Department: Traditional herbal medicine
Date: June 16th, 2020
Lesson: Coronavirus: self-isolation or self-protection?
MDI has run a series of lectures around coronavirus, concentrating on the various measures that have been implemented in order to control the virus.
One of these measures, of course, is lockdown – ‘stay at home, save lives’. We looked in one lesson at the salutary effect this measure was having on the environment, and we also looked at lockdown vis-a-vis Islamic teachings. Now we would like to compare lockdown with easing of lockdown, again from an Islamic perspective.
Protection from disease is closely associated in Islam with protection from sin. In fact, in some languages such as Farsi and Pashto – two of the languages in which MDI lessons are published – the word for protection from sin and protection from disease is the same: parhaiz (پرهیز). The equivalent word in Arabic is taqwa – piety. The Arabic word taqwa is also derived from the word for self-protection – وقایة – whether from sin or from disease.
The definition of taqwa – protection from sin – that is often quoted comes from a saying attributed to Abu Huraira. He was asked about taqwa. ‘Have you ever followed a thorny path,’ he asked rhetorically. ‘I have,’ came the reply. ‘So what did you do?’ asked Abu Huraira. ‘I kept my distance, and avoided the thorns.’ ‘Well, that is piety – taqwa,’ Abu Huraira remarked.
سُئل أبو هريرة رضي الله عنه عن التقوى فقال للسائل: هل سلكت طريقاً فيه شوك؟ فأجاب السائل: نعم، فقال أبو هريرة: فما صنعت؟ فأجابه السائل بأنّه كان يَبتعد عن الشوك ويَتجنّبه، فقال أبو هريرة: فذاك هو التُّقى؛ أي التقوى
The challenge of an Islamic lifestyle, this saying of Abu Huraira is saying to us, is to practice piety, not while cutting off all relations with the outside world, but while living in the midst of other folk. It is a point driven home by the Holy Prophet:
لکلّ امة رهبانیّة، و رهبانیّة هذه امّة الجهاد في سبیل الله
There is monasticism in every community, and the monasticism of this community is struggle in the path of Almighty Allah.
There have been two responses to the coronavirus, one being the self-isolation approach. This approach can be roughly equated to monasticism – ‘stay at home, save lives’. One is isolating oneself from the community and in the process, preventing transmission of coronavirus. This approach has had considerable success, wherever it has been implemented. It has slowed transmission of coronavirus. In the long term, however, the policy is not sustainable. For how long can one deny people of their livelihoods? For how long can economies be grounded to a halt? Not for ever. Eventually, one has to come out of lockdown and take measures to protect oneself from disease, while living in the midst of men.
The normally bustling city of Mumbai in the midst of lockdown
So in general, countries are now generally moving away from lockdown and self-isolation, to self-protection: carry on life as normal, but take care: ‘stay alert, control the virus, save lives’. This approach can be more equated with the Islamic approach: protect oneself – whether it be spiritual protection from sin or physical protection from disease – while living in the midst of the community.
As populations emerge from lockdown, there is even more need to protect oneself from the ‘thorns’ of the coronavirus:
- to practice hygiene by washing hands at every opportunity, especially when one might have touched an infected surface;
- particularly, washing one’s hands before touching one’s face;
- generally avoiding touching one’s nose, mouth or eyes;
- avoid shaking hands, hugging or kissing acquaintances as much as possible; if one does inadvertently shake hands with anyone, wash your hands afterwards just as soon as possible;
- kissing acquaintances on the cheek is particularly dangerous, since it can be a cause of direct infection; in the case of hugging and shaking hands, one can ameliorate the possibility of infection by quickly washing one’s hands;
- only go out when absolutely necessary; as far as going to the mosque is concerned, the Muslim manner of prayer is such that people stand shoulder to shoulder in prayer. This being the case, it is impossible to maintain a healthy distance when praying in the mosque; so one might be better off praying at home, until such time as the corona threat is averted.
- one should try and keep at least one metre distance from others, though this might not be possible when in the bazaar, or when in a crowded place.
- cover one’s mouth and nose as much as possible;
As the saying goes, do all this, ’tether your camel, and then put your trust in Allah.’
In our next dars, we will go into these measures in more detail, from an Islamic perspective.