By Aneeqa Du Plessis
Darul Islam High school hall was filled with various Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) senior ulema, shuyookh, school principals, madaris, hifth teachers and other Islamic organisations who gathered on Wednesday to be briefed by medical professionals and alims on a collective response and way forward in dealing with the outbreak of coronavirus. The information session concentrated on the Islamic jurisprudential aspects relevant to how the Muslim community should approach the COVID19 phenomenon. The workshop was hosted in partnership with the Islamic Medical Association and Pathcare.
Topics discussed were how to approach the virus in the context of sanitizing, Jumuah prayer, a possible travel ban and what would happen in the event of death and burial. The panel of experts included Mufti Taha Karaan, Dr Salim Parker, Dr Zameer Brey, Dr Reinhard Boehmer, Dr Younus Essack and Dr Tasnim Suliman.
On Wednesday, the national health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize confirmed the first positive COVID19 case in the Western Cape, while provincial health authorities said 32 people in Cape Town are currently being tested at Tygerberg hospital. The number of cases in South Africa stands at 17, after several people arrived back in the country from their travels abroad.
“There is no need to fear at this stage, as the plans are in place to contain this epidemic. There are no inter-community outbreaks, these are all travel related incidents,” said Dr. Boehmer.
The head of the MJC’s Fatwa Department, Mufti Moulana Taha Karaan, said if any death of COVID19 does penetrate the Muslim community, then the ulema and medical experts will come together and cohesively decide on the safest terms in dealing with the burial process.
“In this case, it has to be a convergence between medical knowledge and the Shariah,” said Ml. Karaan.
“Exactly, what will be done in terms of ghusl…we will wait for the doctors to tell us what has to be done,” reiterated Ml. Karaan.
Already, some Christian religious leaders in South Africa have advised that worshippers avoid physical contact during congregational prayer. However, the MJC said it was too soon to caution Muslims from doing the same, but would reassess this should the virus intensify.
However, masajid have been asked to keep their prayer spaces clean and to implore their congregation to be hygienic at all times.
Dr Boehmer said the MJC could look to the example of Saudi Arabia, which has issued directives to take a number of temporary measures related to prayers as part of strengthening prevention against the outbreak of coronavirus. These include fixing the duration of time between the first call for prayer (adhan) and second call for prayer (iqamah) to 10 minutes in all the Kingdom’s mosques.
In a statement published in the ministry’s Twitter account on Monday, the minister also directed that the maximum time for Friday Jumuah prayers should not exceed 15 minutes. There are also instructions to stop arrangements for iftar meals, prevention of i’tikaaf (seclusion for worship in mosque) and removing food and dates as well as cups used for drinking water from places where musallees gather for prayer.
A researcher at the University of the Western Cape, Dr Tasnim Suliman said basic sanitizing is pivotal in curbing the spread of the coronavirus.
“Soap and water is a must, you can’t get around it. That is the most effective thing you can possibly do,” said Dr. Suliman.
The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD)’s Professor Cheryl Cohen said that citizens looking to protect themselves should note there is no scientific proof that over-the-counter masks offered any protection.
“Masks are not necessary,” added Dr. Suliman.
Dr Suliman reiterated that it is advisable in curtailing the spread of infectious droplets by coughing into your sleeve.
“If you are infected and you’re coughing, cough into your elbow. Not into the palm of your hand (as this spreads germs),” said Dr. Suliman.
When it comes to sanitizing surfaces in your home in the absence of soap, it is recommended that you use bleach. The appropriate ratio would be 5ml of bleach to 1litre of water.
“You don’t need to gunk the whole bottle on yourself,” said Dr. Suliman.
Dr Zamir Brey, TB Programme Lead for South Africa at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation said statistically a person is more likely to die of Tuberculosis than the coronavirus.
“Tuberculosis kills an airplane of people in South Africa every day,” said Dr Brey.
Dr Brey further continued by saying:
“We know that the coronavirus kills between 1-3%, which is actually very low. If 100 people were infected only 1 person would die.”
“It’s not that we don’t need to be concerned about the virus, it’s just that in relative proportions,it kills much much fewer.”