Anyone who doesn’t comply with coronavirus restrictions is endangering others. Accordingly, it is a matter of more than local concern that while most mosques in the Toronto area (where Ontario Premier Doug Ford has declared a state of emergency) have closed, some are stubbornly staying open.
This is not for want of trying. Zahir Bacchus, who serves as the imam at Jamiat Al Ansar in Brampton, Ontario, and belongs to the Canadian Council of Imams (CCI), said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has put Muslims in uncharted territory. We’ve asked Muslims to pray at home, pray with their families and loved ones — just don’t come to the mosque.”
The imams of the CCI believe that the Muslims who are not heeding this advice are reflecting an “allegiance to certain foreign scholars not heeding the calls, and in the process endangering Canadian lives.”
There is certainly no shortage of “foreign scholars” who are downplaying the coronavirus. Nigeria’s Punch reported Wednesday that a Muslim leader in that country, Sheikh Sani Jingir, “claims coronavirus is Western conspiracy to stop Muslims from performing their religious rites.” In a televised sermon, Jingir “insisted that coronavirus was not real,” and “said any Muslims who believed in Trump and stopped praying at the Holy Mosque in Mecca should seek for God’s forgiveness.”
In a similar vein, according to the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), an imam in Gaza, Jamil Al-Mutawa, preached a sermon in which he said that Allah “has sent just one soldier,” referring to the coronavirus. “What would happen had he sent 50 like the coronavirus? He has sent just one soldier and it has hit all 50 [American] states. An hour ago, they said on TV that in California… They said that they expect 58% of California to be infected within two months. They talk about 25 million infected people in just one of the 50 states. Allah be praised. Look how anyone who schemes against the Al-Aqsa Mosque is being shattered to smithereens by the soldiers of Allah.” He spoke about Israel in the same way: “Look how empty the [Israeli] cities are. Look how empty their streets are and look how crowded this mosque is. Who is it that has given us security and terrified them? Who is it that has protected us and harmed them? It is,” he said, triumphantly drawing the word out, “Allaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!”
Al-Mutawa added: “The Muslims are the people who are least infected. The only country where nobody has died… When I entered this mosque, I received a text message that the 56 people who had been quarantined in Bethlehem have been completely healed by the grace of Allah. Brothers, before I entered the mosque, I contacted senior doctors, and they told me that as of this moment, there is not a single case in Gaza.”
The next day, coronavirus cases were confirmed in Gaza, but that is not likely to have changed Al-Mutawa’s mind: he can dismiss the victims as lacking in sufficient piety to ward off the disease.
In Pakistan, meanwhile, The News International reported that jihad group leader Hafiz Aakif Saeed said that the coronavirus was “the wrath of Allah Almighty, befalling largely on the developed world and their oppressor rulers who had subjected innocent Muslims to persecution and genocide over the last 50 years.”
The idea that Allah will punish the unrighteous in this world is in the Qur’an: “So if they repent, it is better for them; but if they turn away, Allah will punish them with a painful punishment in this world and the Hereafter. And there will not be for them on earth any protector or helper.” (Qur’an 9:74) The obverse of the idea that Allah will punish the unrepentant in both this world and the next is that if one is righteous, one will prosper in this world as well as in the next.
A hadith attributed to Muhammad accords martyr status to those who die in a plague: “There are seven types of martyrdom in addition to being killed in Allah’s cause: one who dies of plague is a martyr; one who is drowned is a martyr; one who dies of pleurisy is a martyr; one who dies of an internal complaint is a martyr; one who is burnt to death is a martyr; who one is killed by a building falling on him is a martyr; and a woman who dies while pregnant is a martyr. (Sunan Abi Dawud 3111)
Another hadith adds that Muslims should not flee an epidemic: “Narrated Aisha: (the wife of the Prophet) I asked Allah’s Messenger about the plague. He told me that it was a Punishment sent by Allah on whom he wished, and Allah made it a source of mercy for the believers, for if one in the time of an epidemic plague stays in his country patiently hoping for Allah’s Reward and believing that nothing will befall him except what Allah has written for him, he will get the reward of a martyr.” (Sahih al-Bukhari 3474)
How can the Toronto-area mosques that have remained open be convinced that these Islamic assurances should not be their paramount consideration? And how many people will be infected in the meantime?
Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. He is author of 19 books, including the New York Times bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His latest book is The Palestinian Delusion: The Catastrophic History of the Middle East Peace Process. Follow him on Twitter here. Like him on Facebook here.