret behind the flexibility of religion which Muslims call Ijtihad. This Ijtihad, or reasoning is represented today by the Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist [Welayat al-Faqih] which is the ultimate example of the contemporary management of human life in a manner that serves and preserves humans and their needs in light of the different conditions and circumstances.”
A clear example to the last point is when a few days ago, Ayatollah Khamenei issued an edict to Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Major General Mohammad Baqeri, emphasizing the need for the establishment of a “health and treatment base” to prevent a further spread of the coronavirus epidemic.
Hence, the national mobilization plan drawn up to combat coronavirus has scientific support while being based on religious and humanitarian motivation.
“It is an efficient plan and is the very measure, which God willing, will turn the scourge into blessing and the threat into opportunity,” Imam Khamenei stated.
Hence, the Sheikh underscored that Islam and modernity are compatible and Islam asserts the need to reinterpret and reapply the principles and ideals of Islam to formulate new responses to the political, scientific, and cultural challenges of the of modern life.
There is thus a need to understand the wisdom behind the sanctity of life principle in Islam, not only by studying its importance, but also the overall scope in which it operates. Hence, Islam is a divine vivid religion that is keen on the lives and interest of all humanity.