Love your neighbour: Islam, Judaism and Christianity come together over COVID-19

STOKE, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 26: Mohammed Amir the Imam of the Stoke’s City Central Mosque receives a COVID-19 vaccination in Stoke, England. Imams across the United Kingdom are reassuring Muslims that the COVID-19 vaccine is permissible under Muslim law.

Faith leaders from Christianity, Judaism and Islam support government efforts to control the coronavirus.

• Young men and women of faith can supply their digital know-how to build good communication during the crisis.

• Discussions are taking place about how the three religions can collaborate on charitable initiatives.

The COVID-19 global pandemic requires an immediate, whole-of society approach to prevent the transmission of the virus. During this time of uncertainty, faith leaders such as ourselves have turned to our religious texts and theology to find comfort for the community and encourage safe practices.

We have seen fellow prominent faith leaders from Christianity, Judaism and Islam issuing opinions, guidance documents – and even fatwas – to their communities that re-analyse religious practices and provide theological opinions on how faith practices or rituals can be adapted to meet the response of COVID-19 and implement social distancing.

Listen to all three faith leaders in conversation in this podcast

To slow the spread of the virus, we’ve taken to media, email and radio to conduct daily prayers and worship, mobilize individual volunteers to serve the elderly and at risk. We’ve engaged in discussions surrounding personal well-being and found new ways to communicate to our communities the importance of listening to the safety guidelines promoted by governments and the World Health Organization (WHO).

“The ability to go to your church or synagogue or mosque in a hard time is really important to people,” empathized Rabbi Sharon Brous in the LA Times. Nevertheless, she practised social distancing and engaged with her community via virtual platforms, as recommended by medical and government authorities. She exhorted her synagogue members to find “resilience and level-headedness and kindness and cooperation precisely in their moment of greatest vulnerability”.


Indonesian Muslims mark grim Eid amid devastating virus wave

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Muslims across Indonesia marked a grim Eid al-Adha festival for a second year Tuesday as the country struggles to cope with a devastating new wave of coronavirus cases and the government has banned large gatherings and toughened travel restrictions.

Indonesia is now Asia’s COVID-19 hot spot with the most confirmed daily cases, as infections and deaths have surged over the past three weeks and India’s massive outbreak has waned.

Most of Indonesia’s cases are on the densely populated island of Java, where more than half of the country’s 270 million people live. Authorities in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation have banned many of the crowd-attracting activities that are usually part of Eid al-Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice that marks the end of the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca.

Authorities allowed prayers at local mosques in low-risk areas, but elsewhere houses of worship had no congregations, including Jakarta’s Istiqlal Grand Mosque, the largest in Southeast

Officials also banned the huge crowds that usually fill the yards of mosques to participate in ritual animal slaughter for the festival. Religious leaders urged the faithful to pray inside their homes and children were told to not go out to meet friends.

Indonesia’s health ministry reported 34,257 new coronavirus cases and 1,338 deaths on Monday, making it the country’s deadliest day since the start of the pandemic.

COVID-19 infections in Indonesia are at their peak last week with the highest daily average reported at more than 50,000 new infections each day. Until mid-June, daily cases had been running at about 8,000.

Overall, Indonesia has reported more than 2.9 million cases and 74,920 fatalities. Those figures are widely believed to be a vast undercount due to low testing and poor tracing measures.

The government put emergency restrictions in place on July 3 across Java island and the tourist island of Bali, limiting all nonessential travel and gatherings and shutting malls, places of worship and entertainment centers. They were set to end on Tuesday in time for the country to celebrate Eid al-Adha.


New Jersey Muslims mark Eid al-Adha, but Hajj pilgrimage remains out of reach due to COVID

With COVID restrictions eased, Muslims flocked to mosques and parks across New Jersey on Tuesday to mark Eid al-Adha, a holy day that observes Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son at God’s command.

Unlike last year, some worshippers were maskless and embraced one another as they celebrated with prayer, festivals and family gatherings.

But while the crowds had returned, Eid al-Adhawas still not the same. For the second year, Muslim Americans were unable to join the annual Hajj pilgrimage, in which the faithful across the world travel to Mecca in Saudi Arabia to worship in the Ka’bah, the most sacred site in Islam. 

In a typical year, thousands of Americans would join the 2.5 million Muslims who make the annual pilgrimage. But this year, COVID restrictions limited attendance to 60,000 vaccinated Saudi residents, up from just 1,000 in 2020.


Seattle’s religious communities find ways to celebrate holidays and grow amid social distancing

By Megan BurbankSeattle Times features reporter

For many people of faith, the recent religious holidays — Passover, Easter, Ramadan — are traditionally a time of gathering. But under stringent social distancing measures enacted to slow the spread of COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, life in the Northwest has been marked by retraction and isolation.

But even as holidays are reimagined — sometimes drastically — and services go remote, leaving houses of worship empty, local faith leaders say that interest in religious services has gone up, and congregants have found new ways to receive and share practical support and relief through their spiritual communities — maintaining a sense of connection in an otherwise dark time.

Holidays disrupted

The loss of in-person worship has come at a cost: Holidays have been disrupted or transformed, and some of the most important rituals of congregants’ lives will have to be radically altered or delayed, faith leaders said.

Hyder Ali, president of the Muslim Association of Puget Sound (MAPS), based in Redmond, said it was unlikely MAPS would be able to provide full services for Ramadan, which begins April 23 this year, and is typically when the mosque brings in almost 50% of its donations — “a significant amount of our operational expenses.” He said he did not anticipate in-person services reconvening in time for Ramadan, but that MAPS would provide virtual engagements on the holiday.

He also said MAPS would be assisting the community during this time in other ways, “doubling down to do what we can to serve the community” because “churches and mosques serve as a first line of defense” for people facing fallout from the outbreak.


He made sure the bodies of the Muslim dead faced Mecca. COVID-19 claimed his life

Mahmoud and Rayah Shilleh walked silently across the Islamic Garden at Westminster Memorial Park toward the six-day-old grave of their father, Hashem Ahmad Alshilleh.

They passed row after row of identical tombs — plots ringed by concrete curbs and covered in white stones, with raised headstones that serve as the resting place for over 1,500 Muslims.

“This is all my father’s legacy,” said Mahmoud, a 25-year-old Corona Police Department officer, as he waited for his siblings to arrive. “It’s just humbling.”

For over 30 years, Alshilleh helped to bury a generation of Southern Californian Muslims. The Riverside resident washed and shrouded the corpses of men per Islamic customs and drove the bodies of men and women to cemeteries from Rosamond to Victorville, San Diego to Orange County.


PHOTOS: North Side Muslims give back by feeding nearly 40 families affected by COVID-19

SAN ANTONIO – The COVID-19 pandemic has affected several of our friends and neighbors.

And with the recent surge in coronavirus cases in Bexar County, local Muslims on the North Side, Stone Oak area hoped to assure residents they were there to help by hosting a food giveaway on Saturday.

According to Abdul Hakim Hamid, the Imam and Resident Scholar at the Northside Islamic Center of San Antonio (NICSA) the purpose was to ensure families during the holidays were taken care of.

“The purpose was to give back to the community and help out families during these difficult times particularly as Thanksgiving approaches,” Hakim said. “Due to the Pandemic, not only have many people lost their jobs and are having difficulty providing for their families but also due to social distancing, we expect that many families may not be able to gather together this year and we felt that by doing this, it may provide some level comfort and ease.”

Hakim noted the added stress from the COVID-19 pandemic, along with the religious rites to support those in need encouraged this event.

“During this period of difficulty, we firmly believe that it is our responsibility to reach out and help out. Our faith teaches us to look out for one another and to always be of benefit,” he explained. “We have been taught through the teachings of our beloved Prophet Muhammad that ‘the best people are those who are the most beneficial to others’ and this is what prompts and drives us to host events like this.”


Islam’s guidance for coping with the pandemic

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rapidly spread globally, the whole world is desperately looking for ways to contain it, finding cures for the infected and developing vaccines to protect against it.

The world adopted the Muslim practice of quarantines in the form of lockdown, self-isolation and physical distance. The Doge (lord) of Venice learnt that when facing epidemics, Muslim rulers in the East imposed precautionary 40-day quaranta (‘arbain), as mentioned by Ibn Khaldun.

Contrary to the teachings of some, ironically, although not well-known in Muslim societies, such methods of prevention and protection are rooted in the teachings and history of Islam.

As social beings, Muslims are encouraged, but not required to perform their daily obligatory prayers in congregation, and typically are emotionally attached to mosques. Thus, measures such as quarantines and physical distancing, are causing psychological distress to many Muslims. Undoubtedly, COVID-19 is undermining long practiced religious customs.

Strict, prolonged “stay in shelter” lockdowns have especially hit and hurt millions of urban poor living in slums and shanty towns, sometimes identified as the “precariat” typically working in the “informal” economy, and in recent decades, increasingly beyond.

As more and more pressure comes from powerful business interests as well as much of the population suffering from the loss of livelihoods, governments have to “open up” and switch to other means to contain the epidemic and its adverse consequences.


COVID-19 and Indian Muslims

It’s a matter of common decency. That’s an idea which may make some people smile, but the only means of fighting a plague is common decency.” — Albert Camus

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s seminal work, Death and Dying, describes the five distinct stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. While the Swiss-American psychiatrist was speaking about the series of emotions terminally ill patients go through, the first of the five stages that she postulated possibly holds true for a section of India’s people when the country was trying to come to terms with COVID-19 in the initial days of the pandemic.

The spread of the virus in the early months had then exposed the country’s second-largest religious group to a vulnerability born out of denial. Indiscretion and reckless behaviour by members of the Tablighi Jamaat had purportedly led to a spurt in coronavirus-positive cases, not only in Delhi but also in many other parts of the country.

The spread of the virus in the early months had then exposed the country’s second-largest religious group to a vulnerability born out of denial.

An international gathering of Tablighis — preachers or a society to spread the faith —had taken place in New Delhi’s Nizamuddin area in March 2020, drawing hundreds of foreign nationals from Thailand, Nepal, Myanmar, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Kyrgyzstan. Despite a government order prohibiting large gatherings, more than 4,500 people had assembled at the Tablighi Jamaat Markaz (headquarters).

Media reports had quoted government sources as saying that since 1 January 2020, over 2,000 foreigners from 70 countries had arrived in India to participate in Jamaat activities. As the COVID-19 lockdown came into force on 25 March 2020, over 1,000 were left stranded in Nizamuddin.


As a Sufi singer, I believe the sounds of world religions can cultivate compassion during COVID-19

The global COVID-19 pandemic has taken us into an era of social distancing. By relying on online digital media, we may be isolating ourselves from more local and diverse communities.

As an ethnomusicologist at the University of Alberta, my research and musical practices lead me to reflect on how what I think of as a “socially isolated ear” is more prone to resist and be intimidated by cultural and religious diversity. As a Sufi vocalist, through my music I share the message of love and interfaith harmony taught by Sufi mystics — and I explore the crevices of Muslim belief and expression from a feminist standpoint.

Sufism is the mystical branch of Islam that is based on introspection and spiritual practices for cleansing the heart to receive closeness with Allah. Sufis have used the power of art, music, poetry and dance to show human soul’s relationship with the Divine.

How intercultural listening transforms us as humans became ever clearer to me this past spring as I watched students grow in understanding in courses I taught.

I contrasted this with the racism and intolerance demonstrated by some to the public sounding of the Muslim call to prayer (azanin Mississauga, Ont. and in Edmonton.

Communities of sound’

Ritual is a powerful gift that brings a sense of a collective and been a source for social cohesion within societies, instilling support and resiliency or creating new social bonds, as the French sociologist Emile Durkheim points out. For those in religious communities, ritual is about human interaction with the Divine.


Patience, sacrifice and zakat: An Islamic response to coronavirus

Muslim communities in the UK have been hard hit, but during Ramadan, the principle of zakat is a source of strength.

Behind the coronavirus death toll numbers are individual stories of trauma and tragedy for family members and friends. 

Among the deceased in the United Kingdom are staff members of the National Health Service (NHS) who have succumbed to the virus.

The fact that they died from the very disease from which they were trying to save others is particularly poignant. Many of the doctors who have been killed by the virus in the UK were experienced medics with decades of service behind them. And many of them were Muslims.

This is an example of the disproportionate effect that the pandemic has had on Muslims. Although Muslims are not synonymous with an ethnic minority, many Muslims are from backgrounds that have been shown to be more vulnerable than others to the virus.

For example, British Muslims are over-represented in the medical field.

But even beyond the NHS, coronavirus seems to have hit the Muslim community in the UK particularly hard. One of the country’s youngest victims, Ismail Mohamed Abdulwahab, died at the age of 13 with no family members allowed to be present in his final moments.