UK COMMUNITY BRIEFING PAPER FOR IMAMS, MOSQUES, AND MADRASAS FOR THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

UK COMMUNITY BRIEFING PAPER FOR IMAMS, MOSQUES, AND MADRASAS FOR THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

In the Name of God, Merciful to all, Compassionate to each!

Executive Summary

  1. The coronavirus pandemic constitutes a highly significant danger to the world health, and necessitates immediate action to prevent or slow its transmission, especially to those at risk of severe consequences. Critical to this are social distancing measures.
  2. This guidance is supported by a number of Muslim organisations (theological and community), and is based on sound empirical and theological reasoning, while practical in application. It is intended as advisory, and to assist local religious organisations in taking decisions in the best interests of their communities.
  3. It balances between the worldly and next-worldly interests of people, and recognizes the importance of taking precautionary measures whilst maintaining dignity, serenity and neighbourly compassion.
  4. We fundamentally affirm that all that transpires does so according to God’s decree, and provides an opportunity to deepen our connection with Him, either directly through patience and prayer, or indirectly through serving His creation.
  5. Individuals are ethically required to take all appropriate measures to prevent transmission – whether relating to hygiene or social distancing, including self-isolation if medically indicated – and to assist others in doing the same.
  6. In recognition of the fact that enclosed public spaces facilitate the spread of the virus, we advise that the recommended mosque congregations for the daily prayers be suspended and performed at home. We further strongly affirm that high risk individuals should avoid (or be precluded from) attendance at mosques, because of the manifest danger they might pose to themselves and others.
  7. Supplementary educational classes in mosques and other centres need to consider alternative teaching arrangements, such as online, as children would appear to be at high risk of transmitting the virus to others.
  8. It is the preliminary view of the majority of BBSI members consulted, as well as a number of institutions and international bodies, that the individual obligation to perform Jumua in mosque congregations be temporarily lifted. The contrary opinion is also noted, and this is a recommendation that will be regularly reviewed.
  9. Institutions such as mosques or religious schools have a responsibility to ensure the health and safety of their attendees, and should be supported by the community to discharge it. This guidance should be considered advisory to them, and to provide them with a framework with which to take an informed decision.
  10. As a community, we have a collective responsibility to one another – whether keeping each other safe, coming together to identify and assist the vulnerable in a coordinated and strategic way, to avoid harming others (by, for example, hoarding necessities), or being a source of comfort and solace in distress.
  11. Finally, we urge the community to remain calm, take precautions, and assist others.

Preliminaries

Along with many of you, the British Board of Scholars and Imams have observed with much concern the deepening crisis of the coronavirus pandemic, as well as the equally dangerous communal panic that has accompanied it. We have engaged in continuous deliberation among our members, partners, and senior medical experts, kept abreast of updates to official advice (as well as the concern among scientists that this advice is insufficient), and engaged in heartfelt prayer for guidance (istikhara).

 

In collaboration with Wifaqul Ulama and MINAB, we are issuing holistic guidance on community resilience with regards to the coronavirus pandemic, based on the spread of opinion within this ecumenical fellowship of scholars. This guidance supersedes any previous guidance and will be regularly updated in the future, consequent to any changes on the ground. We will issue any changes via our Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/bbsionline/ and bbsi.org.uk/coronavirus

Table of Contents:

  1. Introduction
  2. Principles underlying the guidance
  3. Theological and spiritual considerations
  4. Moral and ethical responsibilities for individuals
  5. The Jumua Prayer
  6. Institutional Responsibilities
  7. Collective responsibilities
  8. Miscellaneous points
  9. Parting Counsel

1 Introduction

The coronavirus pandemic is of particular concern because of the combination of a number of factors:

  • It is both highly infective and much more severe than the seasonal flu,[1] especially but not exclusively to the elderly and infirm;
  • It is most often spread by those who show no symptoms, making it virtually impossible to prevent without drastic lockdown measures;
  • It has the potential to overwhelm the resources of an already stretched National Health Service (NHS), and;
  • It is a novel virus, meaning that we are still learning about its nature, means of spread, and potential consequences.

All of this and more has been clearly evidenced by medical experts worldwide and need not be repeated here.

In addition to this, the demographics of the UK Muslim community – specifically the frequency of extended family domestic environments and the pervasiveness of chronic illness – put the older generation of Muslims at particular risk of contracting the virus and suffering the most severe consequences. These risks also extend to the wider community; the absolute obligation to protect the most vulnerable members of the British community is what animates the majority of this guidance.

2 Principles underlying this Guidance

  1. The BBSI is an ecumenical fellowship of Imams, religious scholars, and Islamically literate Muslim academics with diverse outlooks and different opinions. As such this document attempts to broadly represent that range of perspective, and is proffered, with humility, as advisory recommendations.
  2. Our guidance adheres to three conditions that entail it should be
    1. based on solid evidence, be it scriptural, jurisprudential, or empirical;
    2. structured with clear rationales linking that evidence to our conclusions;
    3. comprised of practical and actionable steps to be applied.
  3. We take seriously our responsibility to minister to the welfare of the community – both worldly and next-worldly. This involves a recognition of the serious importance that our religion places on life, health, community, and spiritual well-being. To trivialise any aspect of this would be an error. As our scholarly tradition demands, our approach in the guidance is directed by consideration of what is essential, recommended, and desirable. This includes a keen understanding of when (and which) religious rulings may be suspended due to temporary harms or hardship.
  4. The concern within this guidance does not merely relate to the risk of becoming infected with coronavirus, but more so to the risk of transmitting it to others, especially the old and infirm. To choose to put oneself in harm’s way may be acceptable, unwise, or even prohibited; to put others in harm’s way is always more severely censured. The guidance utilises a risk matrix approach that considers both likelihood of infection/transmission and consequence of infection, from mild to severe.
  5. In the event that government directives are issued overriding any part of the guidance relating to gathering in public or private spaces, then the government directives would take priority.
  6. This document is intended to provide specific guidance to individuals, but a general framework of decision-making for institutions and mosques. Given that each mosque and institution is different (size, resources, region affected etc), we call for local Imams, scholars, and mosques to decide on what is in the best interests of their communities. However, our advice is that this should be done when all parties are properly informed and have considered all the principles outlined in this document.

3 Theological and spiritual considerations

At the outset, it is important to reorient ourselves and ensure that our individual and collective responses, whether internal or external, are informed by a transcendent theological and spiritual outlook. As believers, we have faith that all benefit and harm comes from God, and that all proceeds exactly in accordance with His pre-eternal Decree. We must remember that no soul can be taken ‘before its time’, and let this certain knowledge inspire tranquillity amid the panic and chaos around us.  Trials and tribulations are an inevitable part of the life of this world – decreed as part of the Divine wisdom to develop within us blessed characteristics such as: patience, endurance, gratitude, remembrance of God, faith and trust, mercy, generosity and compassion for one another, and contentment with the Divine decree.

This current crisis is an opportunity to draw nearer to our Lord with prayerful supplication, remembrance of the life beyond death, meditation on the frailty of the human condition, deepening our connection with the Divine, supporting one another towards patient endurance and ultimate truth, and thankfulness for the many blessings that often go unremembered.

We encourage ourselves and others to abide this current state of hardship in accordance with the elevated Prophetic character, shining a light of guidance, serenity, and beauty to the people of this land. That includes taking precautions, but fundamentally – as the Prophet Muhammad exemplified – it is being a mercy to creation, and loving for each other in humanity what we would love for ourselves.

Acts of worship that are particularly recommended, in this time and others, would include: passing a portion of the night in worship; the recitation of Quran abundantly; dhikr/remembrance; increase in charitable works; paying due attention to the rights of your family and neighbours; reading Salat al-Hajah (the prayer of need), performing voluntary fasts, beseeching God for His mercy and subtle bliss for yourself and others; deepening bonds of compassion with those around you; and tending to the unwell in appropriate ways.

Lastly, do not be afraid, and do not panic. All will unfold according to God’s decree, and we are all returning to Him. Have trust in the workings of the Lord of the Worlds, and recognise, as the most elementary studies in our religious theology dictate: He is the All-Powerful, the Ever-Decreeing, the All-Merciful, the Healer, the Compassionate, and the Bestower of Grace.

4 Individual Moral and Ethical Responsibilities

This section, which includes the bulk of the guidance offered to the community by the BBSI – as informed by our scholarly tradition, our understanding of the nature of the virus, and expert advice – relates to three categories: the individual, the institutional, and the community.

Our individual religious responsibility entails (1) the obligation to keep oneself safe from significant harm, and (2) the prohibition of causing harm to others – whether significant or minor. Bearing this in mind:

(a) Prevention of Infection/Transmission – Hygiene & Public Interaction

  1. Wash your hands thoroughly and regularly with soap for at least 20 seconds, especially when having been outdoors or in a public space. Increase the frequency of making wudu (ritual ablution) – though not to the point of obsessiveness.
  2. When coughing or sneezing, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue (or similar) and discard immediately. If no tissues are available, use your scarf or the sleeves of your shirt.
  • Avoid opening doors with your hands. Use your elbows if you are able to.
  1. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth until you have cleaned your hands properly with soap and water, preferably, or with hand sanitizer if water and soap are not available.
  2. Do not spit or discard any bodily fluid including saliva and mucus in the open, instead use the sink and wash it down immediately. If you use a tissue, dispose of it carefully.[2]
  3. Give the recommended salam when you meet people, but avoid physical contact, such as shaking hands or hugging. Maintain a safe distance – six feet is advised.
  • Being particularly careful about your interactions with (and care of) elderly or infirm members of your family, so as to ensure a reduced risk of transmission to them.

 

(b) Congregating in Enclosed Spaces, including Prayers in the Mosque

In terms of contagion, a mosque is merely an enclosed space where people congregate; as such, the guidance in this section is applicable to any similar public space. However, our focus is on religious spaces, and it should be noted that there are additional risks associated specifically with mosques, including: the possibility of acquiring the virus from hard surfaces in the mosque, such as ablution areas, or from carpets during prostration; spreading the virus within the mosque when entering, exiting, and congregating; the usage of water and presence of bodily fluids; and the difficulty of managing attendance. As such, and given the religious importance of the mosque, the following advice is intended for individual attendance.

The BBSI advises that, as a general principle and until further notice, individuals in the UK should avoid congregating in such enclosed spaces, which includes general congregational prayers at the mosque. The larger the potential congregation, the more strongly this is recommended. We recognise the acute sensitivity of this position, but feel we must prioritise the health of the community, especially the elderly amongst us.

Importantly, any individuals who fit any one of the following descriptions are specifically required to avoid such congregations:

  1. Someone who has flu symptoms, even if minor
  2. Someone who has been around an individual with flu symptoms, even if minor
  • Someone in an area where the authorities have temporarily banned public gatherings and one’s congregation/mosque would fall under the ban, in which case it is obligatory to follow the advice of the government until further notice
  1. Someone in a local area where there are confirmed cases of coronavirus and evidence of community spread
  2. Someone who fits the description of those who the authorities have advised to enter self-isolation, such as people who have recently visited countries where the risk of coronavirus is high (China, Italy, Iran, Japan, Spain, etc.),
  3. Lastly and most importantly, the elderly (60 plus) and those with an underlying health condition, or those frequently in contact with the aforementioned even if otherwise healthy (e.g. family-carers, nursing home workers).

This advice, collated by the BBSI from its members, is based on the following considerations:

  • The majority opinion that identifies the performance of congregational prayer in the mosque as recommended, not obligatory. The sunna of congregation can be fulfilled in non-mosque settings, such as the home with one’s family.
  • The many principles related to avoiding harm including:
    • The harm aversion principle: “Harm must be prevented” and “let there be neither inflicting nor reciprocating harm.”
    • The prioritisation principle: “Averting harm takes precedence over acquiring benefit.”
    • The mercy principle: “Averting harm from others takes absolute priority.”
    • The facilitation principle: “Hardship engenders facilitation, to the extent required to avert that hardship.
    • The reasonable fear principle: “Reasonable fear of harm is taken into consideration by the shariah.”
    • The self-preservation principle: “Do not destroy yourself with your own hands, rather do good.” (2:195)
    • The contagion principle: “Neither enter nor leave a land where an epidemic has spread,” (Bukhari 3473) and “let the [contagiously] sick not mingle with the healthy.” (Muslim 4235)
  • The need for precaution (ihtiyat) in order to prevent harm and the spread of illness, which is specifically demanded in the current context given:
    • the ease by which the virus is transmitted from person to person, with transmission potential in even asymptomatic patients,
    • the difficulty and delay in detecting the presence of this illness in people,
    • the difficulty in tracking those who are affected by it,
    • the difficulty in guaranteeing the mosque as an infection-free environment
    • the pronounced threat posed by the illness to the elderly and vulnerable people
    • the social and economic disruption occurring from the spread of this virus

All of these render it an obligation to take any means – small or large – to curb its spread: especially in terms of protecting the vulnerable and reducing the rate of contagion. This effectively renders attempts to connect rulings on this issue to the legal definition of ‘reasonable surety’ (al-zann al-ghalib) unproductive, unfeasible, and potentially dangerous.

In light of the above, and considering that the general ruling of congregational prayers in mosques is one of desirability, we recommend that individuals perform congregational prayers at home while this crisis unfolds and (as is likely) enters into a more aggressive stage. This is in keeping with increasingly prevalent measures relating to workplaces, educational institutes and public transport being undertaken by wider society.

(c) Tarawih Prayers

The ruling recommended for the Tarawih prayers is the same as that of general congregational prayers. In fact, tarawih in the mosque is a lesser emphasized recommendation than the normal congregation prayers, and the sunna is also fulfilled by individuals praying it at home. Nonetheless, it is acknowledged that this is something very dear to the hearts of communities and mosques. Further guidance on this is forthcoming in the coming days and weeks.

5 The Jumua Prayer

It is understood that this is the most contentious question within this guidance, and it has been the subject of significant and vigorous debate among religious scholarship and among the members of the BBSI in particular. Jumua is both an obligation on healthy adult males and a clarion sign of Islam; lifting or suspending that obligation from the community at large is not a step that can or should be taken lightly.  Nonetheless, we reiterate that the prime directive animating this briefing paper is people’s health and welfare, particularly protecting the elderly and infirm. Given these factors, the question of Jumua will be explored in some detail. Equally, it should be noted that this section primarily refers to the norm of performing Jumua in the mosques.

Two points of consensus emerged from the discussions: (1) if the government issues a directive banning public gatherings, this needs to be adhered to, and (2) ‘high risk’ individuals (as previously identified in the congregational prayers section) should NOT attend: not only is the obligation of Jumua is lifted from them, but their attendance, if any congregation does occur, should be severely and proactively precluded. If they are at high risk of transmitting the virus to vulnerable people, it should be unambiguously clarified that their attendance would be immoral and sinful.

With this being understood, two broad opinions were articulated by BBSI members: that of the continuing obligation of Jumua, and the position that individuals in the UK are generally exempt from the obligation of Jumua prayers.

Strenuous efforts were made, given the extremely short timescales and the difficulty of engaging in detailed legal argumentation remotely, to survey the opinions of over 100 members of the BBSI on their basic stance regarding these two positions[3]. A clear majority of those consulted opined that – at this time and until further notice – the obligation of Jumua should be lifted from the generality of UK Muslims. These guidelines will be regularly reviewed for continuing relevance and proportionality.

Further Explanation

Both these positions were ultimately based on a risk-benefit analysis: whether the risks posed by coronavirus were sufficiently severe to warrant a blanket lifting of the obligation, and whether effective steps could be taken to mitigate the risks.  Supporters of the former position opined that either the current level of risk was not sufficiently high and/or that effective steps could be taken, such as interdicting high-risk individuals from attending the congregation, limiting congregation sizes, and so forth.

They also proposed a ‘subjective opinion’ approach, where individuals are given the option to determine for themselves which ruling applies to them. This opinion is held by a number of scholars and is valid – except in the specific context where it is promoted in ignorance.  In this context, this means anyone (scholar or not) who clearly demonstrates a lack of understanding of the coronavirus threat and consequently places the community at risk. Examples of this would be obliging the elderly who show no symptoms of coronavirus to attend a normal Jumua, continuing to insist on large and concentrated congregations, and so forth. To follow such an unqualified opinion in such a circumstance would be impermissible.

The supporters of lifting the obligation of Jumua, on the other hand, argued the opposite, especially given the developments and trajectory of the pandemic both globally and nationally. The potential spread and danger of the virus, and the inevitability of mitigating steps failing, along with scholarly precedent, were sufficient to lift the obligation.  The evidences guiding this position were the same as those mentioned in the section on congregational prayers, with the following additional considerations:

  • The precedent of classical Islamic scholars to exempt individuals from Jumua for reasons including excessive rain or cold, heavy snow, fear of an enemy, and others, which are premised on relatively minor degrees of harm, inconvenience, and/or difficulty.
  • The precedent of some classical Islamic scholars to exempt individuals from Jumua due to fear of illness, which – given the nature of coronavirus, the level of difficulty in tracking its spread, and the inability to predict who may be affected by it and how – is effectively realized for the community at large, and hence a form of umum al-balwa (widespread hardship).
  • The minority position of some classical Islamic scholars that Jumua is a collective obligation rather than an individually binding one, so some people establishing a congregation lifts the obligation from everyone.
  • The classical option to perform very small (less than 20 people) Jumua gatherings where the risk of transmission is minimized, and which more resemble private gatherings. This is to understood in keeping with the idea that the norm in Islamic societies throughout history has always been to perform Jumua in a public prayer space, specifically the mosque. Personal obligation was not generally premised on the ability of an individual to create his own mini-congregation when an excuse existed to exempt him from attending Jumua. Thus the only option in such cases was to replace Jumua with the Dhuhr. This however is no longer the case.

This is explicitly not the same thing as stating that the mosques should be shut, which should only be countenanced in the circumstance that those responsible felt unable to manage the health and safety of attendees appropriately.  It should also be noted that this opinion is expressed in a context where the vast majority of people perform Jumua in public mosques.  The concern here is about the risk of contagion in public spaces, especially enclosed ones with poor air circulation like mosques.

There are alternative circumstances where the risk of contagion is clearly low (for example, health professionals who are deemed safe to come together to work are also safe to come together for Jumua prayer in the same environment). These would retain the ruling of obligation. However, the opinion of non-obligation has been left general, in keeping with the legal maxims: “The majority takes the ruling of the whole” (al-ghalib fi hukm al-kull) and “Rulings are given in view to what is the preponderant case” (al-hukm lil-ghalib). For details, one should consult conscientious and reliable scholars.

The ‘subjective opinion’ approach, where people decide for themselves, was also rejected on the grounds that many people (out of religious zeal) are likely to underestimate the risks posed to them – or by them to others. They may downplay or minimise: possible symptoms, their interactions with potentially affected people, the nature and seriousness of the illness, the need to take what they perceive as ‘extreme’ actions to confront this threat, and more. This could harm the larger community: it takes only one individual to disregard isolation and social-distancing guidelines to create a cluster of cases as clearly evidenced recently in some South Korean churches.[4]

Another issue raised in favour of the majority opinion is that of practicality. The minority ‘subjective opinion’ approach has the potential to lead to increased numbers of people going to the mosque based on their personal determination that they are obligated to do so. This will pose a difficulty for mosques attempting to manage congregation size, or screen out symptomatic/elderly individuals, and expose them to unmanageable situations. While a mosque can implement control mechanisms, the general exemption for individuals would provide a further control and make the work of mosques easier.

Given this, and the reasonable basis underpinning the view that coronavirus constitutes a universally-applicable excuse, the BBSI has opted to highlight the opinion of general exemption from the Jumua prayers for individuals within the UK, while acknowledging that other scholars validly disagree.

Nonetheless, the BBSI is not a directive body, and this guidance constitutes advice to the community.  As such, it is recognised that there are individuals who believe that Jumua remains a binding obligation upon them despite coronavirus.  For such individuals, we offer the following recommendations:

  • According to a completely valid opinion in classical Islam, the minimal obligations of Jumua can be fulfilled with three congregants and does not require an Imam. The two khutbas need only consist of a formula of dhikr (subhanallah, walhamdulillah, wa la ilaha illAllah w’Allahu akbar. Allahuma Salli ‘ala Muhammadin wa ‘ala aali Muhammad would suffice in both khutbas). The two rakat prayer is performed as any normal prayer.
  • We emphasize the importance of religious precaution: it is obligatory to take steps to minimize transmission of the virus. We strongly advise that they only establish Jumua in a minimalist and tightly controlled setting, while strictly adhering to all social-distancing, self-isolation, and hygiene guidelines.
  • If there is any chance that these guidelines cannot be effectively implemented, or any doubt regarding the safety of even one congregant – even in the most minimalist of settings where transmission can still occur – or that of the broader community connected to the congregants or their prayer space (as they may transmit it to others if infected or contaminate surfaces that people may touch), the congregation and Jumua must not go ahead.
  • Lastly, we strongly advise such individuals to consult the guidelines we have mentioned earlier regarding congregational prayers in enclosed spaces and those required to avoid them.

6 Institutional Responsibility

The BBSI are deeply aware of the general imperatives within our religion to seek knowledge, and to come together in learning, as well as worship collectively – indeed, we are often at the forefront of delivering them. Such activities are usually coordinated via responsible figures within the community: mosques, institutions and individual scholars.

However, there are many specific imperatives that delineate when these general prescriptions – the recommended, but even the obligatory – can be suspended or put aside temporarily. Due to the very specific health threat that is currently facing our communities, it is the humbly submitted advice of BBSI that those in positions of authority over teaching institutions – whether in mosques, community centres, or otherwise – consider the previously mentioned recommendations regarding the risks of congregation, infection, and the vulnerable. Additionally, we advise all those in authority within the management of these spaces:

  1. That large teaching commitments (like maktabs) be moved online or suspended for the time being.
  2. If, and only if: the teaching area is not used for prayer (i.e., where people may put their faces to the ground, and thus expose themselves to infection), and two metre distancing is instituted between all individual students and the teachers; then small classes such as hifz or ‘alamiyya may be continued.
  • If those in authority do not do so, we strenuously advise that those who are particularly at risk, such as the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions, excuse themselves from teaching circles or congregational prayers for the time being as directed in the “Individuals” section. This is for their own health and also for the health of others that they might come into contact with, if they do become infected.
  1. The management of these spaces should be aware of the great responsibility that they have in protecting all that utilise them, as well as those to whom they may transmit the infection.
  2. If and when the above recommendations, including those related to congregational prayer, are implemented, we advise the mosque management to consider what active steps might be required to facilitate the safe reintroduction of activities in the mosque, whether regular disinfectant regimes or others, as well as how to proactively engage their communities absent the congregational prayer times. We also advise that the adhan continue to be called from the mosque.
  3. We strongly advise mosques in an area, of whatever denomination, to cooperate and coordinate activities with each other, including decisions about congregational prayer, in order to ensure a joined up approach to protect public health effectively.

Finally: it is recognised that the restrictions we are recommending will put a great deal of stress on our teachers as well as our students. We strongly advise that the community at large be very cognisant of this, and provide additional resources to mosque and community teachers, so that they might be able to invest in options for alternative learning; and also so that they are not further impacted by any restrictions that take place. Many of our teachers depend on the very limited funds that come to them to provide teaching – we need to address this more generally, but especially during such a difficult time.

7 Collective Responsibility

In these difficult days, it is the responsibility of any moral human being to assist the vulnerable. If we have an elderly parent, we should tend to them more than before.  To build resilience within our communities, we need to act now and develop mechanisms to take care of the vulnerable and support one another. Our Prophet (may blessings and peace be upon him) said ‘God assists his servants as long as His servants are assisting their fellows’. Respecting and helping the elderly and vulnerable is a centerpiece of the Prophetic Sunna and constantly encouraged in the Islamic tradition. In order to protect those at high risk from Coronavirus, they should be encouraged to stay at home as much as possible. We strongly recommend the following:

  1. Establish a network of healthy volunteers with local partners
  1. Mosques should use their communication channels (social media, WhatsApp etc.) to recruit healthy volunteers to shop for the vulnerable and socially isolated. It is especially important that the vulnerable do not leave their homes.
  2. If communication channels do not yet exist, they need to be instituted immediately. Not everybody will have access to technology. Utilise your local network of volunteers to disseminate information by checking on friends and neighbors through phone calls.
  3. Liaise with other local places of worship, community centres, local charities and your MP. Combine resources and volunteers with these groups and coordinate tightly in good faith. A number of mutual support groups have been established across the UK.
  4. Muslim charities have a great responsibility to provide support to the affected where they can. They may provide financial assistance who may be out of work is not receiving sick pay, provide food parcels to families affected etc.
  5. Consider establishing ‘anti-hoarding’: advising people to buy extra of essentials for storage in mosques and community centres for distribution to the needy and vulnerable.
  6. The psychological impact of the coronavirus will be immense; people will experience anxiety, loneliness and depression. We urge trained counsellors and therapists – as well as the public at large – to volunteer their services to people over the phone/skype etc and provide the much needed psychological support and befriending to the community.
  1. The logistics of volunteering
  1. Keep the following vulnerable groups in mind: the elderly, the infirm, the socially isolated, the underprivileged and those who don’t have shelter. The homeless and the underprivileged may not have the means to purchase sanitary equipment.
  2. Keep shopping trips to a minimum by coordinating with others. Rather than there being a large number of shopping trips, make a small number of trips by compiling multiple shopping requests into a single trip.
  3. Wipe down shopping items where possible before delivering them.
  4. Take care when delivering them; ensure that contact with the vulnerable or socially isolated is kept to a minimum. You may wish to leave the shopping at their doorstep.
  5. Consider using a fundraising platform if necessary.
  6. Volunteers should complete the WHO Coronavirus online training.
  7. Take care of volunteers, and workers more generally.
  1. Responsibilities towards neighbours
  1. Everybody should regularly check on their neighbours. Support them by carrying out shopping trips for them if required, or notify your local volunteer network if you are unable to do so.
  2. If everyone does this, the community and volunteer network will be well aware of those who need assistance. Do not assume that they already have support in place.
  3. If you are even mildly unwell, or are socially isolating, then do not check on your neighbours in person
  1. Upholding Islamic behaviour during the outbreak
  1. Helping and supporting one another is an essential part of our religious practice.
  2. The Prophet (may God’s blessings be upon him) condemned and reprimanded those who hoarded. We should be satisfied with our share and let others have their share. Besides being immoral, hoarding sanitary products will worsen the spread of the virus.
  3. Stay positive and spread positivity; ‘Behold! Allah’s help is indeed near’ (Quran 2:214). Consider taking breaks from social media to maintain your mental wellbeing.
  4. Be very cautious about spreading unverified information on social media or to your friends and family. There is much misinformation going around via social media – only spread around that which can be verified via a reliable website, rather than forwards that cannot be verified.
  5. Business owners and shops should not increase prices of goods simply to make profit and take advantage of the desperation of people. If this is done without extenuating circumstances, it would be considered reprehensible in the sight of Allah.

8 Miscellaneous Issues

Infection control in hospital and healthcare settings is vitally important, and it is part of our holistic religious responsibility to ensure that we safeguard the vulnerable – as has been repeatedly noted. This may include a ‘bare below the elbows’ policy, which can affect Muslim professionals who are observant of the hijab, as well as, potentially, the requirement to shave or trim the beard in order to ensure tight fit of face masks. Accordingly, please note:

  1. BBE: many hospitals provide elbow length gloves, which can be worn over clothes to comply with the policy. If not available, there is a valid and followable legal opinion that permits women to uncover their arms to their elbows for reasons as trivial as working in the fields or cooking in large pots. This is a fortiori permissible in this circumstance, as well as others such as prevention of transmission of MRSA and other very serious hospital acquired infections.
  2. Trimming the beard: it is acknowledged and well-known that the position of the majority is that keeping a beard is – at minimum – a highly recommended Sunna, if not legally obligatory. All safe options should be considered and explored to fulfill this in the work context. However, if alternative arrangements cannot be found, then one may follow the valid (and relied upon Shafi’i) position that trimming or shaving the beard is disapproved of, and thus without sin to do so.  It remains obligatory (contractually and therefore ethically) for such Muslim males working in the health sector to remain at work and fully participate in providing treatment to the public.
  3. Both these recommendations are offered as advice only: please liaise with reliable and conscientious scholarship for further information and specific guidance in your circumstance.
  4. Re Funeral: please refer to the National Burial Council for specific updates and recommendations: nbc.org.uk

9 Parting Counsel

In these difficult times that we are experiencing, we are afforded the opportunity to reflect on our ultimate purpose, and the meaning of our sojourn in this world. The spectre of death, an inescapable reality, is so often clouded by the vanities and trivialities of this passing life that it goes forgotten. But this world is merely a seeding ground for the Life Eternal – so let us look to what we sow now, and what we shall reap after death.  God says that “this world is nothing but play and heedlessness, while the life to come is truly better for those who are mindful of Him” (6:32), and the Blessed Prophet said, “remember often [death], the destroyer of sweetness” (Tirmidhi).  May Allah help us to remember the eternal life-to-come, and prepare for it with faith and good works, hope and fear, joy and yearning, patience and gratitude, faith and trust.

Let us remember also those in these times those who are far less fortunate than ourselves, who are undergoing trials of nature – and the evil of human oppression – far more severe than anything we are experiencing, and with far fewer resources, save their faith in God. May Allah grant relief, serenity, reward undying and the ultimate return to Him – well-pleased and well-pleasing, among His beloveds and into His gardens of bliss.

And may peace and blessings everlastingly be upon our beloved, the Last Prophet Muhammad, his folk and companions. Praise is for God, Lord of the Worlds.

[1] https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/situation-reports/20200306-sitrep-46-covid-19.pdf?sfvrsn=96b04adf_2

[2] All from https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/

[3] The limitations of this approach are acknowledged; as with many other bodies, the urgency of the need to provide guidance on this rapidly changing situation necessitated a deviation from the BBSI’s usual mechanisms of deliberation and decision making. It is the exception rather than the rule.

[4] https://graphics.reuters.com/CHINA-HEALTH-SOUTHKOREA-CLUSTERS/0100B5G33SB/index.html

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