COVID-19 in the eyes of religious leaders

No one knows exactly how it came, but here is a pandemic that swiftly crept into our midst and are beginning to play havoc with the national economy of nations, here is COVID-19 that has infiltrated how we practice religion. At first, people may have been skeptical about the severity of the outbreak, but at this point, here is the critical moment to curtail the deadly disease. There are at least thirty confirmed cases of COVID-19  in Nigeria  as at March 23 and it’s a wake-up call for religious worshippers to align with the government agencies.

In early March, in some cities in the United States- New York City, Seattle and Washington, D.C. some religious centers felt the scourge is not significant enough not to get close to each other — from sharing communion to kissing the Torah — giving the virus an opportunity to infect more people. And within a short period, an Episcopal rector became the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Washington, D.C. — after he participated in services with about 550 people, shaking hands and distributing communion to congregants at Grace Church in Georgetown, today, the church is now closed until further notice.

In Nigeria, the epidemic is having a major impact on churches holding restricted-series of services, showers of prayers pouring down, speaking in tongue cascade down from heaven like a parachute, holding hands, hugging, and close chatting becomes an aberration. The common thing we are witnessing are religious groups cancelling in-person services in favor of live-streaming, two meters distance arrangements of seats and making adjustments to longstanding traditions in order to help prevent and contain the spread of this coronavirus. The clergy no longer tell congregation to shake hands but to smile at one another at arm’s length- CO RO NA! 

Bashir bin Hassan, a controversial Salafist cleric in Tunisia, posted on his Facebook account that has 500,000 followers, that the Chinese are being punished by Allah because of the siege that they have set against the Uighur Muslims. According to the radical cleric, Allah has many soldiers, some angels and some viruses. He further remarked that just as Allah drowned Pharaoh’s soldier in the sea, he is similarly granting victory to the Uighurs.  

Kuwaiti Cleric Othman Al-Khamis stated in a sermon on his YouTube channel that this isn’t the first time that Allah sends his wrath to the world. He sent the small mosquito to kill Nimrod. He also sent the 10 plagues to punish the Egyptians. The current coronavirus is yet another message from Allah to warn humanity. The only solution in his eyes is to return to him and to follow his way, only then will the virus disappear.

There is no doubt that we all have fundamental right to express our opinion but some unscrupulous religious leaders and individuals are exploiting the precarious situation to incite their followers and the public in general.

There are lessons we can learn from flu pandemic that can be applied to the current situation including how religious gatherings function and support each other without worshipping together in the same building.

The congregational Friday Jumah prayers in Lagos witnessed a low turn as most mosques obeyed the directives of the Lagos state government. In most churches on March 22 in Lagos services were held in stratum to avoid physical contact, handshake, hugging and to follow government’s directives.  

Religious leaders should be prudent, cautious and institute precautions that will serve as preventative steps to help our faith and not apply the doctrine of hocus-pocus.

Olusanya Anjorin, Lagos; [email protected]

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