by Zafar Bangash (Opinion, Crescent International Vol. 49, No. 2, Sha'ban, 1441)
If you survive the coronavirus (named COVID-19 by the World Health Organization [WHO]), a big if, and this is not meant to sound alarmist, life will be very different from what we know it today. Already, most people in the world are under lockdown. Almost all non-essential services have been closed. Even essential services, apart from medical services, are being scaled down.
Since there is no vaccine for the coronavirus or any other remedy—notwithstanding the ignorant rants of Donald Trump or quack remedies offered by some Hindu priests to drink cow urine and eat cow dung—this pandemic is not likely to disappear anytime soon. Health experts only talk in terms of flattening the curve, meaning to slow the spread of the disease, not eliminating it.
Apart from China where drastic measures were instituted to contain the disease, everywhere else it is spreading exponentially. Coupled with desperate shortages of face masks, test kits and hospital beds, the situation is quite alarming. In the US, pharmaceutical companies are more interested in profits than worrying about public health. American greed has no limits.
Entire countries have been put under lockdown, Italy and Spain, for instance. Both have registered very high mortality rates with Italy and Spain both surpassing China in the number of deaths. Travel between countries in Europe as well as between Europe and North America has been drastically reduced. Most airlines are grounded.
Despite Donald Trump’s appalling lack of understanding of the threat posed by COVID-19, three states in the US—California, New York and Illinois with a total population of 70 million—have imposed total lockdown. Others are likely to follow suit as the number of infected cases rises.
Most businesses are already shut down or operating via the Internet. Schools, universities and libraries are closed and will operate through remote communications. Restaurants, clubs, brothels and bars (called pubs in the UK and Ireland) are also either shut down or have been asked to limit the hours of operations while maintaining ‘social distancing’ (not being closer than three feet to each other). These are all high-risk areas. The closure of restaurants, clubs and bars is a hard blow for people in Europe and North America. Socializing in these places is a way of life for them. Welcome to Shari‘ah, imposed not by sword-wielding bearded Muslims but by the Western regimes themselves!
In countries where traffic jams are the norm, suddenly the streets are empty. Despite a drastic drop in crude oil price leading to much reduced gas prices at the pump, people are not lining up to fill up their tanks. Most are not even sure of a job anymore.
New measures, such as washing hands with soap and water frequently, not shaking hands and maintaining social distance, are being emphasized. For Muslims, washing hands regularly is part of their existence. Every observant Muslim has to make wudu before offering the five daily salat (prayers). Also, they must wash hands before eating.
Not shaking hands and maintaining ‘social distance’ will require getting used to since Muslims are by nature social. In many Muslim countries—the Middle East and Iran, for instance—hugging, and kissing on the cheeks are also common practices. These have to be abandoned for the sake of safety and as precautionary measures until the pandemic is over.
The most difficult part for Muslims is not being able to go to the masjid (mosque) to offer congregational prayers. This is even more difficult regarding Jumuah (Friday) prayers—the very heart of the Muslims’ existence. But there are precedents in Islamic history. In times of danger or risk, the noble Messenger (pbuh) permitted Muslims to pray at home.
Authorities everywhere face a dilemma. How to communicate the seriousness of the threat without alarming people. It is a herculian task. People will panic if they are told there is a serious risk. That is what led to a mad scramble to get items like face masks, gloves and disinfectants when the coronavirus threat first emerged. Most stores quickly ran out.
This was immediately followed by a run on groceries. Shopping carts were piled sky high with non-perishable food items: rice, flour, pasta, salt and sugar. Toilet paper, paper towels and hand sanitizers also flew off the shelves. People started hoarding toilet paper to sell at higher prices on the Internet. This is called price gouging and reflects the worst of human trait.
In addition to groceries, guns have also been in great demand, especially in the US. Long queues outside gun shops indicate the kind of mindset that has taken hold. American gun buyers have openly stated that if there is a run on groceries, they will fight their way, using guns if necessary, to get what they want. Welcome to the wild, wild West. Can there be a better definition of barbarism?
The people of Gaza and Kashmir have welcomed the rest of the world to the situation they have endured for decades. Perhaps, now people around the world will wake up to the suffering of these long-oppressed people.
What does the future hold? Few health experts are willing to make predictions. They are in uncharted territory and have to be cautious. Most experts worry that even if there is a drop in the number of new infections tomorrow, the disease can still make a comeback unless people are willing to make drastic changes in their lives and lifestyle.
This is highly unlikely. Most people become complacent and go back to their old ways. That would be a disaster. Washing hands and using sanitizers was highly recommended when the SARS epidemic broke out in 2003. Once the immediate threat was over, people went back to their usual ways.
Hopefully, this time around, washing hands frequently will become part of everyone’s routine even if social distancing is abandoned. Basic hygiene never hurts; it could and does save lives. Muslims have a huge advantage because of making wudu for five daily prayers. This should become everyone’s habit.
Sometimes Allah shakes us out of our complacency through such calamities. Are we willing to learn the proper lessons or risk exposing ourselves to even greater danger by being neglectful?