Zakaria Virk, Editor
What on earth is going on with the corona virus? Why is it wreaking havoc on holy sites, mosques, churches, synagogues, and shuttering temples keeping believers away from praying together? Mecca and Medina are deserted, Vatican is deserted, Jerusalem is deserted, mosques are closed, Friday congregational prayers are suspended, Nazareth’s imposing Basilica of the Annunciation – is also bereft of all but the most hardy faithful. Priests filling plastic bags with white candles and holy water on Sunday were asking worshippers to pray from home.
No one had imagined that this virus will have such drastic and lasting effects on religion. Rabbis and Imams are asking people to pray at home or online or worshippers over seventy must not come to mosques or prayer houses. Those who go to mosque for prayers are keeping safely at distance from one another, even though it is against the dictates of the religion.
From Malaysia, Indonesia to Iran faith groups and pilgrims have emerged as hazards, transmitting the virus in ways that is proving difficult to trace and contain. In Malaysia attendees of an Islamic gathering of 16,000 people have taken cases of the virus to Singapore and Brunei. In Pakistan Shiite pilgrims who returned from Iran have tested positive in large numbers. The city of Qom in Iran lies at the center of Iran’s outbreak, one of the worst in the world. Shiite pilgrimage sites in Qom and Mashhad are closed but those are there are kissing steel doors and barriers daring to die.
Religion is supposed to be a source of comfort in times of crisis and suffering. Religion provides psychological and emotional support in times like this. But these days wherever you look around religious services, prayers, communal gatherings, & funeral services and weddings are being suspended indefinitely. Believers have been told to watch offerings of Sunday Mass broadcast or Friday sermons on local TV or online. In an unprecedented move, Saudi Arabia suspended pilgrimages to the holy sites of Islam. The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem was closed after a coronavirus case was confirmed in the area. Let it be clear it is not a divine punishment.
No one should be disputing the limit on ritual gatherings, we all must comply with strict regulations. We must keep in mind Holy water is not a sanitizer, and prayer is not a vaccine. We need science to come up with an effective vaccine to fight this scourge, which it recently has. As Muslim we must pray that God help those unbelievers who are working tirelessly to find a vaccine. We should not pray for their destruction or victory over them. We need scientists right now.
This virus makes no distinction between a disbeliever and a believer. Prayer alone cannot help only washing hands with soap, using sanitizers, social distancing will help. When it is all said and done many things would have changed dramatically- on-line worshiping, consulting doctors online, online teaching, online shopping, online socializing will be the norm.
Corona virus has changed religious precepts which no man would have dared to. Ramadan is starting in April, in what shape or form would we be observing it remains to be seen. Remember love spread faster than virus. Do everything to protect yourself and loved ones.