Our Warped Understanding Of Religion Is A Hurdle In Containing Corona Pandemic
‘Hum to jayne ge masjid, khuda ka ghar hai wahan Corona nahee hai’ (We will go to the mosque to pray because it is a sacred place, where there is no coronavirus). This is the usual refrain of those in Pakistan who refuse to comply with social distancing and are insistent on attending congregational prayers in mosques.
This statement reminded me of the well-known saying of Karl Marx: “Religion is the opium of the masses”. The irresponsible attitude of my countrymen will exacerbate coronavirus’s spread in my country. Seeking refuge in religion is no longer a spiritual matter, it is hurting our future. Excessive religiosity is eating up our social fabric at a brisk pace.
There are many other religions in the world. When it comes to Muslims, the religious obsession lacks a deeper understanding about the Islamic faith. Islam is based on forbearance, peace and tolerance. In Qur’an, the Almighty calls Himself Rub ul Alamin ( Lord of the universes) which shows that He answers the call of everyone belonging to any religion. So, if all religious places are including temples, churches and mosques in Arab countries have been closed, why are Pakistanis reluctant to follow suit? Why can’t we maintain social distancing by avoiding gathering at mosques till this (coronavirus) storm has passed?
This reminds me of the condition of mental hospitals where victims and their families deny the psychological disorder afflicting their minds and instead seek refuge in religion by attributing symptoms to suprenatural notions like black magic, etc.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a large number of Pakistanis are avoiding social distancing; mingling with one another and attributing cures to religious faith. We are largely unaware of the consequences of our gamble! This is not new. Whenever our nation faces any critical situation, an irresponsible and irrational thought process emerges wherein religion is dragged and made into an excuse for irresponsible behaviour. For instance, whenever there is an escalation of hostilities with our neighbour India, our youth start talking about Ghazwa e Hind, without reflecting on the failures in our foreign policy, lack of profound understanding of our geography and the monumental consequences of war.
Many countries are facing the challenges of global warming, poverty and economic crisis. It is criminal to even advocate for war and supremacist ideas for this means more misery and loss. But the use of faith for promoting nationalism leads to a dangerous spiral of bigoted thinking where law and logic mean little.
An American political scientist Hans Morgenthau rightly said: No nation had God on its side and that all nations have to base their actions on prudence and practicality.
We have also seen pragmatic steps taken by the Saudi Government, closing all mosques including Khana e Kabah for maintaining social distancing. The rational measures by the Saudi government are interpreted by some Pakistani clerics with the help of a conspiracy theory, i.e., that the Jews are colluding with the Saudi government and compelling it to shut the Kaaba to facilitate an early arrival of Antichrist.
In addition to mosques’ closure, the Saudi government is also considering the option of banning Hajj this year unless corona pandemic comes under control. The religious fanatics have opposed the government’s move, linking the pandemic with the religious notion that this holy site will cure the sick. Their perception exposes the absence of insightful understanding of basic Islamic doctrines, unfamiliarity with the concept of pandemics and plagues and the required practices for protection.
Our government, on the other hand, has not been proactive enough to handle the crisis. The mismanagement by the government at the Taftan border is well-known. Taftan crisis was linked to the Shia pilgrims, and was used to open up a new chapter of hate against the Shia minority which has already been at the receiving end of religious intolerance. Pilgrims, whether they came from Saudi Arabia or Iran, are equally respectable and must be given adequate protection and shelter. By the end of December in 2019, China had officially informed the WHO and the entire world about this pandemic. Henceforth, provision and proper management of quarantines on Taftan border as per guidelines from WHO was the responsibility of the government. Our government failed to test and protect the pilgrims despite being aware of the threat. Government’s failure to act in time has been the real cause of virus’s transmission in many parts of the country.
Be it any plague, pandemic, or a disease, it has nothing to do with any religion or race. There is no logic in merely relying on divine help and seeking cure in religion. Introspection is a healthy habit. As we proceed in these turbulent times we must think of reconstructing a saner country. This is why our attention should be focused on advancement in science and technology, new methods of online and offline teaching, improving our health sector and dissemination of a rational interpretation of Islamic teachings. The state has to play a role in all these areas.