THE IDEAL TIME FOR REFLECTION

Spongebob

Muslims around the world now find themselves in the blessed month of Ramadan. However, as seems to always be the case here in Britain, the month started on different days yet again, with some beginning on Friday and the rest on Saturday. Despite this usual different days debacle, can I just say Ramadan Mubarak to you all, which means ‘blessed Ramadan’ or ‘happy Ramadan’. Or some might prefer the alternative greeting of Ramadan Kareem, which means ‘may Ramadan be generous to you’.

I’ll make this intro quick because I would rather you spent your time reading the following articles. The first two are about how Muslims are coping during this blessed month in the strangest of times. The final two are totally non-pandemic related, as one is about how Muslims in the UK are unfairly portrayed in such negative terms, and the other is about possible historical links between Islam and the British royal family. All articles are presented in full, to hopefully stop you from going down the internet rabbit hole. As best as one can given, you know, all that is going on in the world, enjoy…


As Ramadan Starts, Muslim Doctors Fight Hunger, Thirst — And The Coronavirus

Kevin Baxter, 24 Apr 2020, latimes.com

When Dr. Imran Siddiqui went to bed Thursday night, he set the alarm for 4:30 a.m.

As the director for both the Desert Valley Medical Group in Victorville and a nearby nursing home, Siddiqui’s days have been long and stressful since the COVID-19 pandemic began its deadly assault on California more than six weeks ago. But it’s faith as much as duty that will require him to rise early each morning for the next month.

Because in addition to being a doctor, Siddiqui is a devout Muslim, and like thousands of other faithful first responders, he will be waking before dawn for a large breakfast, then going without food and water throughout the daylight hours of Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting that ends May 23.

“My weakness in Ramadan is not food, it’s not water,” Siddiqui said. “It’s coffee. I need to have a cup of coffee in the morning. Or two cups.”

The fast is obligatory, one of the five pillars of Islam. Yet for frontline healthcare workers, observing it could be extra difficult this year. The novel coronavirus has overwhelmed emergency rooms and intensive care units, infecting more than 9,000 U.S. healthcare providers and killing more than two dozen, according to a study released earlier this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Uneven reporting across the country, the CDC added, means the real numbers are almost certainly much higher.

And that has some doctors and Islamic scholars questioning whether working long hours in a challenging environment without food and water is wise.

“This has been a discussion,” said Dr. Faisal Qazi, a neurologist and an assistant professor at Western University and UC Riverside. “In Ramadan fasting, you’re not hydrated, so it’s different than other forms of intermittent fasting.”

The use of personal protective equipment, including masks, could increase the chances of dehydration. Religious officials in the United Arab Emirates have said that those treating COVID-19 patients there are exempt from fasting, but most Islamic leaders in the United States insist healthy caregivers here should have little problem fasting.

“This COVID-19 situation doesn’t really change that normality,” said Dr. Aasim I. Padela, an emergency medicine physician at the University of Chicago Medical Center and director of the Initiative on Islam and Medicine. “Now what has been a concern is that frontline workers like me who are fasting and making very critical decisions or surgeons who are making critical decisions … people are saying it might be more difficult, I might become more dehydrated because I have to wear all these extra layers of protection.

“That’s a credible concern although there’s no data that I know of to show that.”

In any case, Islamic law allows followers to opt out of a fast under certain circumstances, such as illness or other hardship, and make it up later in the year. The strain of working in a COVID-19 ward would certainly qualify for an exemption.

“Fasting is hard,” said Muzammil Siddiqi, religious director for the Islamic Society of Orange County. “But some things are much harder. If it is for their work, for their health, that will be an acceptable excuse.”

Dr. Muna Beg won’t be looking for an out. An ICU doctor who treats COVID-19 patients at two hospitals in Alameda County, Beg has been observing the Ramadan fast since she was 7. And while the first few days are always tough, after that “for Muslims in Ramadan, it’s Zen-like,” she said. “It’s a very personal experience.”

“I don’t have a clinical study to support this, but I can definitely attest to the fact that if you’re in a place where I’ve eliminated food or whatever my crutch might be, I find that hypersense of awareness does make me more present.”

Siddiqui agrees.

“You are more and more focused. You don’t waste time,” he said. “I feel like our religion is a boost. I don’t know if it’s a spiritual thing or if it’s something in the air, but it’s a little bit energizing.”

Muslim medical personnel have been on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19 all over the world. The first four doctors to die from the virus in England were Muslim immigrants, and in New York City, a hotbed of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States, more than 10% of the pharmacists, clinical laboratory technicians and doctors are Muslim, according to the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.

The percentage is even greater in Michigan where healthcare workers have paid a high price with more than a thousand employees of the Henry Ford Health System testing positive.

“The first two weeks in April were as challenging as it’s been,” said Dr. Mohammed Rehman, a neurologist who has seen his time in the ICU nearly double this month. “But I also saw a lot of people come together during this.”

Rehman also sees the Ramadan fast as something that will strengthen, not weaken, him.

“It was meant to reconnect you back with your faith, it’s not meant to put a burden on that you can’t even function anymore,” he said.

The greater challenge could center on the five prayers — at dawn, midday, afternoon, sunset and night — that Muslims are called to make each day. Since it’s inconvenient to bring a prayer rug into a hospital now and inappropriate for a doctor to strip out of their PPE, Padela will substitute a towel or clean sheet for a rug and pray in his protective clothing and mask.

Beg, the Alameda County ICU doctor, will sometimes use a chair rather than risk contaminating her PPE by praying on the ground.

“The whole world is stretching their PPE further than I wish it was,” she said. And if she can’t leave a patient to pray at the right time, she’ll combine two prayers when she can get away.

“The way my mom always taught me about Islam is God is not cruel,” she said. “So whatever situation you’re in, you should be able to be adaptable.”

COVID-19 has put limits on that though. In normal times, many Muslims would gather with family or in mosques for the evening prayer, but social distancing regulations have forced mosques to close, leaving the faithful to pray at home.

“I can’t even visit my parents now,” Rehman said. “I can’t go anywhere. So the community events, I would say, I will miss this year quite a bit.”

The coronavirus is not just punishing those who are infected and those who are treating them. Siddiqui said it’s also punishing the families. Each night he has to strip in the garage and put his medical clothes in the washer, then take a shower before he can greet his wife. And whatever plans they have for the evening are often interrupted by calls from the hospital or nursing home.

“‘Doctor, this patient’s coughing, he’s feverish. Should we test for COVID? What do you want us to do?’” Siddiqui said, imitating the kinds of calls that have become a nightly routine.

“It’s not just coming to work. The mental toll that this has taken on me and my colleagues is unprecedented. I feel like just, you know, crying almost.”

For the next 30 days, he’ll be handling that stress with both a renewed faith and an empty stomach.


Ramadan During Coronavirus May Seem Disheartening But It’s The Ideal Time For Reflection

Heba Shaheed, 24 Apr 2020, theguardian.com

As an introvert, I am really looking forward to spending this month focusing inwards, without the burden of social responsibility.

It is going to be a very different Ramadan this year due to the Covid-19 global pandemic and the social isolation laws. For 1.8 billion Muslims around the world, the cultural traditions and customs of this religious month of fasting will have to be forsaken for the safety of the global community. As an introvert, I am really looking forward to spending this month focusing inwards, without the burden of social responsibility.

Ramadan in 2020 means no communal gatherings in mosques for “tarawih” night prayers, no large “iftar” dinners with family and friends at sunset to break the day’s fast, and, sadly, restrictions on celebrating Eid, the biggest social holiday for Muslims signalling the end of Ramadan.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the lunar Islamic calendar, and involves fasting from food, water and marital relations from dawn to dusk for 29-30 days. Though cultural traditions have depicted Ramadan as a month of “feasting” and socialisation, in reality, the pure religious tenets stress Ramadan as a month of extreme self-discipline and self-mastery, concepts that I constantly strive for.

The current coronavirus rules involve hygiene practices that Muslims are encouraged to do in general daily life. Muslims believe that cleanliness is half of faith, and we perform “wudu”, which is a ritual purification that involves handwashing and washing the face, arms and feet five times a day before each obligatory prayer.

Self-discipline when it comes to physical acts of worship is a part of the heritage of Islam. However, the true essence of Ramadan has been diluted, and dare I say, lost, through the generations. The struggle for us today lies in the matters of the heart and the soul, and connecting at a deeper, more authentic level, to our sense of self and to our creator.

Unfortunately, today Muslims often subjugate themselves and put the needs of others over our own physical, mental and spiritual needs. We frantically prepare large family dinners, and with the lockdown and children at home every day, this struggle can be magnified. It could simply be a matter of perspective, where a shift into a spiritual reflective state – a state of being rather than doing – could help maximise our affinity.

The focus of Ramadan can move away from food preparation and “eating at sunset”, to self-improvement and self-discipline. There can be a tendency to overeat at these large iftars due to the spread of food available. However, now, without the self-induced obligation of hosting or attending iftars, meals can be prepared with a focus on simplicity and aligned with Islamic principles.

Islam teaches that any food consumption should be to the fullness of one third of the stomach, with another third for water, and the last third for air. Muslims are highly discouraged from overeating and from wasting. Furthermore, any food that is consumed must be “halal” and “tayyib”. Tayyib means that the food eaten must be wholesome and good for you. Ramadan is the best time to discipline the self to eat healthy fresh food and in smaller proportions.

Ramadan is also known as the month of the Qur’an, as this is the month in which the Islamic scripture was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. We Muslims place a heavy emphasis on connecting to the Qur’an during this month, through daily recitations and reflections, or attending the mosque for congregational night prayers (tarawih) where the Imam aims to recite the entire scripture in the prayers over the month so that we can reflect as we listen.

In this time of physical distancing, as Muslims we will be forced to reconnect to our God and the Qur’an on a deeply intimate level. Interestingly enough, this is the authentic practice of Prophet Muhammad. He would isolate himself for days in a cave at the top of a mountain to introspect, reflect, worship and connect with God. During the last 10 days of Ramadan, he was known to self-isolate in a spiritual seclusion practice known as “itikāf”.

In the time of Prophet Muhammad, tarawih night prayers were initially prayed in congregation for three days, however from the fourth night onwards Prophet Muhammad prayed tarawih in his own home, saying “O people! Perform your [tarawih] prayers at your homes, for the best prayer of a person is what is performed at his home except the compulsory congregational prayer.”

I believe the authentic spirit of Ramadan is one of self-discipline, introspection, self-discovery and self-development. Ramadan during the global pandemic may seem disheartening at a superficial level, however I honestly feel that it arrives at an ideal time.

You have the choice to embrace this Ramadan with a focus on deep connection and one-on-one intimacy with God through prayer and reflection. I plan to spend this next month practising self-compassion and self-mastery, and I invite everyone to join me in this journey of holistic growth and connection.


The Majority Of Sexual Offenders Are White Men – There Is No ‘Muslim Problem’ With Sexual Grooming

Faima Bakar, 02 Apr 2020, metro.co.uk

Our series The State of Racism has been running over the past six weeks to illuminate just how prevalent racism is in the UK.

We’ve also been highlighting the unique dilemmas faced by certain groups, from black mums, to South Asian Muslims.

But every time I have written about Muslims, I have received one recurring comment, on my Facebook, Twitter, emails and in the article comments – ‘what about the grooming gangs?’.

Why is this brought up every time I mention an obstacle faced by Muslims? Do the crimes of a few speak for all Muslims?

Obviously not, but it seems that frequent reference to Muslim grooming gangs is specifically being used to shut down important discussions about islamophobia.

And while it’s difficult to measure the ethnicity of sexual offenders, there is clear evidence in many reports that the majority have been white men, not Asian Muslims.

Almost 85 per cent of offenders found guilty of sexual activity with a minor in England and Wales in 2011 were white while four per cent were Asian.

Some have reported even higher figures, claiming that the number for white male offenders is 90 per cent.

To cite more recent stats, a 2017 report concluded that while there isn’t many available data in the area, the data we do have shows a large majority of those convicted of sexual offences (no matter the age of the victim) are white.

This may be due to having a higher proportion of white people in the UK and while it is concerning that some Muslim men make up a disproportionate number of offenders (which I discussed in an earlier article), the issue is that it seems to be framed as an exclusively ‘Muslim problem’.

There is nothing inherently about Islam that promotes this kind of behaviour.

To say it’s an intrinsically Muslim problem is a lazy, transparent tactic – and the inaccuracies behind these claims need to be dismantled in order to move the conversation on.

White men that make up these large figures don’t speak for all white men. So why do the crimes of some Muslim men typify all Muslim men?

Grooming gangs are only depicted to be an Asian or ‘Muslim’ problem because of a few high-profile cases and the media’s penchant to overreport certain types of stories.

The reasons people seem to be so consistently hung up on this issue is twofold; first because it reinforces already-held racist stereotypes of Muslim men as threatening and regressive.

And secondly, because the most oft-cited cases of sexual grooming involve white, working-class girls and women.

In the sexual exploitation cases of Rochdale and Rotherham in Yorskhire, there was extraordinary neglect against the, mostly white, victims aged 12-16.

How they were treated was largely due to classism and misogyny.

The girls were from working-class backgrounds, which is often thought to signify laziness or fecklessness.

And they suffered misogyny – thought to be ‘available’ – a kind of oppression assigned to anyone who looks like a girl or woman and wears anything ‘suggestive’.

Consider this – had the victims also been of Asian and/or Muslim descent, would the uproar be the same?

There are actually Muslim victims of sexual exploitation but they’re often missed because of the focus on white victims.

We can also ask: if the perpetrators were also white – would their race be mentioned?

In this case, one of the most reported aspects was the commonality of the gangs – in terms of their ethnic and religious background.

The fact that whiteness so often goes unchecked and becomes an invisible default is one of the reasons we launched The State of Racism.

Granted, sexual abuse should always be taken seriously. But there is only one thing in common with sexual predators – the crimes they’ve committed.

But their background is oft mentioned because there’s an appetite to be fed about how backward Muslims are.

We see the same thing happen in cases of terrorism where attacks by Muslims receive 357 per cent more press attention then when white people do it.

These grooming gang cases are complex and there are racial elements to it – the perpetrators saw the girls as ‘easy meat’ because they were white and thought to be sexually loose.

This is, unquestionably, appalling and discriminatory behaviour from these Asian men.

Not all Muslims follow this backward way of thinking though.

And it’s not to say that Muslims have no problem with grooming either, quite the opposite. Islam as a religion is peaceful and vehemently opposes sexual violence.

Yorkshire police also admitted to being reluctant to report the men due to fears of racism accusations.

But arresting dangerous men, especially where there is evidence, is not racist.

Major neglect like this occurs because the UK is so ill-equipped to discuss and identify what racism really is.

Some people are more worried about looking racist, than they are concerned about doing the right thing.

These young girls were failed twice; by the men in their community who saw them as nothing but easy targets to quench their dark thirsts, and by the police who had their own interests in mind.

But they were not failed by all Muslims.

The way we see it, the men denounce themselves from Islam the moment they commit grotesque crimes.

So when they do commit them, they’re doing it as bad and dangerous men. Not as Muslim men.

These gangs deserve all our condemnation for the crimes they commit, but let’s not frame this as an intrinsically Muslim problem.


King Henry II: The Muslim Monarch Of Medieval England?

Claudia Gold , 06 Apr 2020, historyextra.com

In the 12th century, furious with the archbishop of Canterbury, England’s King Henry II threatened to forsake Christianity for Islam. But how serious was he? And what would have happened if he’d actually converted? Writing for BBC History Magazine, Claudia Gold investigates.

In the spring of 1168, Henry II, King of England, wrote to Pope Alexander III. While correspondence between monarch and pontiff was a matter of course, this letter was notable for the menace it projected. For Henry was threatening to convert to Islam.

It was not unusual for Henry to issue threats: they were fundamental to his arsenal of kingship, as vital as his carefully calculated thunderous outbursts, his diplomacy, the legendary speed at which he drove his armies and his unsurpassable siege warfare in inspiring awe among his adversaries. Henry did not discriminate between the recipients of his threats, from the pope to the lowly electors of Winchester, whom he once ordered to “hold a free election” but forbade “to elect anyone but Richard my clerk”.

But this was of a different order altogether. Since 1097, European crusaders had been fighting the forces of Islam in the Middle East and tenaciously hanging on to their conquests: the kingdom of Jerusalem, the principality of Antioch, the counties of Edessa and Tripoli. Muslims were seen as Christendom’s enemies.

Moreover, Henry was not simply King of England: he was also the Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, Count of Maine, Anjou and Touraine, master of vast swathes of France. One of the world’s most powerful men, he held sway from the Scottish borders to the Middle East, where his uncles ruled the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem. If Henry was serious, the ramifications across 12th-­century Europe would be seismic.

Could this, then, have been more than Henry’s characteristic bombast? Is it possible that he meant what he said?

Henry was familiar with Islam. He would have studied the works of Petrus Alfonsi, physician to his grandfather Henry I, who wrote the earliest credible account of Muhammad, as well as Peter the Venerable, who ordered the first translation of the Qur’an into Latin. Although he saw Islam as a heresy, Peter thought it the greatest of all heresies – the one that most deserved to be answered.

Alongside Islam, Henry also developed an admiration for Arabic learning from an early age. He had received an outstanding education from scholars versed in the ‘new’ knowledge that was exploding out of Sicily, Spain and the Middle East. Western Europe had never experienced such an intellectually exciting period as the 12th century – later dubbed the 12th­century renaissance – fed by a rediscovery of the classical thinkers of Greece and Rome (particularly Christian Rome after Constantine’s conversion), and by contact with the Arab world and its rich intellectual tradition in astronomy, medicine, music, architecture and mathematics.

Henry’s parents – heeding the lesson from the monk William of Malmesbury that “a king without letters is [just] an ass with a crown” – had hired the best tutors in Europe. Among them was the renowned Arabist, linguist and scientist Adelard of Bath, who had a profound impact on Henry’s education. Adelard had travelled for seven years in Italy, Sicily, Antioch and the southern coast of what would become Turkey, dedicating himself to the ‘studies of the Arabs’. He was famed for his translations into Latin of Arabic treatises on astro nomy, and introducing Arabic innovations in mathematics into England and France. Adelard dedicated De opera astrolapsus – his work on the Arabic innovation of the astrolabe – to Henry.

Henry’s interest continued into adulthood. He welcomed travelling scholars, not least Arab ones, to his courts. He knew enough about Arabic learning to request specific texts from diplomats travelling to Sicily and the kingdom of Jerusalem. And Henry admired the Islamic arts so much that when he built a palace for his mistress Rosamund Clifford, at Woodstock, he mimicked the palaces of the Norman kingdom in Sicily, with fountains and courtyards. The palace was later destroyed but its style, abounding in Arabic motifs, was unique in northern Europe.

WHY DID HENRY II THREATEN TO CONVERT TO ISLAM?

So much for the king’s high regard for Islam and Arabic culture. But what was it that provoked Henry to make the threat in the first place? The answer is to be found in Henry’s letter, where he tells Pope Alexander he “would sooner accept the errors of Nur al-Din [the Sultan of Aleppo] and become an infidel, than suffer Thomas [Becket] to hold sway in Canterbury Cathedral any longer”.

Now things become a little clearer: it is 1168, and Henry’s row with his erstwhile friend Thomas Becket is in its fifth weary year. Henry had raised Thomas high, appointing him to the position of chancellor soon after his accession. He was “considered second only to the king”. Henry had such faith in Thomas to do his bidding that after Theobald, archbishop of Canterbury, died in 1161, he strong-armed a reluctant Becket into taking up the dual position of chancellor -archbishop, despite warnings from Henry’s mother, the Empress Matilda, and from Thomas himself. Thomas thought it was ludicrous, protesting that Henry and he knew “for certain that if I am ever promoted to that dignity, I will have to forfeit either the king’s favour or… my service to God Almighty”.

Henry ignored all objections, paying no heed to his mother and even threatening the monks of Canterbury (who did not want Thomas as their archbishop) with his anger if they failed to elect his candidate. Henry’s primary concern was to ensure the succession by crowning his eldest surviving son in his lifetime. It was his bid to avoid another blood-spattered race to the throne when he died – as had happened at the death of every monarch except Stephen since the Norman conquest. The right to crown the kings of England was the prerogative of the archbishops of Canterbury, and Henry expected Thomas to accede to his desire.

Instead, Henry discovered that he had installed a zealot, a soldier now for the eternal Christ instead of his temporal king. Henry was livid when Thomas resigned the chancellorship; king and archbishop soon became locked in a battle for supremacy between church and state. The balance of compromise – whereby the kings gave their archbishops dignity and in turn the archbishops sought to please their kings – was torn to shreds.

THUGGISH BARONS

The major source of friction was over which court – the king’s or the church’s – should govern clerics accused of committing crimes. Henry was concerned that separate ecclesiastical courts operated in tandem to his own, but he was also vexed that the punishments they meted out were negligible. Neither king nor archbishop would budge.

When Henry, seeking to rid himself of Thomas, charged him with contempt of royal authority and embezzlement in 1164, Thomas foresaw his imprisonment, and even death. He was reminded by some of Henry’s more thuggish barons that the king’s own father, Geoffrey of Anjou, had castrated some of his clergy for their disobedience, forcing them to “carry their members” before him in a basin. Petrified, Thomas fled to the court of Louis VII of France, where he was gleefully offered sanctuary. Louis, the first husband of Henry’s wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, was ever pleased to create trouble for his most powerful lord – Henry owed allegiance to the French king for his lands on the continent.

Louis, as pious as Henry was worldly, had offered sanctuary not only to Thomas; he had also given refuge to Pope Alexander III when he had left Rome in 1159 following a split election that resulted in the first in a series of antipopes to occupy the papal throne.

Pope Alexander also owed much to Henry, who had supported him alongside Louis. Alexander needed Henry’s backing, and the row over Becket put him in an impossible position. Although he may have sympathised with a bitter Thomas, he was compelled to tread a careful path. For the next few years he would procrastinate, even while allowing Thomas to vent about Henry’s destruction of the church through his “evil customs”. (As it turned out, Becket’s fears were justified. He was murdered two years after Henry composed his letter to the pope.)

Henry’s conversion threat was a bludgeon, waved before the pope the more forcefully to persuade him to remove Thomas from his post. He had successfully threatened Alexander before. Eight years earlier, he had sought a papal dispensation to allow his five-year-old son to marry Louis’s infant daughter Margaret, enabling him to grasp the Vexin, a key French county that was baby Margaret’s dowry. He had bullied Alexander’s ambassadors into thinking he would back the pope’s rival, the antipope Victor IV, if he did not get his way, and Alexander had capitulated. It had worked before, so Henry likely believed the pope would yield again in the face of his outlandish threat. As far as we are aware, however, Alexander did not respond to it directly, but continued to push for negotiations between Henry and Becket.

A MAN OF THE WORLD

As to whether Henry would ever have carried out the threat, it is unlikely. A practitioner of realpolitik, he would have been all too aware of the dangers. His hold on power notwithstanding, Henry would not have been able to deny that his divine right to the crown of England sprang from Christianity. Christian society was structured in a very different way to Islam; it was primarily an agrarian and feudal society. Islamic society allowed for a reasonably high level of social mobility and was far less rigid than the Christian west’s feudalism. Henry’s empire was based on an intricate system of oaths and obligations.

Henry’s conversion would presumably have required the mass conversion of all the different peoples in the lands under his rule, from Northumberland to Aquitaine. The administrative implications alone would have been immense. What would have become of the thousands of bishops and priests? Would Arabic have replaced Latin as the lingua franca? Would there have been a new curriculum in the universities? Would Henry have developed Arabic rather than English law? With which caliphates would he have forged his new alliances? What would have been the effect on the crusades?

Consider the hundreds of years of chaos sparked by Henry’s descendant, the eighth Henry, with his separation of England from the Roman Catholic church – chaos that resulted in civil war and the eventual execution of a king. We can only imagine the bedlam that would have ensued had Henry II converted to Islam. Conversions in both directions did happen, particularly in the marchlands where Christianity and Islam met – but the converts were not kings or queens. Such an undertaking would have been beyond the diplomatic and administrative talents of even a king as exceptional as Henry II.

If there is anything to learn about Henry from the episode, it is perhaps that he cared far more for the temporal than the divine. Although a superstitious man, Henry was not a religious one. The chroniclers railed against his lack of piety, claiming that he never sat still in church. Henry found himself so bored at mass that he doodled and met petitioners. His threat to convert to Islam is indicative of how little religion meant to him and, as a result, how much he resented papal authority when it stood in his way. For all the reasons that Islam may have appealed to Henry, one of the most attractive would surely have been that, unlike Christianity, it had no centralised authority, no supranational power. How gratifying the thought: no Muslim pope to bar him from sacking his own archbishop.

This article was first published in the February 2020 edition of BBC History Magazine.

PRAYER DURING A PANDEMIC

General view of Kaaba at the Grand Mosque, which is almost empty of worshippers, after Saudi authority suspended umrah amid the fear of coronavirus outbreak, at Muslim holy city of Mecca

For the last few years I have written a blog post about the upcoming holy month of Ramadhaan. The post contains links to various resources, some inspirational quotes, things of that nature. The link to last years post can be found here. I was going to do something similar again this year, what with Ramadhaan less than two weeks away. But this year ain’t last year. Last year the big concern during Ramadhaan was whether Muslims should waste their precious time watching the climactic season finale to the global TV phenomenon that was Game Of Thrones, which genuinely feels like a lifetime ago, something from a completely different era entirely.

And what a difference a year makes. 2020 has so far been dominated by one topic. In Britain the year began with just one word on everybody’s lips, Brexit, which we all seem to have forgotten about and look back on as some sort of collective madness, a political gesture that is now seen as totally futile given current circumstances. Now all of mankind, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, finds itself in the midst of the spread of COVID-19. This disease has been analysed from every angle possible: financial, biological, spiritual, and conspiratorial.

There are many conspiracy theories out there about this pandemic, such as biological weaponry, germ warfare, economic rebalancing, and the rest. But then you have the religious conspiracies. Is this a punishment on non-Muslims for what they are doing to Muslims in China, India, Israel, and Burma? Or is it a punishment on Muslims for what we are doing to each other in places like Syria and Yemen? Or is this virus not a punishment but instead a test of how strong our faith is? God only knows, I guess.

Not only are Muslims grappling with such thoughts, and with the world in the ever tightening grip of this pandemic, we are also trying to mentally prepare for the holiest month in our lunar calendar. However difficult that may be, it is still something all practicing Muslims should endeavour to do, only so they get the best out of this blessed month. For those looking for ‘normal’ Ramadhaan advice, please refer to last years blog post. In order to help us this year, please find below a selection of quotes, articles, and videos that I hope will inspire and educate in equal measure, and that offer a somewhat different perspective on faith in Ramadhaan during a global pandemic. As best as one can given all that is swirling around us, enjoy!


Shaykh Yasir Qadhi wants us to rediscover the original spirit of Ramadhaan…

The sahaba did not have Ramadhaan the way we have Ramadhaan. There was no taraweeh prayer in the time of the Prophet (S). There were no community iftaars that we are accustomed to. They would eat at home individually. They didn’t have enough surplus food to have massive feasts. So in some ways perhaps we will have to rediscover the original spirit of Ramadhaan as it really used to be…and that is simplicity. – Shaykh Yasir Qadhi


He also wants Muslims to reflect, ponder, think, and to rediscover religiosity…

We are witnessing a tragedy at a global scale, the likes of which we could never have imagined, even a week ago, much less a month ago or a year ago. Around the globe what we are seeing, of shutting down of cities, of shutting down of masajids, of the fear, of the great trepidation that is afflicting all of us. If this is not going to cause us to stop in our tracks, if this is not going to cause us to reflect and to ponder and to think, then what is ever going to cause us to change?…Now is the time to ask ourselves why is this happening? Why are khutbahs being given in empty masajids? Why are masjids being shut down? Why is commerce and industry coming to an end, when we thought we have reached our pinnacle, when we thought we had come to the top of civilization?…If we want this problem to be solved, and all of us do, collectively Muslims and people of other faith traditions, they need to rediscover religiosity. They need to collectively turn to Allah (subhanuwatala), they need to beg and plead and understand this life has a higher purpose than just living like animals. We need Allah (subhanuwatala) and Allah does not need us. – Shaykh Yasir Qadhi


This virus is causing the whole world to become more Islamic…

As isolation measures increase and countries around the world place their citizens into total lockdown, a very peculiar thing is taking place without us realizing. The situation is actually making the world more inclined towards a Muslim way of life. And you don’t have to look far to see how. People around the world are spending more time with their families. Pubs, clubs, and casinos are now officially closed. In certain countries alcohol has been banned. People are washing their hands more regularly. And suddenly it’s becoming socially acceptable not to shake hands…We’ve also seen interest rates reduced to zero, a clear win for Islamic finance. The President of the United States has held a National Day of Prayer, and people have begun shifting their hope towards a higher power. – The Muslim Lady


The virus also brought a Muslim and a Jew together in prayer, in Israel no less…

Corona Praying

42 year old Jew Avraham Mintz and 39 year old Muslim Zoher Abu Jama, both hard working paramedic members of Israel’s emergency response service, were busy dealing with coronavirus patients. They had just finished responding to a call from a 41-year-old woman who was having respiratory problems. During a rare moment of rest they took a quick break to pray. Mintz stood facing Jerusalem whilst Abu Jama knelt facing Mecca on his prayer rug. The above picture of the two men taken by a co-worker quickly went viral on social media.


This virus should help us Muslims realise that we are to act differently because we have faith…

In times of fitna, in times of trial, like we are going through now, it is easy to look at things like everybody else looks at them. And that would be our loss. We have to look at any trial from the lens of iman…While everybody can be in a state of hysteria, we can stay calm because we have iman…The way you act is different than everybody else because you see things differently than everybody else. – Imam Nouman Ali Khan, Mar 2020


A brilliant article about what the Prophet Muhammad said about plagues over 1,300 years ago…

Can The Power Of Prayer Alone Stop A Pandemic Like The Coronavirus? Even The Prophet Muhammad Thought Otherwise

Dr Craig Considine, 17 Mar 2020, newsweek.com

The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing governments and news sources to provide the most accurate and helpful advice to the world’s population, as the disease is indeed global in reach. Health care professionals are in high demand, and so too are scientists who study the transmission and effect of pandemics.

Experts like immunologist Dr. Anthony Fauci and medical reporter Dr. Sanjay Gupta are saying that good hygiene and quarantining, or the practice of isolating from others in the hope of preventing the spread of contagious diseases, are the most effective tools to contain COVID-19.

Do you know who else suggested good hygiene and quarantining during a pandemic?

Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, over 1,300 years ago.

While he is by no means a “traditional” expert on matters of deadly diseases, Muhammad nonetheless had sound advice to prevent and combat a development like COVID-19.

Muhammad said: “If you hear of an outbreak of plague in a land, do not enter it; but if the plague outbreaks out in a place while you are in it, do not leave that place.”

He also said: “Those with contagious diseases should be kept away from those who are healthy.”

Muhammad also strongly encouraged human beings to adhere to hygienic practices that would keep people safe from infection. Consider the following hadiths, or sayings of Prophet Muhammad:

“Cleanliness is part of faith.”

“Wash your hands after you wake up; you do not know where your hands have moved while you sleep.”

“The blessings of food lie in washing hands before and after eating.”

And what if someone does fall ill? What kind of advice would Muhammad provide to his fellow human beings who are suffering from pain?

He would encourage people to always seek medical treatment and medication: “Make use of medical treatment,” he said, “for God has not made a disease without appointing a remedy for it, with the exception of one disease—old age.”

Perhaps most importantly, he knew when to balance faith with reason. In recent weeks, some have gone so far as to suggest that prayer would be better at keeping you from the coronavirus than adhering to basic rules of social distancing and quarantine. How would Prophet Muhammad respond to the idea of prayer as the chief—or only—form of medicine?

Consider the following story, related to us by ninth-century Persian scholar Al-Tirmidhi: One day, Prophet Muhammad noticed a Bedouin man leaving his camel without tying it. He asked the Bedouin, “Why don’t you tie down your camel?” The Bedouin answered, “I put my trust in God.” The Prophet then said, “Tie your camel first, then put your trust in God.”

Muhammad encouraged people to seek guidance in their religion, but he hoped they take basic precautionary measures for the stability, safety and well-being of all.

In other words, he hoped people would use their common sense.


Another brilliant article, this time about the spirit of Ramadhaan…

Coronavirus Won’t Ruin Ramadan – It Will Remind Us What It’s All About

Rabina Khan, 19 Mar 2020, independent.co.uk

The month of Ramadan has always been a time for Muslims to reflect on those less fortunate than themselves. As Covid-19 sweeps the globe, it’s come at an important time.

The month of Ramadan has always been a time for Muslims to reflect on those less fortunate than themselves. As Covid-19 sweeps the globe, this holy month is particularly so.

This year Ramadan falls in April, and will be immensely challenging. The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) has called for the suspension of mosque congregations, while the British Board of Scholars and Imams (BBSI) has advised people to perform daily prayers at home. In many cases, this will mean omitting certain prayers – such as Tarawih, usually prayed in pairs – yet at this time, the health of the community is paramount.

My family and I always look forward to Ramadan; yet we know it will be different this year. There will be no large Iftar (fast-breaking) meals with friends and family, no communal gathering for Ramadan prayers.

But it is not only Muslims whose worship will be affected by Covid-19 in April.

Next month will see celebrations from most of the world’s major religions restricted, be that Easter mass, Passover seders, Hindu Rama Navami or Sikh festival Vaisakhi festivities.

Yet people of faith have always found ways of continuing to observe at times of crisis. In fact, such times can be an opportunity to assess what is important in life, and help other people in whatever way we can.

As the Liberal Democrat peer Navnit Dholakia puts it: “Regardless of faith, let us all see this crisis for all communities coming together, whether it’s a neighbourhood watch group, small groups of people, volunteers and charities reaching out; we all have a role to work together for an antidote of compassion, understanding and altruism. Ramadan is also a month of giving and sharing so let us all ensure that in this difficult time we care for all our communities which make our diverse society the envy of the world.”

A core principle of Islam is helping our fellow human beings. During the coronavirus outbreak, there are many ways we can practice this, whether that be donating to foodbanks, supporting local businesses or checking up on our neighbours.

Growing up in Rochester, one of only a couple of Muslim children in my primary school, I remember my mother packing my Easter basket with food. My classmates’ baskets included baked beans, soup tins and bread; mine included samosas, biryani and roti. The aroma from my basket in the Cathedral did seem to attract a lot of friends.

This year my family, friends, neighbours and I will be following public health guidance, and packing our Ramadan baskets with non-perishable essentials and long-lasting perishables, including soap, long-life milk, pasta, tissues, canned soup, dried fruit, rice, stock cubes and spices.

Crises can bring out the worst in human nature – yet it can bring out the best, too. Regardless of faith, let us channel the spirit of Ramadan to consider those in need. Let us all look out for our friends, family and all vulnerable people at this difficult time, so that we can make it through together.


And finally, sound advice from my favourite scholar Shaykh Hamza Yusuf…

We should keep in mind that plagues, wars, and natural disasters have vexed our species throughout human history and that these will remain a part of life on earth. In fact, epidemics are mentioned at least twice in the Qur’an—in the second chapter, Al-Baqarah (The Cow), and in the seventh chapter, Al-A’rāf (The Heights).

These are indeed strange times: our authorities are telling us to wash several times a day, a lot of frivolous entertainment has been cancelled, bars have been shut down, interest rates are at zero, and the president of the United States is telling us to pray. In other words, for Muslims, this means keep practicing your religion!

It also means that this is an opportunity to get closer to God and to become more acutely aware of and grateful for God’s bountiful gifts that we so often take for granted and that for some are now threatened: security, sustenance, mobility, family, friends, and faith.

The natural state of human beings who are not aligned spiritually with the celestial realm is angst—an existential dread that takes hold, a dissatisfaction with the way things are on earth. Some even designate our own modern materialistic epoch as the age of anxiety. The antidote to such a condition is true faith and the knowledge that everything comes from God. When we are afflicted with loss of life, limb, or property, we say, “To God we belong, and to God we return” (2:156).

The Qur’an also tells us that those who turn to God in prayer in times of trouble and who are constant in their prayers and display high moral character do not suffer the slings and strikes of bad fortune; rather, they recognize that these trials and tribulations emanate from our Lord for our benefit, whether known or unknown. Athletes train in preparation for the test of tournaments; similarly, a believer’s prayer exercises his or her soul, so when the test comes, the soul doesn’t just survive it but thrives in it. The prepared soul experiences solace in the face of calamities. For those who have been wayward or whose souls are spiritually flaccid, these are excellent times to return to our Lord. Indeed, this is often the very purpose of the tribulation. The Qur’an reminds us, “Foulness, corruption, and pollution (fasād) have manifested on the land and in the sea from what humanity’s hands have earned, to make them taste some of what they have done, that perhaps they might turn back to God” (30:41).

Prayer abides as our greatest weapon against fear, panic, and despair. If anything troubled or alarmed the Prophet, he hastened to prayer. So let us see the opportunity and the blessing in the tribulation. This particular viral visitation apparently began in the ancient and sagely land of China; interestingly, the Chinese ideogram for crisis also denotes opportunity. The Qur’an says, “Nothing will afflict you except what God has decreed for you” (9:51). Follow the guidelines and take the sound measures, but feel secure that what will be will be—the readiness is all.

May God preserve and bless all of you, may stillness surround you, may peace and tranquillity descend upon you, and may you and your loved ones be spared the trials of these times.

 – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, 18 Mar 2020, from the zaytuna.edu article A Message On The Current Crisis


PS As an added bonus, here is a short but inspirational video…