The Pandemic of Ignorance
When the government announced measures to control the spread of COVID-19 which include closing down mosques and banning congregational prayers, many had objected and refused to obey. As we see a steady increase in the number of cases and fatality everywhere in the world, people begin to realise the grave situation confronting us and that the government has been doing the right thing in the interest of the people. The objections thus receded. But elsewhwre in the world, many so-called ‘religious-minded’ people are still sceptical and refuse to obey their governments. Certain hardline preachers in Pakistan, for example, have urged the public to defy restrictions and gather in mosques. They even attacked police officers deployed to enforce the lockdown order.
Similarly in Indonesia, the government’s efforts to combat the virus have faced difficult challenges due to counterproductive attitudes exhibited by some religious communities. They have refused to obey the restriction order and continued to hold mass gatherings, believing that they will be protected from the virus and that they only fear God. The governments in both countries, however, are indecisive in dealing with religious groups who defy the threat of COVID-19 because of their strong influence in the society. But what kind of influence is exhibited by the communities? Obviously, certain groups are not promoting good influence, and what they are actually promoting is a misunderstanding of Islam, irrational thinking and behaviour, as well as rebellious attitude towards the authority. As a result, in the fight against the virus, the religious communities have become the most vulnerable to the virus transmission due to their obstinacy.
Such an attitude, however, is not peculiar only to the Muslim communities. Orthodox Jewish communities in New Yord, for example, continue to hold wedding ceremonies attended by hundreds of people despite the restriction order by the local government, while elsewhere thousands of Christians and Hindus also held religious gatherings believing that somehow they wiould not be affected by the virus. To some people, this is just another proof that religion is not only irrelevant but also dangerous for mankind.
Such a sweeping statement against religion is rather common today. However, it is a wrong and unfair statement to make. Religion must not be blamed for the foolish acts of the ignorant people, and as far as the Religion of Islam is concerned, it is founded upon knowledge and correct understanding, and faith, therefore, is not blind and irrational. Hence, those who claim that they do not fear the virus but only fear God do not understand their own words, and such a claim is not a pronouncement of their faith but of their ignorance. Obviously they do not realise the contradiction in their claim and their own act. If they still attend a mass gathering despite the restriction order, and as a result they get infected and later on unknowingly begin to transmit the virus to other people including their own families, they cannot rightly claim to be God-fearing persons because a truly God-fearing person would not do anything harmful to his self or to others. Such a person is not only a liar but also irresponsible, and therefore, cannot be considered religious.
According to Islam, religion is not only the performance of the prescribed rituals (called amal ibadat) but most importantly it has to founded upon true faith and pure intention which is only possible when the person is equipped with right knowledge and given proper education. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the underlying pandemic of ignorance and error in knowledge which have been inflicting the Muslim world for a long time, and yet this disease is far more dangerous that COVID-19 because even though it does not kill, it destroys mankind from within, and it is stealthy.