Kashmir’s Grand Mufti, Nasir ul Islam, assures that the well-being of people is the primary concern but thinks that the risk of coronavirus is not yet so much that mosques be shut down and congregational prayers called off. He spoke to Kashmir Reader correspondent Junaid Nabi Bazaz. Here are excerpts from the interview.
Kashmir Reader (KR): Like most parts of the world, Kashmir is also now caught in the web of the coronavirus. Why don’t you call off prayers at mosques when this has been done at even the central places of Islam?
Grand Mufti Nasir ul Islam (GM): I held a meeting with representatives of most of the prominent Islamic schools of thought a few days ago. We have agreed that the spread of the virus has not yet reached a stage when prayers should be completely called off at mosques. People above the age of 60, children below the age of 9, and patients with history of illness, travel, should stay home. The rest can come to offer the farz (mandatory) prayers, which should be completed in the least possible time. We have also cancelled many events involving gathering of people. We have also advised people on how to conduct marriages.
KR: We already have one positive case of coronavirus. The people under observation are growing. Kashmir is in Stage 2 of the virus spread. Gatherings are the surest way of spreading the virus. Are these reasons not enough?
GM: There is no case of detected coronavirus in Kashmir. The lady found to be positive is untrue (information), according to the information I have gathered. We are okay if the prayers are offered in the way we have instructed. We can think about calling off the prayers at mosques if there is an eventuality.
KR: What is an eventuality in your opinion?
GM: There is no case yet. No death. If positive cases are reported, I will call for a meeting where a unanimous decision will be taken.
KR: So you are waiting for positive cases and deaths?
GM: No, but the situation is not so severe.
KR: Looking at the countries where the virus has spread, it has been found that cases had risen because precautions were not taken. Kashmir is ill prepared, has no infrastructure for controlling the virus if it enters the later stages. It has to be controlled at this stage only.
GM: Prevention is better than cure, no doubt. But the virus won’t spread if a few people are offering prayers in a mosque. I am talking about those people who are healthy.
KR: What does Islam, according to you, advise people to do under these circumstances?
GM: Prayers cannot be cancelled.
KR: Calling off prayers at mosques as a means of prevention does not mean cancelling prayers altogether. We have in the Islamic tradition instances when prayers were called off at mosques and offered at homes, even during times of heavy rainfall. Ibn Hajir, one of the renowned scholars of Islam, records several cases of calling off of congregational prayers during different plagues in history.
GM: In Pakistan, prayers at mosques have not been called off. The head of the Jamia Masjid in New Delhi has also not done so. The centre of Islam, Masjid-al-Haram, is also holding prayers. We have to keep many things into consideration before taking a decision. We are keeping a watch.
KR: What Islam says in this situation and what is being followed in the Islamic world are two different things?
GM: If you have facts with you, please share. Or, let the government say that the situation is grave.
KR: The government has already declared the disease as a pandemic.
GM: They keep on changing their position. Before August 4, they said nothing was happening, and then there was clampdown. They have to officially declare the severity of the situation.
KR: You said that a lot of things have to be taken into consideration before taking a decision. What are those?
GM: Any decision taken today should not become a precedent and used against us for shutting down mosques in future by forces that are working against the interest of Muslims.
KR: So what is to be done now?
GM: I told you, we are concerned about people. We are just figuring out the situation. A call will be taken if things get out of control. You don’t worry. Let the government write to us about the severity of the situation, with proper data. We will consider that as a serious situation and then take a call.