What Islam thinks about quarantine measures during COVID-19 period

The Russian Ministry of Health is talking about a rise in coronavirus infections amid the spread of other respiratory diseases in high season. While part of society is expecting the next imposition of quarantine measures, Realnoe Vremya’s columnist Karim Gaynullin recalls what restrictions the world Islamic community faced.

What Islam thinks about restrictions in the case of epidemic in general

The Islamic community, in fact, faced epidemics in the first centuries of its existence. During the prophetic times, an epidemic of plague that noticeably weakened two big empires — Byzantine and Sassanid — took place in Near East. Some researchers call this factor as one of the reasons for the success of the Islamic caliphate in conquering new lands.

The Islamic tradition (sunnah) claims that Prophet Mohammad himself forbade visiting lands hit by the plague and leaving their settlement in the case of infection. We can say that it is one of the early mentions of the quarantine system as it is. The same tradition has it that an infected person who died from the disease but met all necessary measures not to infect others will pass away as a martyr.

“If one in the time of an epidemic plague stays in his country patiently hoping for Allah's Reward and believing that nothing will befall him except what Allah has written for him, he will get the reward of a martyr.” (Sahih al-Bukhari)

And the first case when the early Islamic community faced plague was when Al-Farooq Caliph Umar initiated a campaign to the region of Sarg. Of course, there was no glove-and-mask regime then. But there was an understanding that the emergency situation requires some restrictions.

Friday prayer contention

Friday worship is one of the Muslims’ duties. An entire sura (chapter) from the Holy Quran is dedicated to this prayer — Friday. During quarantine, Muslims had to stop public worships.

In reply to this, Russia’s Spiritual Directorate in Moscow issued a legal statement offering to read the Friday prayer online. Moreover, the Friday prayer is usually read instead of the compulsory midday prayer — in this case, the muftiate stressed that the midday prayer must be read after the online Friday salah. It turns out that such Friday salah will be additional.

On the other hand, Tatarstan’s Muslim Spiritual Directorate issued a statement on the prohibition of online Friday salah. They indicated that the Hanafi school, which is spread among Russia’s Muslims, has several conditions impeding online worship. Instead, the Tatarstan Muslim Spiritual Directorate claimed that it would be enough to simply read the midday salah at home.

Such disagreement was seen in the Arab-speaking environment as well. So Qatari theologian Issam Talima offered reading Friday prayers online. A lot of scientists filed an objection to this and indicated that collective worship had several conditions varying depending on the legal school.

Iftaa' Department of Jordan published a statement urging Muslims not to visit worship. On the other hand, there were registered cases at the bottom level when quarantine measures were ignored.

Such a restriction applied to festive prayers and evening prayers during the Ramadan month.

Quarantine Hajj

One of Islam’s pillars has had hardships this year — the Hajj during Ramadan. It is obvious that a crowd of thousands of people would have created uncontrolled spread of the infection. This is why this year Saudi Arabia has imposed restrictions on compulsory and additional (Umrah) pilgrimages having restricted them to a small number of Muslims inside the Kingdom itself.

One of the most authoritative institutions among Muslims, Al-Azhar, endorsed the imposed measures. On the other hand, theologian Ali al-Qaradaghi, a pupil of famous Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, called the restriction of the Hajj contradictory to the religion. He indicated that the Hajj was restricted only when Qarmatians seized Mecca. On the other hand, as many people as today couldn’t go on a pilgrimage at that moment.

Burial difficulties

The loss of one’s nearest and dearest during the epidemic became the most concerning for some Muslims. The burial customs in Islam envisages that the dead person’s body is washed, buried in a particular way, and the funeral prayer is read afterwards. The contact with the body affected by the disease and risk of infection caused the alarm. Some people wanted to lobby alternative methods of burial: cremation, burial in zinc-lined coffins or restriction of the customs, which was received by Muslims with hostility. Iftaa' Department of Jordan, Qatari religious organisations, al-Azhar indicated almost unanimously that all the customs should be followed if possible. Might a small number of people read the burial salah and a distance is respected, but the form of the customs shouldn’t change.

To sum up, Islamic institutions and Muslims reacted to the imposed quarantine measures calmly. On the other hand, it is hard to accept some restrictions in a number of issues that are key to Muslims. Some studies suggest that the New Era will be an era of epidemics, and theologians will still have to think about Islamic law through the prism of the epidemiological situation. Fortunately, Islamic sources allow it.

By Karim Gaynullin