Ramazan, Corona Virus and the Indian Muslim Leadership

Ramazan is round the corner. It is a special month for Muslims all over the world. The moment one Ramazan finishes, they start waiting for the next one. Even kids eagerly wait for Ramzan. There is something special which one can feel immediately upon confirming the news that Ramazan is starting tomorrow. From maghrib itself, the environment changes. Suddenly, the whole environment becomes spiritual. Everybody start preparing for Isha prayer and males especially look forward to praying special congregational prayers what are commonly called as Taraweeh (The real name by the way is Qayamul Lail) and prayed in the Mosque after Isha.

When the corona virus was in early stages the countries of Middle East decided to close Mosques. Even the Haram Makki as well as Haram Madni were closed. Regarding these decisions there has been lot self-congratulatory talk at the popular level in India . When Saudi Arabia decided to close the Harmain Sharifain and other mosques it was received with not only disbelief but also disdain in the Indian Subcontinent. Not only Saudi Arabia, all the GCC countries i.e. United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Sultanate of Oman, Qatar, and Bahrain also closed all the Mosques not only for daily five obligatory prayers but also for Friday prayers. The general response in the Indian Subcontinent was that it is a sign of weakness of Iman. This was basically indirectly saying that Muslims in India have more Iman than Middle Eastern Muslims. However, time has proved that it was absolutely correct decision and there are historical precedents available in early Islamic history that this has been done before. Even for Ramzan, all the GCC countries have decided to continue with the earlier decision of keeping the Mosques closed throughout the month.

In this regard I am looking at two different advices which have come for Indian Muslims as guidelines to be followed during coming Ramazan. One is a copy of a Fatwa from Darul Ifta of Darul Ulum Deoband and other from a group of prominent Indian Muslims. Both of them have advised Indian Muslims to follow the law of the land and not to do anything which may spread the Virus. Both the advisories contain some great advice which are quite practical. It is a welcome sign. However, in both of them there are points which at least to me don’t make any sense at all.

The advisory from Darul Ifta of Darul Ulum suggests that not more than 4 or 5 people should pray in the Mosque, either the five obligatory prayers Friday prayers (point three) or Taraweeh (point four). The same point is contained in the advisory given by the group of prominent citizens (point one). I fail to understand as to how this will help in containment of the virus. If only those who live in the Mosque pray, it does make some sense but to suggest that some from the neighborhood should join them to make it 4 or 5 does defeat the very purpose of social distancing. It even goes on to suggest that in case of non-agreement as to who will join from the neighborhood, there should be a chit based random selection to avoid controversy. However, it is another point in the advisory of Darul Ulum Deoband really baffles me. It asks people to make announcement from the Mosque for the time of Suhoor (early morning meal before sunrise to start the fast) as well as Iftar (meal taken to break the fast at sunset. Point fourteen). What is the point of creating a situation which can lead to unnecessary controversy? Those who fast can find out the time anyway. Everybody has got either a watch or a mobile. One can easily see time and break the fast. Where in the world was the need for this advisory? For me it certainly defies logic. Coming to the first point, is it so important to open Mosques as to put people in danger.

There can be only two plausible explanations for this. Either those giving these advices are not competent to really comprehend what is staring at them. They are unable to really put things in historical perspective and come up with a suitable response. This is quite possible as this is what religious leadership in India has done quite a few times in the past with disastrous results. It does not mean that they have never taken correct decisions and positions. Mostly that is the case. But it must be remembered in today’s world of prevalence of social media and instant decision making, there is hardly any margin of error. We have just witnessed the drama that was played on television channels with regards to Tablighi Jamaat. The time at which the congregation took place at Markaz, there was no government advisory against any such gathering. Still, those responsible at the Markaz are now being blamed left right and center.

The other explanation is that they understand the reality and know very well as to what needs to be done but are afraid to speak so. They are afraid that if they speak the truth and advice people correctly, they may loose their followership and popularity. Both the scenarios are quite scary. If this is the quality of leadership than only Allah can save us. In such a situation it is better to err on the side of caution rather then regret later.

With due respect to  Sir Allama Mohammad Iqbal, I would like to rephrase a couplet from Shikwa and say that:

Jurrat Amoz Meri Taabe Sukhan hai mujhko

Shikwa Ulema Se khakam badahan hai mujhko

The strength of my talk (poetry) is encouraging me

May dust be in my mouth, I have complaint against Ulema

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