Friday 24 April 2020

The Corona Fatwas (2): Theological & Juridical Considerations

As discussed in an earlier post on Corona Fatwas, Muslim religious scholars were quick to respond with legal opinions (fatwas), once the global dimensions of the Corona-Virus/Covid-19 pandemic became clear. Central to these pronouncements were the effects of social distancing, lockdown or quarantine measures on the communal aspects of Islamic religious practices. Most acute at the time of the eruption of the pandemic were the consequences for the weekly congregational noon prayers on Friday. But as the crisis continues, the questions also extend to the communal aspects during Ramadan, the annual month of fasting which commenced on 24 April, as well as the pilgrimage to Mecca, which is scheduled this year to take place in late July and early August.

The proclamation of these fatwas evinces the dialectical dynamics between politics and religion in the Muslim world: Governments seek religious sanction for the measures they impose on society in the face of this health crisis, while the (often state-sponsored) religious establishment of Islamic scholars and office holders derive authority and underscore their continuing relevance by making pronouncements on current affairs.

Square of Mecca's Grand Mosque lies deserted amids Corona-Virus pandemic fears

By way of update, here are some excerpts from a survey on the Qantara website, which gives an impression of the ongoing debates about the theological and juridical considerations in regards to the constraints on congregational prayers and other communal activities.

Given the swift and far-reaching reactions from Muslim scholars with regard to Friday prayers, it cannot be assumed that leading Saudi scholars would contradict the potential desire of the royal family to cancel this year’s hajj. In fact, in the almost global suspension of Friday prayers and other communal worship, we might see a kind of modern iǧmāʿ, a broad consensus from the legal scholars. 
The Islamic tradition has a few fitting precedents for taking drastic steps in the interest of infection control, including with regard to practicing the religion, which may go some way towards explaining the broad consensus. According to one story about the Prophet (ḥadīṯ), which is well-evidenced in the sources, Muhammad also called on believers not to travel to a country where the plague was known to have broken out, and not to leave their own country when there was an epidemic of this kind there. This early form of restriction on travel can serve as a present-day starting point for comprehensive preventative health measures.
Islamic Legal Maxims
Aside from the Higher Objectives of Islamic Law  (maqasid al-shari'a) mentioned in the previous post, also featuring prominently in the religious discussions that are taking place now are the so-called Legal Maxims (qawa'id fiqhiyya).
Islamic law also contains a few central legal maxims on which sweeping restrictions on individual and communal religious practices could be based. The starting point for these maxims is the legal proposition that counts as one of the five basic maxims that span all the legal schools: “Harm should be eliminated” (aḍ-ḍarar yuzāl)).
These maxims could serve to justify a potential short-notice cancellation of the upcoming hajj. In the first version, the harm would be the further spread of coronavirus and the resultant rapid increase of people falling ill with Covid-19 both during the pilgrimage and afterwards.

In opposition to this is the benefit to the individual pilgrims, who are fulfilling their religious duty through the hajj – and in this, according to many religious scholars, there is also a general benefit, since the annual hajj also serves a collective interest in the preservation of the religion.
In terms of the Higher Objectives (maqasid), this part of the debates points at an evaluation of the relative importance of protecting and preserving life and religion respectively.
Aside from theological-juridical considerations, the survey notes that  historical precedents too can be used to vindicate the possible drastic measure of cancelling this year's Hajj. As was also pointed out in the previous post, a hint in that direction was already given in a statement of the King Abdulaziz Foundation for Research and Archives (KAFRA), identifying no less than forty earlier instances of cancellations of the Hajj throughout history.

For the full article, click here


alta said...
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Muhammad Azwar said...
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