I am putting forth this small guide, after analysing a few foundational Islamic texts, in the wake of several institutions and mosques asking religious scholars if Juma prayers should be suspended due to the risk of coronavirus. The classical fiqh literature considered this type of epidemics as Umum al-Balwa and sanction Rukshah (ease) in case of congregations and travelling. Scholars like Taqi Usmani, Suhaib Webb, Shaykh Hamzah Maqbul Maliki, Shanqiti and others have cited justifications from religious texts and scholarly works for taking precautions and at certain places suspending large gatherings, Juma prayers, and even congregational religious gatherings. Scholars say that the Islamic law on this issue is clear.
A FOUNDATIONAL PRINCIPLE
It is a fundamental duty for everyone to protect his/her body and that of any of his dependents. A primary principle of Islam is, “Preventing harm takes precedent over the acquisition of benefits.” For that reason, alcohol and gambling are prohibited, even though Allah recognizes their benefits: “They ask you about alcohol and gambling. Reply that in both is a great sin and a benefit for people, but the sin is greater.” (Quran 2:219)
THE BOOKS OF USUL AL FIQH
In the books of Usul Al-fiqh, we find dispensation for things when there is a threat to the health and well-being of people. Imam’ Izz al-Din ‘Abd al-Salam explained this dispensation when he wrote of “the dropping of an act, like congregational prayers, fasting, Hajj, or Umrah due to a Sharia approved reason.” (Qawa’id al-Ahkam fi Masalih Al-Anam, Vol. 2, p. 9). Thus, there are times when religious acts can be modified to prevent considerable, often public, harm.
ILLNESS AND THE THREAT OF ILLNESS
Ibn Rushd mentioned a consensus that illness allowed people to miss congregational prayers:
“What scholars agree on is that gender and health determine if a person should attend prayers. Thus, the consensus is that Juma is not an obligation upon women and the sick.” (Bidaya al-MujtahidwaNahaya al-Muqsaid, Vol. 1, p. 224). The Prophet (SAW) excused those who were sick from attending congregational prayers:
“Who hears the caller to prayer, but finds no excuse not to respond, his prayer that he prays (alone) will not be accepted.” The companions asked, “What is an ‘excuse.’” He responded, “Fear or sickness.” (Al-Sunna al-Saghir, Hadith p. 241.)
COMMANDS AND CAPACITY
It is well known that the orders of Allah and His messenger are conditioned on ability. Allah says: “Be dutiful to Allah as best you can.” (Quran 64:16). The Prophet (SAW) said: “When I command you do something, do it to your ability.” (Bukhari in his ‘Sahih and Muslim’)
A MISTAKEN NOTION
Some people contend that this epidemic is “not a big deal; I’m young, and I’ll be fine.” While that may be true, the danger is that a person may be asymptomatic, but he may engage with or sit next to older people, or he may even infect a younger person who has elders at home. Our approach to this virus should not be rooted in selfishness. It is going to take us as a community to defeat it, Inshallah.
IF YOU HAVE TESTED POSITIVE
First, lots of prayers and thoughts are sent your way. I ask Allah to cure you and make this a means of your forgiveness. Second, it is not allowed for you to attend community events or congregational acts of worship.
THE FATWA COUNCIL OF IRAQ
“It is not allowed for a person who tests positive for the virus to attend public gatherings such as the Friday prayers and congregational prayers. He should pray at home on in isolation until he is cured,” the Fatwa Council of Iraq has said. The Prophet (SAW) has said: “A sick person should not mix with a healthy one.” (Bukhari in his Sahih collection)
COMMITTEE OF GRAND SCHOLARS IN SAUDI
After considering the Islamic texts, its goals, its principles, and the statements of scholars regarding this issue, the Committee of Grand Scholars clarifies the following matters:
1- It is prohibited upon a person infected with this virus to attend congregational prayers and Friday prayers, because the Prophet (may Allah’s praise and peace be upon him) said, “Diseased (camels) should not enter upon healthy (camels).” [Reported by Al-Bukhari and Muslim], and because of his statement, “If you hear of the outbreak of a plague in a land, do not enter it; and if it breaks out in a land in which you are, do not leave it.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim).
2- If a specialized body decides that medical quarantine or isolation is to be administered to someone, it is obligatory upon the person to abide by it. Prayer should thus be established at home or at the place of isolation. This is because Ash-Shareed ibn SuwaydAth-Thaqafi said, “Amongst the delegation from Thaqeef there was a man with leprosy. The Prophet (SAW) sent someone to him, saying, ‘We have accepted your pledge of allegiance, so return.’” (Sahih and Muslim)
3- Whoever fears that he will be harmed or will harm others, he is permitted to not attend the Friday prayer and the congregational prayers. This is because the Prophet (SAW) said, “There shall be no harm or reciprocating harm.” (Ibn Majah). In all these cases, if he does not pray the Friday prayer, he must pray Dhuhr four rak’ahs.
EGYPTIAN MINISTRY OF HEALTH AND FATWA COUNCIL
If Muslim scholars are asking the health ministry to prevent the Friday prayers over the fear of the coronavirus spread, the ban is “permissible,” the Egyptian Minister of Awqaf (Endowment), Mohamed Mokhtar Gomaa, announced on Saturday. Speaking in a conference held at Egypt’s Al-Azhar University, Gomaa said that the “overall purposes of Islamic law require the protection of the people.”
DISAGREEMENT(S) OVER SUSPENSION OF JUMAH PRAYERS
There are a few scholars who argue in favour of keeping the mosques open. In the case of Kashmir, the closure of mosques for gathering and groups is not permissible yet; unless reliable doctors decide that the epidemic has spread terribly, and has affected the society at large. Other than in this case, it is not permissible to close mosques because they are among the rituals of Islam, and the rituals are not left on the basis of suspicion and precaution.
Considering the importance of prayer, instead of suspending the Juma and congregational prayers, small congregations should be encouraged, with proper sanitisation of the mosques, bringing personal prayer mats, abstention from handshakes, and shortening of Friday sermons. This takes us back to the Hadith of Prophet (SAW) that purity is part of faith and the key to fighting disease.
May Allah safeguard us, as this pandemic continues to grow. Most of the scholars across the globe, especially at places where coronavirus is already present, suggest suspending Juma and large gatherings, especially if public health officials warn against them. The answer rests on the shoulders of the government as well as local Imams, local fiqh councils, and religious leadership. It is essential to heed their advice.
Allah knows best
—The writer is assistant professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at Islamic University of Science and Technology. [email protected]