We want to take this opportunity to summarise some really strong, sensible advice that we recently heard from Shaykh Abu Eesa Niamatullah regarding the Coronavirus, or Covid-19, outbreak. Some bits are interspersed with our thoughts too.
We feel that it is a responsibility on us to share this advice because of the platform and reach that Allah swt has given to us. If it helps to keep one person safer, it will have served its purpose.
(For all our coronavirus-related personal finance articles please see here.)
1. The disease isn’t a killer, but it can bring down health systems
Shaykh Abu Eesa absolutely rightly points out that whilst the disease itself is not a deadly killer, it does have the ability to bring down entire national health systems if lots of people contract the virus at the same time.
Imagine if your local hospital was flooded with thousands upon thousands of people who’d all contracted the illness. And what that does to other people who are in hospital for other reasons like emergency operations.
That’s why it’s super important to stop thinking about yourself, and start thinking about others. We’ll go through exactly what that means in terms of practical steps, but we all need to understand that this is about our role in protecting the community and society around us.
As a side note though, the WHO have given Covid-19 a 3.4% mortality rate (as of 3 March 2020). That compares with less than 1% for seasonal flu. Of course, the mortality rate is skewed because the WHO can only based it on the number of people who they know are infected with Covid-19 so perhaps the real mortality rate is much lower than this 3.4% figure.
2. It is obligatory NOT to attend the masjid if you are displaying symptoms
If you are displaying symptoms of coronavirus, self-isolation is critical. That includes not going to the masjid, including for jum’ah.
The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said:
لا يُورَدُ مُمْرِضٌ على مُصِحٍّ
A sick person should not mix with a healthy one. (Bukhari in his Sahih collection).
A note from us: if you are not showing symptoms but you are vulnerable (i.e. elderly with underlying health conditions), then I personally believe it’s important to reconsider your masjid visits and limit them as appropriate. I recently requested my father to do this – not only is he in his late 60s with underlying health conditions, but he runs a newsagent as is frequently in contact with other people and thus high risk. I think in his case, it’s sensible to exercise some form of self-quarantine.
Muslims in the UK and in other non-Muslim majority countries tend to be ethnic and tend to have higher rates of underlying health conditions. This means that generally speaking, Muslims are at higher risk of vulnerability to Covid-19 than the normal population.
As Shaykh Abu Eesa points out from the hadith, the Prophet (saw) forbade people who ate garlic coming to the congregation for fear of the smell disturbing people. Covid-19 clearly presents much more of a safety risk.
3. Wudhu is not a protection from Coronavirus in of itself.
Whilst viral Whatsapp messages about Muslims being safe from Covid-19 because we wash our hands 5 times a day might give us a warm, fuzzy feeling, it’s a dangerous misunderstanding.
The virus enters through your own body’s membranes that takes it into your body. Typically things we touch quite regularly like your mouth, nose, eyes, ears, etc. I know personally that I’ve become conscious of how much I touch my face recently because of this knowledge.
So washing the hands isn’t the issue, the issue is the touching of the face. Washing the hands helps to make sure that your hands are as clean as possible so that if you do touch your face, you are less likely to let the virus enter.
So try to (a) wash hands more regularly, but crucially (b) avoid touching your face.
4. You don’t need to shake hands with people
Shaking hands is definitely from the sunnah and a praiseworthy act. And whilst shaking hands doesn’t itself spread the disease (that only happens when you then touch your face and let the virus enter your system), it is increasing the risk of spreading the disease to someone who might not follow the advice of washing hands regularly and who touches their face thus infecting themselves.
So stick to saying as salaam alaykum and calm down on shaking of hands. Or if you must shake hands, then best you both wash hands thoroughly straight after. Same goes for other cultural norms like hugging, kissing etc – best to reduce or stop for now.
5. Coughing and sneezing into your hands
From both an Islamic and a public health perspective, this is problematic. The public health advice is to catch coughs and sneezes into your elbow/forearm, or with a tissue which you then put in the bin.
This is consistent with the sunnah. Shaykh Abu Eesa mentions that the various hadith relating to catching it in the palm of the hand are no more authentic to the ones that mention him catching sneezes and coughs into his arm or a cloth.
He mentions that it would make no sense for the Prophet (saw) to soil his hand which he would otherwise use for good things.
So let’s follow this advice and not cough or sneeze into our hands. This is important as hands can easily spread the virus by touching surfaces, other people, etc.
6. If you are going to the masjid, take your own prayer mat
If you are going to the masjid, it makes sense to help the community and yourself by taking your own prayer mat.
This will ensure that the disease is not spread via a communal carpet on which many people will be bowing their heads and coming into close contact with.
It is possible that you are completely symptom-less, but you have the virus as it can take up to 14 days to show up. The last thing you want is that you carry the virus on to the surface of the carpet and an elderly person pick up the virus through that.
7. Containment and quarantine are Islamic concepts
All of this is not inconsistent with our core belief that everything is from Allah. We know that things will only affect us with the will of Allah.
Containment and quarantine is from Islam.
Narrated Saud: The Prophet said, “If you hear of an outbreak of plague in a land, do not enter it; but if the plague breaks out in a place while you are in it, do not leave that place.” (Sahih Bukhari).
We also shouldn’t worry excessively beyond taking these protective measures, and we should accept what comes from Allah.
Narrated `Aisha (the wife of the Prophet) that she asked Allah’s Apostle about plague, and Allah’s Apostle informed her saying, “Plague was a punishment which Allah used to send on whom He wished, but Allah made it a blessing for the believers. None (among the believers) remains patient in a land in which plague has broken out and considers that nothing will befall him except what Allah has ordained for him, but that Allah will grant him a reward similar to that of a martyr.” (Sahih Bukhari).
Conclusion (and a comment on hoarding)
We think that it is vitally important that we all remain calm but vigilant. Excessive scaremongering is not good, nor is being totally lax.
Hoarding food and other essential items leads to a state of panic, shortage and high prices in society and we should be wary of this. In the United States, 34 states have protections against this sort of activity at the corporate level to prevent businesses from charging excessively in times of emergency. Let us not be amongst those people looking to take advantage of crises.
In the community spirit, we should look out for each other and in particular we should look out for the vulnerable. If you know elderly people are ill or self-quarantining, you can help them by phoning them or speaking to them over the garden wall, the window, etc and going out to get essential items for them and leaving it on their doorstep.
Equally, please let’s all be wary of spreading unsubstantiated matters on Whatsapp and social media. Whether that’s a mysterious dream that someone in a far-flung country had about coronavirus or jokes, my view is that we should not spread these right now. The reason is that we don’t want people to start under-estimating this outbreak and causing harm to vulnerable people.
Please do also read this article for our brief thoughts on the stock market in light of coronavirus.
May Allah protect us all.