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…

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