LOCUS STANDI TO PURSUE RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN TIMES OF COVID-19

Brig JS Rajpurohit, Ph.D.
April 07, 2020

 

Image Courtesy: WHO (March 31, 2020)

The Covid-19 as on 31 March 2020 has affected over 8, 10,127 including about 39, 573 deaths and over 1,72,531 recovered cases. The aforementioned figures show almost 5,98,023 active cases in which 30,468 are in critical condition. The acute crises generated by the Corona virus throughout the world are beyond our imagination. The exclusive measures to fight the present crisis in the present situation is none other than avoidance of human contacts and sanitizing the exposed part of the body, especially till the virus is totally exterminated. Thus, the fundamental and the common saying, “prevention is better than cure” has to be followed in letter and spirit. The soothing news is that over 1,72,531 cases have recovered. It can be said that although there could be some statistical variance given by the government and mass media may vary on account of the internal policy framework of their operational dynamics; this pandemic has taken an unprecedented toll on human lives.

 The Covid-19 is a pandemic, and there is no doubt that people across the globe are getting infected at a rapid pace, even as the cases of infections and deaths are increasing by a galloping pace, irrespective of religion, caste, creed or color. This was the case with pandemics in the past as well, like the Spanish flu of 1918, the Hong Kong flu of 1968, the Ebola virus of 2013-16, the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.

The entire world today is racing against time to identify and treat patients affected by the Corona virus. Governments of different countries are burning the midnight oil to find ways and means to prevent the widespread infection from one corner to other parts of their country. They have closed borders to prevent the virus from transcending the political boundaries. The US and Canada, despite being very cordial neighbors, have closed down borders. Almost all countries have banned flights from/to their countries, to safeguard people from getting infected and prevent further casualties.

However, a disturbing trend has been noticed this time in certain parts of the world, primarily in Muslim dominated countries (Smith, 2020), where mass gatherings for prayers have taken place, despite the dangers of widespread infection and the spread of the virus. Malaysia reported mass gathering and prayers of almost 16000 people from 27 February to 01 March 2020 on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur at Sri Petaling mosque. People stayed in tents and prayed together at the mosque. A large number of foreign travelers had participated in the prayers and have probably carried the virus at home and their localities.

Bangladesh reported that influential religious leaders called for community prayers on 19 March 2020 at Raipur in Lakshmipur district that was attended by 1000 people. BBC Bengali correspondent Akbar Hossain reported the figure as 30,000 and that there was no permission taken from the authorities.

  • Indonesia reported that same cult ‘Tablighi Jamaat’ a religious prayer planned over three days, 19-22 March at Gowa in the province of South Sulawesi. Intervention by the authorities led to the cancellation of the event, but by then, over 10,000 people from across the world had gathered in the town. The leader of this group is being indicted in New Delhi as it ignored government warnings and indulged in large religious gatherings.
  • India reported mass gathering for prayers on 20 March 2020 (Friday prayers) in Mumbai, Kolkata, Patna, New Delhi, Sri Nagar, Ahmedabad, even while the Prime Minister announced a self-initiated curfew.

On the contrary, there are Muslim countries that have banned central prayers together at any mosque. Turkey is one of the leading countries in this aspect. Mr. Ali Erbas, Head of Religious Affairs of Turkey, has very strongly conveyed that Islam does not permit putting human life in danger. All prayers in congregations have been suspended. Other countries that have now banned central prayers are Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, and Jordan.

There is a partial ban on the congregation and central prayers at mosques in Saudi Arabia (fewer prayers in Mecca, Medina mosques), Iran, Sudan, Nigeria, Rwanda, Kenya, and Kuwait. Various flights have been banned, and attempts are being made by some of these countries to prevent infections through immigration. However, there are countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and some LDC countries that are yet to initiate an effective action to arrest the trend. Indonesia, the largest Muslim dominated country in the world, has not put any ban on central prayers so far. The figures of people affected by Covid-19 in some of these countries up to 22 March 2020 are given in the table. Malaysia has 1183 full-blown cases with nine deaths. The cases of Indonesia are ready to increase sharply. The impact of slow or no action by some of these Muslim countries is likely to affect the world drastically.

The issue at large is the survival of humanity and not of religion. The very same countries on finding out that the cases of Corona virus are spreading within their country or is being imported or exported are realizing the gravity of the situation. Many countries have started banning congregation and even lockdown to prevent further spread of the virus. Malaysia has now ordered complete lockdown in the country. However, the damage been done already. Within a couple of days, the impact will be visible at the global level. One has to wait and see the impact in days to come.

India is sitting on the edge of the explosion of the pandemic. The way congregations have taken place even after government advisories, even a fraction of infection in each of these congregations, is sure to set the infectious ball rolling. More so, there have been cases of Indians returning home from the Middle East and South-east Asian countries. India cannot be ignorant of the likelihood of spread from infected persons and the devastation that is likely to bring with it in the masses. Some irresponsible behaviors like the common mass prayers, washing hands with the same water, inadequate hygienic conditions, and the simple thought of severity of the deadly disease appears missing at many places. Indians, irrespective of religion, have to take personal responsibility for ensuring all possible preventive measures, and the government has to be proactive in its approach to contain the virus in its second stage itself. Aggravation of the situation to stage 3 is a sign of danger that India has to avoid at all costs.

Fortunately for India, extreme sensitivity shown by the government and early decision to impose a lockdown has helped in handling the situation. Provisioning of testing equipment and creating new quarantine facilities are need of the hour. Recent inputs of army creating huge quarantine facilities in Jaisalmer, Manesar, IAF opening up Gorakhpur, and Indian Navy establishing one in Vishakhapatnam will aid the government in providing much-needed support as the virus continues to grip the nation.

Even as the nationwide lockdown continues, the world watches with bated breath as the time bomb of Covid – 19 ticks on.

*** The author is Brigadier in Indian Army and is serving as Group Commander, Group HQ NCC, Gorakhpur (UP) ***

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