By: Absar Kazmi
Islamic Customs And COVID-19 Safety Measures
It is no secret that Islam has a PR problem in the West. In fact, based on their political leanings, the average, western, non-Muslim’s views regarding Islamic customs would probably range from slightly backward to barbaric! Muslims of course would disagree; to them Islamic customs are nothing less than ideal since they come directly from the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), who in turn received them from God.
Regardless of how westerners choose to view Islamic morals and customs, something very peculiar is taking place today which may encourage them to rethink their preconceived notions about Islam.
In response to the spread of Covid-19, countries across the world have instituted several safety measures in order to reduce the risk of infections and “flatten the curve”. To Muslims, some of these safety measures are pleasantly familiar, even commonplace. Thus, one may ask the question: are these measures inadvertently inspired by Muhammad (peace be upon him)?
Let’s take a look at just a few below…
Covering The Face
Just a few years ago, several European countries began fining Muslim women who desired to cover their faces (covering the face for women is voluntary) even though such a law seems to contradict the ideal of freedom of religion.
Yet, suddenly, in response to the coronavirus, many of those same countries are recommending – even forcing their citizens – to cover their faces with face masks. Recently, even president Trump, who famously said “I think Islam hates us!” was seen on television recommending people wear scarves when they step outside their homes.
What a relief for many Muslim women who had already been following these guidelines for 1400 years!
No Shaking Hands
I remember a few years ago I had a meeting with a potential client who happened to be a lady. As is customary in many western countries, she extended her hand for me to shake, but I smiled and politely declined – Islam does not permit shaking hands between unrelated members of the opposite sex. Needless to say, that meeting was doomed from the get-go. She was even kind enough to share her thoughts about how she thought Muslim women are treated.
(Fun Fact: countries such as Denmark force new citizens to shake hands as an essential part of the citizenship ceremony, which many say is a requirement specifically aimed at Muslims.)
However, imagine the same scenario today. If anyone were to insist on shaking hands with another person in a public place, they would probably be scolded by onlookers… maybe even arrested!
Wash Hands Regularly!
We’ve all probably had the ghastly experience of witnessing someone in a public restroom do their business and then proudly walk out the door without even glancing at the sink! (Maybe they are just environmentally conscious and don’t want to waste water… who knows!)
Not in 2020! Today if someone just happens to touch a doorknob in a public place they would rush to the nearest sink and wash their hands with soap… then wash the faucet with soap before turning it off!
Washing hands regularly is nothing new to Muslims. The observant Muslim will perform the ritual ablution with water several times a day in order to prepare him/herself for prayer. This of course includes washing the hands up to the elbows up to three times. Furthermore, washing hands before and after meals and after using the bathroom goes without saying for Muslims.
No More Drinking & Gambling!
Covid-19 has brought what many westerners would consider as ‘night life’ to a screeching halt!
Nobody is looking forward to spending their Friday night at their local bar, or dance club, or casino. This is perfectly understandable… No reasonable person would deliberately endanger him/herself by going to such an environment where people are crowded together and risk infection.
Again, this is nothing strange for Muslims. Islam forbade alcohol and gambling 1400 years ago, and thus observant Muslims would never frequent such establishments in the first place.
Interest Rate is At 0%
The worldwide lockdown and social isolation are clearly impacting the economy, and many businesses – e.g. airlines – are struggling to survive. In response, in order to encourage spending and boost the economy, the Federal Reserve has lowered interest rates to 0% and central banks are not far behind. This is also very much in line with Islam…
Dealing in usury, or interest, is considered one of the worst sins in Islam, perhaps due to the destructive effects it has on society and the fact that it leads to the concentration of wealth in the hands of a select few at the expense of the less privileged.
Focus More on The Spiritual & Less on Material
Regardless of the governments’ desire to stimulate buying, staying at home has no doubt allowed people more time to focus on their relationships and family and less time to pursue material wealth. Isolation has probably also given some people more time to reflect on higher things, such as the meaning of life and whether they are truly attaining contentment through their careers.
This is perfectly in line with Islamic teachings which encourage believers to focus more on family than careers and isolate themselves at times during the day in order to connect with the divine. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) also taught that true wealth is the contentment of the heart.
Of course, the purpose of this article is partially satire and in no way meant to suggest that Muslims are perfectly comfortable with all the recent changes in the world. Muslims worldwide have been devastated by many of the safety measures, for e.g. not being able to visit close family, or pray in congregation at the mosques, or give a proper burial to their loved ones. At the same time, I do hope that it causes people to rethink any judgments they previously held about “backward” customs found in the Muslim world. They may notice that there is some wisdom to them and that they are not as backward or barbaric as they previously thought.
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