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Responding compassionately to the Coronavirus

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In this khutbah, Imam Rashied Omar reflects on how conscientious Muslims and responsible global citizens should respond to the outbreak of the deadly coronavirus. He shares valuable lessons about the transient nature of life and encourages us to pray for those who are affected and to provide them with solace and hope.

Imam Rashied provides a pastoral voice to counter fear and anxiety as the coronavirus continues to infect a growing number of people across the world. Read the full text of the khutbah here:

In the Name of Allah, the Most Compassionate, the Dispenser of Grace

Khutbah (Sermon)
Memorial Masjid – Memorial Hospital South Bend, IN
Friday 31st January 2020

Responding Compassionately to the Coronavirus

Imam Dr. A. Rashied Omar

In 2014 the world was gripped by the Ebola and Zika epidemic and the lack of knowledge and unscientific speculation about the disease caused great panic. Five years later, the deadly coronavirus is similarly consuming the world’s conscious as it spreads into a growing number of countries every day.

On January 30, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the new coronavirus a global health emergency. There are at least 213 confirmed deaths and another 9,962 cases of people who have contracted the coronavirus mainly in the Chinese city of Wuhan. There are also reports of 98 cases in 19 other countries where the coronavirus has already spread. These numbers are increasing daily.

We are all following the outbreak of this deadly Coronavirus in China with grave anxiety and consternation and in this khutbah I would like to reflect on how we as conscientious Muslims and responsible global citizens should respond to this new coronavirus.

How should we respond to the Coronavirus Epidemic?

First and foremost, this life-threatening respiratory disease which is highly infectious should remind us about the transient nature of life and move us all to redouble our commitment to live wholesome and virtuous lives. Maladies like the coronavirus is a stark reminder of our ultimate destinies i.e. the frailty of life and the inevitably of death. In this regard, the Glorious Qur’an advises us about the raison de’tre for the creation of the human being. In the famous opening verses from Surah al-Mulk, Allah, the Creator and Taker of Life (al-Muhyi al-Mumit) proclaims the following:
تَبَارَكَ الَّذِي بِيَدِهِ الْمُلْكُ وَهُوَ عَلَى كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ
الَّذِي خَلَقَ الْمَوْتَ وَالْحَيَاةَ لِيَبْلُوَكُمْ أَيُّكُمْ أَحْسَنُ عَمَلًا
وَهُوَ الْعَزِيزُ الْغَفُورُ

Blessed is Allah unto whom belongs all dominion and has power over all things. The one who created death and life as a test, in order to determine which of you is best in conduct, Allah is All-Powerful, Most Forgiving (Q67:1-2)

Commentators of the Qur’an have been intrigued to discover why death is mentioned in the above verse as having been created first before life. It is my considered view that death is mentioned before life because the test of death is perhaps of greater significance than the test of life, and the one who often remembers his/her mortality will be inspired to do good deeds and to live a virtuous life.
In support of this view one could cite several prophetic traditions (ahadith) that exhort the believers to constantly remember their mortality and that the life of this world is transient.

Second, it is important to realize that according to the Qur’an a trial or test, technically known as an ibtila’, may take the form of distress, but it could also take the form of comfort. The Qur’an predicts that the inclination of human beings would be to interpret the ibitla’of distress to be a sign that Allah has forsaken and punished them. Conversely, comfort and opulence are interpreted as a sign that Allah has blessed us. Such a perspective is given to us in Surah al-Fajr, chapter 89, verse 15 and 16, in which Allah, the Sublime, proclaims:

فَأَمَّا الْإِنْسَانُ إِذَا مَا ابْتَلَاهُ رَبُّهُ فَأَكْرَمَهُ وَنَعَّمَهُ
فَيَقُولُ رَبِّي أَكْرَمَنِ
وَأَمَّا إِذَا مَا ابْتَلَاهُ فَقَدَرَ عَلَيْهِ رِزْقَهُ فَيَقُولُ رَبِّي أَهَانَنِ

As for the human being whenever his Lord tests him by being generous to him and allowing him to live a life of ease, he is prone to say, ‘My Lord has been gracious to me.’ Whereas, whenever Allah tries him by straitening his means of livelihood, he is prone to say, ‘My Lord has disgraced and punished me.’ (Q89:15-16)
Third, in light of the above evidences from the most primary sources of Islamic guidance, we should cast aside the view advocated by some Muslims that catastrophes such as the deadly coronavirus outbreak is a sign of the punishment of Allah for the Chinese government’s persecution of its Uighur population. It is my considered view that such obscurantist viewpoints deny the Divine justice of Allah, who is al-`Adil, the Absolutely Just. How does one account for the fact that only China is being chastised by Allah whereas other communities of equal or great sin and oppression are being been left un-punished? Or how does account for the fact that innocent children and even good, decent human beings are being killed by the coronavirus? I concur with the view expressed by Shaykh Dr. Yasir Qadhi that “Of course we are enraged by what the (Chinese) government is doing, but we do not gloat over any communal disaster as a response to our anger.” Rather than stand in judgment of these suffering souls we should be praying for them and providing them with solace and hope. Moreover, the coronavirus is not only afflicting the Chinese but has already spread to other countries and if not curbed it has the potential to affect all of us.

This leads me to my fourth point. Muslim infectious disease specialists and medical researchers should be at the forefront of providing the world with support for vaccine development and assist in discovering a clinical cure for the coronavirus. For the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ has encouraged us with the following teaching:
دَوَاءٌدَاءٍ لِكُلِّ
“For every illness there is a cure”
(Sahih Muslim)
Fifth, as conscientious Muslims and responsible global citizens, we have a responsibility to assist with educating people about the measures we could take to protect ourselves from the coronavirus. In this regard I have two suggestions gleaned from the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. The first is not to travel to Chinese cities and provinces where the coronavirus is spreading. Such a position is supported by the Prophet Muhammad’s ﷺ advice to his companions to not to travel to areas and places known to be afflicted with the illness of leprosy. He also advised those in contaminated areas or communities not to leave and spread the disease further afield.
إِذَا سَمِعْتُمْ بِالطَّاعُونِ بِأَرْضٍ فَلاَ تَدْخُلُوهَا،
وَإِذَا وَقَعَ بِأَرْضٍ وَأَنْتُمْ بِهَا فَلاَ تَخْرُجُوا مِنْهَا

“If you hear that there is a plague in a land, do not enter it; and if it visits a land while you are therein, do not go out of it”
(Sahih al-Bukhari)

The second suggestion to protect us from the coronavirus is to encourage people to simply wash their hands especially after they have been in public areas and visited bathrooms. Contemporary research has shown that personal and environmental hygiene, especially hand washing, can reduce the spread of infectious diseases. In this regard the Glorious Qur’an and the Sunnah i.e. the exemplary conduct of our spiritual guide Prophet Muhammad ﷺ contain numerous teachings that promote personal and environmental hygiene as a religious obligation technically known as fiqh al-taharah. Muslims are obligated to wash themselves with water every time they visit the bathroom and to make wudu’ ablution by washing their limbs before each of their five daily ritual prayers. This discipline of personal hygiene and handwashing needs to be scrupulously embodied at this critical time and the prophetic wisdom shared tactfully and gently with others.

In conclusion, we should not create panic by spreading misinformation but constantly make du`a and pray to Allah, al-Shafi’ – the Source of All-Healing, to protect us, our families, communities, and indeed all of our brothers and sisters in humanity from the coronavirus. I end with a supplication recommended to us by the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ for protection against diseases:
اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَعُوذُ بِكَ مِنَ البَرَصِ وَالْجُنُونِ وَالْجُذَامِ
وَمِنْ سَيِّئِ الْأَسْقَامِ
O Allah, we seek refuge in Thee from leprosy, insanity, elephantiasis and harmful diseases
(Sunan Abu Dawud)

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