*This article is updated as of 30 March 2020.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared that COVID-19 is a global pandemic, with more than 4000 deaths recorded. Muslims in various parts of the world have made adjustments to religious life, especially on Friday prayers, religious events and classes. Saudi Arabia has suspended umrah pilgrimages and closed some parts of the Masjidil Haram in Makkah and Masjid Nabawi in Madinah.
In Singapore, COVID-19 continues to spike and affect more people. Muslims are not free from being infected by this new pandemic. Muslims have been advised to take precautionary measures such as bringing personal prayer mats, replacing shaking hands with other gestures, and staying clear from mosques if one is unwell. However, community spread has taken place.
In light of recent developments, the potential spread of this virus in our mosques, the Fatwa Committee issued a religious decree on 12 Mar 2020 that allows for the suspension of Friday prayers and the closure of our local mosques. This edict is issued to ensure public safety and health of the community. It is important to ensure that we take all the necessary measures to protect our community and prevent COVID-19 from spreading at our local mosques.
As we read and abide by this latest Fatwa, we break down what this means for Muslims in Singapore.
Based on the latest fatwa and directive, all local mosques will be closed until further notice. All mosque activities, including daily congregational prayers, are suspended while the mosques undergo deep cleaning. Friday prayers are suspended. This includes Masjid Temenggong. We can perform the Zuhur prayers in place of the Friday prayers.
While the mosques are being closed, one should also not be performing the Friday prayers at other places, even in an open field area. The reason for such a measure is to ensure that potential community spread among congregants can be prevented. As one can be infected through close contact for a certain period of time being together, mass prayer sessions could potentially be a source of community spread, and we do not want that to happen. Nauzubillah.
In Islam, the preservation of life forms part of the Objectives of Islamic Law (Maqasid al-Shariah). In the event of public health emergencies such as the spread of COVID-19, it is therefore important to ensure that our religious rituals preserve the higher objectives or intent of Islamic legal parlance.
The fatwa quoted a book by Imam Al-Nawawi in his book Raudah A-Talibin where he stated that “where there is a clash between a benefit (maslahah) and a harm (mafsadah), avoiding harm (mafsadah) is prioritized.” The fatwa also made a reference to a hadith where Rasulullah s.a.w. mentioned:
“Let there be no harm and no reciprocation of harm.”
(Hadith by Imam Ibn Majah)
In discussing harm, the fatwa also cited the Islamic legal maxim of ‘harm must be eliminated’. It also relied on the legal maxim of ‘hardship allows flexibility (and ease)’. According to the fatwa, “in Islam, any forms of hardship, even if it does not threaten lives, will allow for flexibilities in performing religious duties.” The fatwa added, “although the COVID-19 virus is not shown to affect the whole population of a country or certainly cause deaths to those infected, this disease is still considered an emergency as its implications are feared and causing anxiety within the society”.
Therefore, such measures are needed in light of the public health issue we are facing. There is a need that preventive measures against the spread of the virus be taken. This is highly important in Islam and in line with the notion of preserving one’s life.
The fatwa cited that Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. had instructed those who are well to not come into contact with those who have been afflicted by infectious disease. According to the fatwa, “this has been used as a basis by Muslim scholars to conclude that taking precautionary and preventive measures are better than having to seek cure or undergo treatment”. This is in line with the Islamic legal maxim of Sad al-Zara’i which entails blocking a lawful action because it could lead to unlawful actions.
As Muslims are not able to perform Friday prayers, Muslims can continue to perform the Zuhur prayers. Just like other Zuhur prayers, one can perform the four rakaat once the time of Zuhur has started. The duration is similar to any other days. Of course, it is preferred to pray as early as possible.
This position is in line with the concept of rukhsah or religious concession, available in our classical Fiqh. According to the fatwa, “there are many instances stated by religious scholars that allow individuals to be excused from performing Friday and congregational prayers.” The Fatwa made reference to Imam Al-Nawawi’s deliberations in his book al-Majmu’, where he cited that “Imam Syafi’i had the opinion that congregational prayers can become non-obligatory due to legal exceptions.” The fatwa added, “Imam Nawawi also mentioned that the same religious excuse which renders congregational prayers non-obligatory can also be applied for Friday prayers.”
There also various sunnah acts that can be performed as we continue to enliven the spirit of Friday - the best of days. Here is a short guide to Sunnah Acts on Friday from Muslim.Sg’s Facebook.
While the mosques remain closed, we can continue to perform our ibadah. We can use this moment to further strengthen our family ties. We can perform congregational prayers at home with our loved ones. We can also use this opportunity to get close to Allah s.w.t by reading the Quran, praying the sunnah prayers, making dua to Him such as duas for protection against harm and being up close and personal to our Creator.
The closure of our mosques in no way closes our doors to seek Allah’s blessings. In a Hadith Qudsi, Rasulullah s.a.w. mentioned that Allah s.w.t said,
“Whoever draws close to me by the length of a hand, I will draw close to him by the length of an arm. Whoever draws close to me by the length of an arm, I will draw close to him by the length of a fathom. Whoever comes to me walking, I will come to him running. Whoever meets me with enough sins to fill the earth, not associating any entity with me, I will meet him with as much forgiveness.”
(Hadith by Imam Muslim)
As for attending religious knowledge, we can attend online classes, lectures and programmes. We can use this moment to watch religious lectures on YouTube or Facebook with our loved ones. You may check them out at Muslim.SG YouTube for all the videos, and our Facebook. Our Asatizah will also be available on our Instagram. Do check out for updates at these platforms!
In summary, let us face this together, as one community, as one people. We are sad that our local mosques need to be closed. However, we cannot afford not to prevent community spread in our sacred places. Preservation of life is paramount in Islam. Prevention is better than cure.
Not because we are scared, but because we care. Not because we don’t have faith in God, but because of our deep faith in Him, we believe this is the responsible way to act.
May Allah s.w.t protect all of us from COVID-19. May He grant cure for those who are infected with this virus, May Allah s.w.t. allow our mosques to be open soon and open our hearts in facing these challenges together. May we get close to Him, and He is close to us, Amin ya rabbal alamin.
And Allah knows best.