Ramadhan: Time to pray for humankind’s safety from the ‘safety of our homes’
Not saying Taraweeh prayers in mosques is indeed painful, but legal fatwas and medical advice suggest it’s the way to go about it
With the holy month of Ramadan beginning, possibly on April 25, governments world-over are worried as to how their Muslim populations would behave. Will they stay home for their own and others’ safety the way they have been doing for over a month now?
As the COVID-19 pandemic is refusing to die down, much of the globe remains besieged by the fear of falling victim to an invisible virus which has already claimed nearly 200,000 lives. Worry is that any laxity or violation of the social distancing measures could exact a huge physical cost, and undo much of what has been gained thus far by enforcing strict lockdowns to make people stay home and limit their physical-social contacts, which obviously has exacted a mammoth economic cost from the entire humankind.
Though governments have issued strict instructions for the people to stay home and not violate lockdowns even during the fasting month, but there are a few impulsive and imprudent people who have a tendency of overlooking rationality and logic when it comes to the matters of, what they think is, FAITH. They are the worry!
The Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Dawah and Guidance, has announced that Taraweeh prayers during Ramadan will only be performed at home as the suspension of prayers at mosques would not be lifted until the end of coronavirus.
Al Riyadh newspaper quoted Dr. Abdul Latif Al Sheikh, Saudi Minister of Islamic Affairs, as saying: “The suspension of performing the five daily prayers at mosques is more important than the suspension of Taraweeh prayers. We ask Allah the Almighty to accept Taraweeh prayers whether held at mosques, or homes, which we think is better for people’s health. We ask Allah the Almighty to accept prayers from all of us and protect humanity from this epidemic that has hit the entire world,” Al Sheikh clarified.
Similar instructions and precautions are in place for funeral prayers as well – to avoid large gatherings so as to thwart the spread of coronavirus infection. According to the Saudi Ministry of Health and relevant authorities, five to six people from the deceased’s family are to perform funeral prayers for the dead.
Al Sheikh said: “This is a precaution in line with the prohibition of gatherings, so that funeral prayers that take place at cemeteries should not exceed five to six of the deceased’s relatives, and the rest pray at their homes.” He clarified that funeral prayers are not greater than obligatory prayers, “so it is possible to pray individually, as more important is that there should not be a large number of people gathering in the same place, where it would be possible to transmit the infection.”
Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz while endorsing the order about the holding of Taraweeh prayers at the two holy mosques in Mecca (Kaaba) and Medina (Masjid-e-Nabvi) without public attendance amid preventive measures due to the spread of coronavirus, went a step further and said these (Taraweeh prayers) will be shortened to 10 ‘Rakat’ instead of 20, completing the Holy Qur’an in ‘Tahajjud’ prayer, and cancelled ‘Itikaf’ — the Islamic practice of secluding oneself in the mosque to pray — at both mosques. Taraweeh prayer will be performed by Sheikhs and staff of the two mosques, while public attendance is still restricted at the Kaaba and the Prophet’s (PBUH) Mosque (Masjid-e-Nabvi) in Medina.
Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque – also known as ‘Qibla Awal’ (or the first Qiblah, towards which Muslims would turn to offer prayers before they were instructed to face Kaaba for prayers) will also be closed to Muslim worshippers throughout the fasting month of Ramadan due to the coronavirus epidemic, Muslim clerics at Islam’s third-holiest site have said.
Ramadan typically draws tens of thousands of Muslims daily to the mosque — the site where the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) ascended to heaven (during Meiraj) — and the adjoining Dome of the Rock for Taraweeh prayers. The decision to ban Muslim prayer at the 35-acre complex, revered by Jews as the Temple Mount and site of the Jewish temples of antiquity, extends a March 23 ban on Muslim prayer there.
In a statement, the Jordan-appointed council that oversees Islamic sites on the sacred compound called the decision “painful” but said it was “in line with legal ‘fatwas’ (clerical opinions) and medical advice”. Muslims should “perform prayers in their homes during the month of Ramadan, to preserve their safety,” the council said. ‘’Azaan’, the Muslim call to prayer, will however still take place five times daily at the site during Ramadan, and religious workers will still be allowed entry, the statement added.
Jerusalem has sites sacred to Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and all three religions have taken coronavirus precautions.
Last week, Jews marking Passover in Jerusalem and across Israel were required to stay at home and celebrate only with immediate family. Typically large Passover prayers at Jerusalem’s Western Wall, the holiest place Jews are allowed to pray in the city, were attended by only a handful of worshippers.
At the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, what are usually festive, pilgrim-filled Easter ceremonies at the shrine revered as the site of Jesus’ (PBUH) crucifixion and burial have been marked by small groups of clergy, often wearing face masks.
All mosques in much of the Arab world and elsewhere have been closed since mid-March. Now all this should put to rest any and all doubts Muslims might have vis-a-vis the special late night Taraweeh prayers or for that matter the five obligatory prayers of the day.
The reason is simple: notwithstanding the politics of the kingdom, with which one may or may not agree, Saudi Arabia continues to hold a dominant status in matters of Islamic faith for at least two reasons. One, it is the birth place of Islam as Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was born here and Qur’an was revealed on him here only. Second, Saudi Arabia has and continues to remain the epicenter of Islamic faith as it houses Kaaba, towards which the faithful turn five times as day to offer their ritual prayers (‘Namaz’) as well as when saying funeral prayers (‘Namaz-e-Jinazah’) on their dead, besides the holiest of Islamic shrines – the Masjid-e-Nabvi or the Prophet’s Mosque (in Madina).
Muslims from all over the world look towards the Arab world, and Saudi Arabia in particular, for any advice and help in matters concerning Islam. Now if they have decided to heed the scientific/medical advice and close down mosques for the congregational prayers, there is no reason why Muslims elsewhere should risk their safety by congregating at their respective mosques for the prayers during Ramadhan. Any such misadventure will not only risk their own well-being but also that of the societies and the countries they live in. It will certainly be un-Islamic and against the basics of faith when looked at from the perspective of ‘Ijma’ (consensus or agreement of Islamic scholars) and ‘Ijtihad’ (inference by rational interpretation and analogical reasoning). It will also be against the spirit of Ramadhan, which stresses self-discipline, abstaining from worldly pleasures as dictated by wish and greed, and calls for focusing on strengthening faith and character.
The closure of mosques, it must be understood does not mean that people cannot offer daily prayers or Taraweeh. Individual prayers and worship play a greater role than communal ones. Muslims can pray five times a day wherever they are, and often home is a place where most praying takes place. In today’s turbulent times, it should be the place from where we could, and should beseech Almighty for deliverance from this pandemic, and the crises it has triggered, and is likely to set off including widespread death and destruction, joblessness, and of course HUNGER — not the voluntary one like fasting, but the kind that is involuntary and often manifested in and by structural deprivations and unfreedoms, which COVID-19 pandemic has enlarged and aggravated.