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.
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.”
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.
“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 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.
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.
BEIRUT, Lebanon — For much of his life, Abdul-Halim al-Akoum stashed away cash in hopes of one day traveling from his Lebanese mountain village to perform the hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca that all Muslims who can are obliged to make once in their lives.He was all set to go this year until the coronavirus pandemic forced Saudi Arabia to effectively cancel the hajj for what some scholars say may be the first time in history.
“It is the dream of every Muslim believer to visit Mecca and do the hajj,” said Mr. al-Akoum, 61, a village official. “But the pandemic came with no warning and took away that dream.”
The Saudi announcement sent shock waves of sadness and disappointment across the Muslim world, upending the plans of millions of believers to make a trip that many look forward to their whole lives and which, for many, marks a profound spiritual awakening.
A 72-year-old retired port worker in Pakistan will stay home, despite his six children having pooled their money to finance his trip. A mother in Kenya will forgo visiting sites she has long dreamed of seeing. An Egyptian school administrator named Zeinab Ibrahim burst into tears.
“It was my only wish,” Ms. Ibrahim said. “To cancel it completely is such a shame. May God relieve us of this burden.”
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.
NEW YORK (AP) — American religious leaders across faiths are grappling with the heavy burden of helping to heal two active traumas: rising civil unrest driven by the police killing of George Floyd and the coronavirus pandemic.
Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders have raised their voices to condemn racial bias in the justice system while discouraging violence in response to the killing of Floyd, a black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee into his neck. Those words of solidarity, for many clergy, came as their worship routines remained upended by a virus that has forced them to rely on digital or outdoor gathering.ADVERTISING
At Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, which has provided relief and medical help to demonstrators this week as protests roiled the city, associate pastor Angela T. Khabeb said the shared pain caused by Floyd’s death was exposing the brutal double toll being exacted on people of color.
“There were other pandemics we didn’t always talk about that faced black communities, indigenous, Latinx” before the virus outbreak, Khabeb said, citing “institutionalized racism” and poverty. “And then we layer on COVID-19, which disproportionately affects black, indigenous, Latinx communities.”
Khabeb acknowledged that she felt challenged by the task of tending to her congregation during the current crisis when the latest police killing of a black American had caused “a crisis of my own that’s very personal.”
Among the religious leaders in Minnesota organizing for spiritual care since Floyd’s death was Bernard Hebda, the Catholic archbishop of the Twin Cities. Hebda held a Friday online prayer service “for racial justice and peace” alongside Rev. Erich Rutten, the priest of a historic African American parish in St. Paul. The Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton also traveled to Minneapolis on Thursday, with Jackson speaking at a local Baptist church.
Imam Asad Zaman, the Muslim American Society of Minnesota’s executive director, outlined multiple law enforcement reform proposals in response to Floyd’s death. Zaman noted in an op-ed this week that “the Qur’an teaches us that to save a single life is to save all of humanity.”
But as the frustration sparked by Floyd’s killing scorched dozens of other cities, religious denominations nationwide began speaking out to sympathize with the pain that brought protesters into the streets. White Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin has been charged with murder in connection with Floyd’s death, which follows the highly-publicized killings of two black Americans this year — Georgian Ahmaud Arbery, shot while running, and Breonna Taylor, shot by police in her Louisville, Kentucky home.
Seven senior members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement calling racism “not a thing of the past or simply a throwaway political issue,” adding: “While it is expected that we will plead for peaceful non-violent protests, and we certainly do, we also stand in passionate support of communities that are understandably outraged.”
The numbers appear mind-numbing. More than 100,000 deaths in the United States alone.
Nearly 350,000 worldwide.
A local group aims to find a way to bring those statistics to a more personal level and take a moment to ache for all who have died from COVID-19 in the pandemic.
The four-member Columbus Interfaith, plus four other local houses of worship, will join in hearts to remember and honor the world’s COVID-19 victims in a virtual service via Zoom to be posted online Sunday.
Muslims have just celebrated Eid al-Fitr, the festival that marks the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting. The month of fasting, which is demanding in itself, has been even harder this year with the current social distancing requirements. Usually the high point of each day would be gathering with family and friends to break the fast with the evening meal, known as iftar. This year these customary gatherings have not been possible in the same way as in other years, for Muslims across the world.
Religion and risk of infection
Places of worship, like other spaces where large numbers of people gather, were affected early on by the Covid-19 pandemic, and in some cases were early hotspots for spreading infection. A synagogue in New York, a church in the Philippines, and a mass religious gathering in Pakistan were all hotspots for spreading Covid-19 infection in early 2020.
In Norway, mosques were quick to shut their doors and take on an important role in efforts to stop the spread of infection by providing information and advice. Through their networks, mosques have reached out to people who were not easily reachable through the authorities’ established channels. Like for other religious leaders, the decision to ask the faithful to stay at home, away from mosques, has been difficult. In times of crisis, religious beliefs and rituals are important to many people. But the situation has demanded the opposite; not to gather, not to stand close together.