This is one of the cyber jokes bandied around during this hullabaloo of Covid 19. People from atheist vanguards in the cyberspace to the TV anchors celebrated the joke. Their argument goes that the closure of worship places is the proof of uselessness of God and religion! Those who are ignorant of divine religion or true belief in God may feel that this argument holds water. Those who insist that religion is a space for worship and religion exists only there may think that religion is dead. However, as far as a true believer is concerned, Corona has actually increased the number of masjids and; and the relevance of religious faith too has increased. To know how it did, one should first realise what religion is and what worship is. Those who do not realise it pass on such cheap inanities.
The Qur’an teaches that religion is the complete surrender to the Creator. This is to subject one’s life completely to the law of Allah. There are rituals and worships in it, way of habit and behaviour, laws to be observed in the privacy of one’s bedroom and instructions to be followed in the international discourses. As for a Muslim, healthcare, medical treatment, and finding cure for a disease are all part of his faith. He understands that in all these spheres, one should follow divine guidance and instructions. He is being taught that by following these instructions and commands, one will ultimately attain relief in one’s body, peace of mind and eventually God’s contentment.
Islam has a specific viewpoint on worship. Islamic concept is that all good words and deeds of a person with the intention of God’s contentment and with a prayerful mind will constitute worship. It theorises that individuals are purified through rituals and worships done for the Creator alone. This helps them keep away from sin and wrongdoing. In Islam, worship is not merely Salat, fasting, Zakat and Hajj, but mating with one’s spouses, showing mercy to one’s parents, being affectionate to one’s children, maintaining blood ties with one’s siblings, good behaviour to one’s neighbour, sincere agriculture and trade without black market dealings, doing jobs without cheating, giving wages without troubling, education seeking benefits, research not for the sake of exploitation, social service not for show-off, political activism to maintain justice all constitute worship if done with the intention of God’s contentment and with a prayerful mind.
Islam views rituals and forms of worship differently. All rituals are forms of worship. But there are certain conditions for the rituals to be considered as acceptable forms of worship. The first condition is that those who perform rituals have a prayerful mind. The second condition is that they have to be authenticated by divine revelations. Islam does not acknowledge those rituals not authenticated by divine revelations as part of religion. Spotless and unadulterated revelations that exist today are the Holy Qur’an and Prophet Muhammad’s Sunnah. Islam is of the view that rituals have to be authenticated by these revelations.
There are certain rituals in Islam, whose mode of performance, location and time have been clearly specified. They become acceptable forms of worship when they are performed in the same way that they were ordained. Salat or Namaz is a major ritual ordained by revelation. A believer has been taught that s/he should never miss out on Salat. All the actions in it are constant; none could add to or subtract from it. This is a form for worship whose modes, time, and locations have specifically determined. We have to fulfil these conditions while performing it so that it be deemed as a form of worship. Otherwise, they are meaningless deeds. The dawn prayer (fajr) involves two rounds (raka’at). If we make it three or four rounds, it would be futile. Its time starts from the dawn break to sunrise. If someone performs it before the dawn break, it does not become an accepted form of worship, though we perform it with piety. It, rather, becomes a culpable action of no use. If we extend the time for fasting, which is prescribed from the dawn break to sunset, to midnight, or perform pilgrimage, which should be duly performed in the month of dul-Hajj, in some other months, they become nothing but useless action, as Islam teaches us.
Just as it is virtue to perform rituals, it is virtue not to perform them. Women are instructed not to perform Salat or fasting during their menstruations. Menstruating women abstain from prayer and fasting for the contentment of God and to abide by the command of God. Their virtue is to keep away from rituals. The law commands us to perform salat and tawaf (obligatory circumambulation during pilgrimage) with physical purity after ablutions. If one losses purity of ablution while performing them, one should stop the ritual and resume it after purification. In that state, not to resume the ritual is virtue and to keep on performing it becomes sinful. The Prophet ﷺ has taught us that when rituals become virtuous and when they become sinful. The believers follow these commands as they are supposed to be followed.
Just as there are mandatory commands to perform salat, there are instructions to combine two prayers or shorten them. Virtue is to obey these instructions on their proper occasions. The law commands us to take ablution with water to purify oneself for prayer. If water is not available or if one is in a state of illness, one can strike the face of earth with one’s hands and rub it with one’s face and hands. This ritual is called tayammum. If one is in such a state of illness that using water will be dangerous, the jurisprudential law insists that one should not take ablution with water, but should rather perform tayammum. Just as it is acceptable form of worship to pray fully in regular time, it is so to shorten the prayer during the travel. While it is a form of worship for a healthy man to take ablution with water, it is a form of worship for a sick man to perform tayammum.
The Prophet’s ﷺ command is that the menfolk in a region should gather in the masjid there and perform the obligatory prayers in congregation. Jurisprudential texts also say that congregational prayers should not be dispensed with except in times of exigency. All males, except travellers and patients, have to mandatorily perform the noontime prayer of Friday (Juma’ prayer) in congregation. But the law instructs that one need not go to masjids during inclement weather. This exception is applicable to the Juma’ prayer on Fridays. The Prophet’s ﷺ custom is that on such exceptional circumstances, even the calling of Azan for prayer can be avoided. A Hadith has been codified in Bukari and Muslim on the authority of Abdullah Ibn Abbas, who says that he learned from the Prophet ﷺ that during inclement weather, one should call out, “Pray at home,” instead of the phrase, “come forth for prayer.” It is religious law for Muslims to keep away from people hit by contagion.
The Prophet ﷺ instructed Muslims to “Run away from people suffering from lepresy’, a contagion prevalent at that time, “like you run away from a lion.” He also taught that there is no contagion (except what is commanded by Allah) “patients and the healthy should not mingle.” “If you come to know that there is plague (a known contagion at that time) somewhere, you should not go there. If there is plague in your place, do not leave the place.” (Sahih al Bukhari, Muslim) This, too, was the command of the Prophet. While the first instruction is that of personal quarantine, the second is the command for social quarantine. Also remarkable is the Prophet’sﷺ command that one should not go to masjid with foul smell. Both Bukhari and Muslim reported a Prophetic saying, “one should not come to Masjids with the smell of onion and garlic in one’s mouth.” If one should not go to Masjid with unpleasant smell, how could one carrying a lethal virus be justified for going there? On the basis of the Hadith, cited by Ibn Maja and Dara Qutni, saying, “Never harm and never cause harm,” believers have the responsibility to keep away from situations in which one cause harm on others and one is susceptible to harm from others. The believers are taking heed of an authentic Hadith (reported by Imam Ahmad) which says that “those who remain inside their houses to safeguard oneself and others are under the protection of Allah.”
Contagion is more troublesome than inclement weather. Muslim scholars asked Muslims to stop congregational prayers and to perform them at home, only to abide by the directions of the Prophets on occasions when one cannot determine people who carry viruses. In today’s context, none has stopped the prayer or effected changes in it for someone’s vested interests. None has avoided religion fearing corona, either. They have heeded the command of faith which instructs what they have to do in times of exigency like the spread of disease. When Muslims gather in their houses and all family members pray in congregation, they have hardly exited from the fold of faith, but, have, rather, come closer to the same. If Muslims are brought closer to the faith because of the fact that religion guides them in such complex times, there is nothing for the atheists to rejoice in it, but, rather, a lot to be worried about.
History texts says that such circumstances existed in the Muslim world before. Imam Dahabi (R) writes, “There was unprecedented famine and contagion in Egypt and Spain in AH 448. Even Masjids remained closed, since none was able to go there for prayer. That year was called “Am al Jooul Kabeer (The Year of Great Famine) (Siyar A’alam Annubala: 18/331). The religion which was destroyed at that time will never be destroyed again. Since all these tests and travails bring believers close to God, there is nothing in it, either, for the atheists to rejoice.
What Muslims have done in the time of Corona is not to close the masjids and stop the prayers, as atheists like them to do. There is Azan (calling out for prayer) on time, in which the believers are instructed to pray in their houses. Believers understand that this command comes from their Creator as the Prophet ﷺ taught them to do it. The same believers, who went out of their houses to pray in masjids as commanded by Allah, also stay and pray at home, when Allah commands them to do the same. When Muslims pray either at home or in some other places, according to the saying of the Prophet, reported by both Bukhari and Muslim, “The whole earth has been made masjid for me and purified for me,” those places are becoming masjids for them. The only restriction is such that appears in the saying of the Prophet (which Imam Tirmidhi reported with an authentic transmission chain): “The whole earth is Masjid; except for the places to relieve oneself or the place for burial.” This means that when the congregational prayers in the masjid of a region is put on hold for the time being, hundreds of houses nearby the masjid are becoming masjids. Those who went to the masjid for the contentment of God pray at home for His contentment, too. In this time of Corona, what the believers have done is not to close Masjids, but to open them in their own houses. Since religion and rituals do not die, but they are rather strengthened, there is nothing for the atheists to feel happy about.