Logic Must Prevail Over Emotions. Pray At Home
Human activity in mosques and other places which are non-essential, but where crowding is expected should be restricted. We can and we should pray from our homes, where we can connect with the Almighty and do not pass on the virus to another Muslim brother who then propagates the virus to his family, writes Dr Abdul Nadir.
As things continue to unfold regarding the coronavirus pandemic and Pakistani nation struggles to avoid the worst crisis that can result from the burgeoning cases of viral infections, I have the following questions:
- Is our livelihood dependent on going to mosques?
- Is it possible for us to achieve social distancing in mosques despite our best efforts and following the standard procedures outlined by the government?
- In light of decrees issued from many learned Islamic scholar, can’t we pray at home?
- The month of Ramzan is holy and asks us to inhibit our core human drives in order to achieve taqwa (awareness of God), can’t we find the inner satisfaction by suppressing our desire to visit the mosque, but still reach out to God?
- Don’t we have enough evidence by now that Corona virus spreads by close contact and is more contagious than any other flu-causing virus?
I am not sure what the answers to these questions will be if asked from the general public in Pakistan, but I hope Pakistani citizens are receiving not only good information but are constantly reminded about risk factors that cause Coronavirus transmission so they have a deeper insight into this subject.
Fortunately or unfortunately, an explosion of knowledge has occurred, whether true or untrue, regarding the different aspects of the coronavirus. All are entitled to have an opinion and have expressed diverse and conflicting opinions abundantly. The latest debate is ongoing as to how long the lockdown should continue and whether lockdown is the only and most effective way to contain the virus. The concerns of unemployment, poverty, neglect of health issues other than Covid-19 and hunger are being highlighted and debated pugnaciously.
Two recent studies from California and one from New York indicate that the virus is more widespread than we had thought. The New York data reported the results of antibody tests performed against the corona virus showing 20% residents of the state already have become infected with the virus. What this means is the case fatality rate from the virus is lower than previously thought and only 0.5% of those who get infected by the virus potentially succumb to it. While this is good news, it has to be read with caution.
The data are based on antibody tests which can be false positive, erroneously comforting tested people that they have already been exposed to the virus and would not be infected again or give the virus to others. Moreover, we have not yet concluded if the antibody which is detected by the test is indeed protective against the virus and if protective how long will it stop the virus from assaulting its victim again.
Even worse, the latest data also indicate that the virus can remain asymptomatic in a large population of infected individuals, who could pass it on to others without any warning signs.
We have already learned from Wuhan, New York, Lombardi and other densely populated cities, where millions of people are squeezed in a few miles, that virus can spread like wild fire and even with a potentially low fatality rate has already killed thousands of people within a matter of weeks, overwhelming the health care systems of even the most developed cities of the world. I hope Pakistani citizens understand and in fact believe in the statistics that have clearly indicated that millions of people throughout the world have been infected and hundreds of thousands have died due to Covid-19. Those countries which overcame the initial phase of the virus infection have been hit by a secondary wave, as an example China is already putting its cities in another lockdown after the virus crossed Chinese border yet again when air travel was opened.
Pakistan is not prepared to handle the expected load of sick patients at this point. Our impoverished country just does not have the resources or capacity to fight off a calamity of this magnitude. We have to learn from the mayhem that the virus unleashed in Iran where, by conservative estimates, more than 5,000 have died. It has been reported and documented that the spread of the virus in Iran occurred due to the overcrowding in Qom, where the shrine of Fatima Masumah is visited by thousands from all over the world. Qom was a busy place in January and by mid-February when Iranian Health Ministry notified authorities to restrict the movement there, the horse was already out of the barn.
It is also common knowledge that many religious pilgrims to Iran were found infected with the Coronavirus when they returned to Pakistan. Indeed, discretion is the better part of valor. Even if we are proven wrong that we overreacted to Covid-19 pandemic, we need to take the precautionary steps to avoid virus dissemination right now.
The essential services have to open, but the human activity in mosques and other places which are non-essential, but where crowding is expected should be restricted. We can and we should pray from our homes, where we can connect with the Almighty and do not pass on the virus to another Muslim brother who then propagates the virus to his family.
Even attempts to maintain a six-foot distance between the devotees in a mosque doesn’t seem to be possible as prayers can last from several minutes to even an hour and people exit or enter the mosque or perform ablution together. We also expect more devotees will spend their time in mosques during the holy month of Ramzan. That is why even a visit to the holiest place for us Muslims, Kaaba Shareef has been restricted to the public by the Saudi Arabian government, where logic has prevailed over emotions. This is no time to behave irresponsibly!
Those who propagate and practice misguided beliefs or perceptions without consideration of the facts on the ground and employing the wisdom bestowed upon them by the Almighty will be committing a crime against the entire humanity for which God will never forgive them.
Dr. Abdul Nadir M.D. is an Assistant Professor at University of Arizona, U.S. He is the head of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at Maroof International Hospital, Islamabad.