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DISOBEYING THE AUTHORITY ON CLOSURE OF MASAAJID OVER COVID-19




By
Ibn Abdillah As-sudaisiy Al-Iloori

If I flout a precautionary directive of the government to suspend Juma'ah prayers or any other public gatherings to avert the spread of Corona virus in the State, I should rather tender an unreserved apology to the government and the general public, than to start giving some untenable excuses for my wrongful action.

I read a comment this morning where someone was in support of one of the Imams who led Juma'ah prayer in Ilorin on Friday against government's order. He said there is no law passed restricting people from worshipping in any of the places of worship. He said the suspension of the Juma'ah is a mere executive order. The person that made this comment happens to be a lawyer. As correct as his comment may look, he failed to realise the fact that one of the major and general responsibilities of government in any given society is to protect lives and properties. If the stay at home order is not in conformity with this general duty of the government, what else would it be? The government can deal with any erring citizen on the ground of security of lives and public safety. There is no need for any special law for this.

Sometimes, when some people talk or act on this issue, it is as if they don't watch the news or that they don't know what is happening in other parts of the world, especially America and Europe. People who we think could not be infected are getting infected day by day. The figure of people testing positive is getting high on a daily basis. The figure of casualities keep increasing from time to time. The world super powers are already powerless. It is only wise for us to take to precautions, pray and rely on Allāh.

One of the defence of the Imam that led a prayer on Friday was that Allāh and His Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم never ordered the closure of masaajid due to pandemic diseases. The question here is was there any case of pandemic disease that threatened the lives of the people in this manner in the time of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم that could have warranted closure of his Masjid? I am not sure if there was one. But if there was, his decision wouldn't have contradicted his stance on contagious diseases. He صلى الله عليه وسلم hinted in a Hadith that if there is a pandemic disease in a place, no one should enter and no should go out of it. This is an established shar'iah principle that if followed in China at the start of this crises, the problem could have been solved since. In a hadith, narrated by Sa'd رضي الله عنه, the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said:

 إِذَا سَمِعْتُمْ بِالطَّاعُونِ بِأَرْضٍ فَلَا تَدْخُلُوهَا وَإِذَا وَقَعَ بِأَرْضٍ وَأَنْتُمْ بِهَا فَلَا تَخْرُجُوا مِنْهَا

“If you hear of a plague in a land, then do not go into it. If it happens in land where you are, then do not go out of it.” [Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 5396, Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 2218]

It should be noted that even if the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم didn't witness any of such dangerous widespread of disease in his time that could have warranted closure of masaajid, some of his Companions رضي الله عنهم witnessed some outbreak of diseases, where some of them even lost their lives as a results. Some other generations after them also witnessed something like that which led to close of masaajid in those eras. So, this is not the first time masaajid would be closed in the history of Islam. The past generations who were better than us closed masaajid as a form of precautionary measure. So, who are we to think we are better than them?

Part of the defences of the Imam was that the government didn't put up proper mechanisms that could aid the implementation of the order. He rightly argued that a lot people were still holding public gatherings, people were seen moving about without any caution, land borders are still open to inter-state travellers, some people are going out to fetch water and get their daily needs. He said some malls and cinemas are still open and no one is putting them under check. He said the virus is not resident in the Masjid, and that masaajid shouldn't be close because of it. He said since, we don't have a case in the state yet or around the masjid, we are not yet expected to close the masaajid. He said death that we are running for would meet up with us when it is time, and we don't need to run away from the Masjid. He also said it is compulsory for anyone who hears the call to prayer to answer.

With due respect to him, all these still do not justify flouting of harmless order of those in authority. The fact that some people fail to follow government orders on how to curb the deadly virus doesn't give an Islamic institution (masjid) an excuse to join them to flout the order. The Masjid should lay good example that other members of the society can follow. The masjid and its supretendents should not be seeing disobeying the leaders in matters of public safety. We shouldn't wait till it is close to the masjid before taking precautionary measures.

On the issue of certainty of death, as Muslims we are still expected to be protective of our lives despite our belief that we cannot exceed our prescribed time of death. Where there is imminent danger, we should take to precautions. This is what Islam teaches us. We should not use our own hands to ruin ourselves. We are to rely on Allāh. But we must tie our Camels. On the issue of call to prayer, in the circumstance we find ourselves, it is allowed to call prayers in the masaajid ordering people to pray at their various homes when the Masjid is closed on this tenable ground. Even when it is raining, it is from the Sunnah to pray at home. Even if the weather is very harsh, we can delay solah. When we are on a journey, congregational prayer is not compulsory on us. These are some of the exceptions to the general rule that says when we hear the call to prayer, we must answer the call. 

One of the Maqāsidus Shar'iah (objectives of Islamic law) relating to protection of life clearly justifies the closure of masaajid where necessary to save lives. Allāh values ourlives. He wants us to live to worship Him. Glory be to Him. It is wrong to think that the scholars in conjunction with the government would just order the close of masaajid without any cogent reason or evidence in support. All the verses of the Qur'an and hadiths on protection of life justify the closure of masaajid in times of pandemic diseases. Some reports have shown that many of the recent further spread of the virus in many Muslim countries are linked to gatherings in Masaajid. The case of the Kuala Lumpur Masjid is a clear example. So, how will it be wrong for us to take to this precaution? 

Even though, protection of the Deen (religion) is also an objective of the shar'iah, the temporary closure of the Masaajid to avert further spread of the virus and loss of lives has not really tampered with the protection of faith. This is because, people are still allowed to pray at homes and even have time to be closer to their families and teach them the religion for the meantime. The stay at home period is an opportunity to teach your family the religion. You can finish An-Nawawi's 40 Hadiths in fews days. Allāh knows why He put us in this situation and we have to still make sure that all the objectives of the shar'iah are protected. 

Giving the nature of our assembly in the masaajid for the daily and Juma'ah prayers, the possibility of spreading the virus is very high. I read recently that the scientific experts advising the UK government were in “heated debates” regarding the correct time and extent to implement social distancing. Their conclusion was that doing it too late could lead to quick spread of the disease. 

My brother Idris Alao posted an article yesterday where it was said that Al-Ḥafidh Ibn Ḥajr al-'Asqalaaniy رحمه (d. 843 AH) wrote an 850 page book named, "Being Generous with Assistance Regarding the Blessings of the Plague" (Badhl al-Ma`ūn fi Faḍl al-Ṭa`ūn). On page 329 of the book, he reported how a pandemic disease affected the city of Damascus (Syria) in the year 749 AH. Some scholars organized a special prayer outside the community against the plague. The situation got worse and many more people contacted the disease and many lives were lost. 

To obey leaders is mandatory. The only situation where we can disobey leaders is when they command us to sin against Allāh. That is not the case here. They are even helping us. So, not following them on this is like disobeying Allāh. Allāh says:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا أَطِيعُوا اللَّهَ وَأَطِيعُوا الرَّسُولَ وَأُولِي الْأَمْرِ مِنْكُمْ ۖ فَإِنْ تَنَازَعْتُمْ فِي شَيْءٍ فَرُدُّوهُ إِلَى اللَّهِ وَالرَّسُولِ إِنْ كُنْتُمْ تُؤْمِنُونَ بِاللَّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ خَيْرٌ وَأَحْسَنُ تَأْوِيلًا

O you who have believed, obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority among you. And if you disagree over anything, refer it to Allah and the Messenger, if you should believe in Allah and the Last Day. That is the best [way] and best in result.[Surat An-Nisa 59]

Obedience to the authority in a matters that do not oppose the Qur'an and Sunnah is wajib (obligatory). The fact that we still move about freely shows that our problem is beyond leadership. We need self reform to attain State reform. If a Masjid fails to obey the authority on public safety, the kind of da'wah it dishes out in the first place might become a subject of suspicion. This is why all Imams need to be very careful.

An expert in Islamic law, Sajid Umar wrote on 'Closing Mosques – Islamic Justifications for Coronavirus Lockdowns'. The article is very interesting. He made some brilliant submissions while examining the divergent views of those who are for the closure of Masaajid at this trying time and those who are against it. One of his warnings is not to delay any form of social distancing. We still have the chance and opportunity that countries like the US, England, Spain, Iran, Malaysia etc. did not have. They waited too long to have the virus widespread before taking the necessary precautions. He said and I quote:

"Medical experts have expressed the fact that the distance between you and the coronavirus is a simple handshake. Extreme Social distancing mechanisms have been implemented across many countries, and the deadly cost of delaying these measures has been seen in countries that adopted these measures after the disease started to spread more rapidly, such as Iran and Italy".

I think the best thing is for our government to show some seriousness in standing its ground and enforce the order made by dispersing any person or group of persons who attempt to flout its orders on the measures put in place to curb the deadly virus. As I write now, I am hearing vehicular movements through my window. The level of compliance with the shut down in Kwara State is very low and the security agencies are not doing anything about this. 

The government should please close all entrances to the State. Lagos, Ibadan, Osun, Ekiti are our very close neighbors. Let us not wait till it enters Kwara before we begin to take things serious.

May Allāh guide us aright.

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