In this difficult time, we caught up with Dr. Talib Shareef of Masjid Muhammad, Imam of the oldest established Muslim community in the United States, to discuss faith and COVID-19. He shared these insights with us:
1) During this holy month, how can I remain connected to my faith community, family, and friends, while observing best health practices? There are several means with some of the most effective being use of the technology that Allah (swt) has cause to come out of the scientific and creative mind He has evolved. Some ways include, a) Telephone: using text, audio and/or video (FaceTime), e-mail, social media, etc, as applicable, to stay in touch with family, friends, and community. Some are turning on the speaker to hear and using it to pray together from a distance; have ta’leem (educational), halaqa (faith discussions) and daily Qur’anic reading sessions together. b) Computer: using text (chat), audio and or video for some of the same purposes as the telephone, including for live-streaming and or archiving of Jumu’ah (Friday) Prayer. You can break fast (have iftar) together while engaged in social distancing. c) Walk/Drive-by pick up iftar meals. All can and should perform the optional voluntary Taraweeh (Special Spiritual night prayers), that would normally be held at the masjid, individually at home. However, the head of the household may lead the prayers for his family either by reciting verses memorized from or reading directly from the Quran.
2) What is the biggest challenge you face as an Imam during the COVID-19 epidemic? There are several. The biggest challenge is being responsive to the needs of the community while staying safe; also collecting zakat and charitable donations during reduced physical traffic. Convincing Muslims to take COVID-19 seriously, and that all collective ritual observances can be done privately though not preferred but is permissible and legal in Islam. Sura 2:177 Allah (swt) explains that Righteous in Islam is not about people who just practice some kind of spiritual or ritual disciplines to get close to G-d but rather it’s about Caring for people in our society, wanting to take misery out of the society. Wanting to bring help to the people who want help, wanting to assist those who are weak and can’t manage for themselves, this is our righteousness and that’s the righteousness of all the Prophets.
3) What are some practical tips for maintaining social distance when communities and families often share close space? It is an imperative to wear mask, avoid touching and, shaking hands, etc; washing hands often as the religion already teaches, sanitizing the spaces often as best you can with wipes, spray, washing, etc., keeping appropriate distance (6 of more feet) between each other; even SMALL groups can pray together observing distance requires.
4) What is your biggest hope for this Ramadan season? The biggest hope is to complete the fast, having read the entire Holy Qur’an, and have sustained the safety, health, and well-being of the community members.
5) Do you have any other wisdom or advice to share from the United States, which felt the impact of COVID-19 earlier than Chad?
Every day we open our eyes we say Allahu Akbar. This COVID-19 is an equal opportunity life changing pandemic. We are with our Muslim Community in Chad. Let them know our souls connect as we attempt to be a part of the Universal Community of Prophet Mohammed (SAW). The key for us to remember is that the Help of Allah is always near. After difficulty comes ease. What do we do in the meantime? Continue to be strong in faith, true in deeds and hold to the bonds of family and community life. Persevere in patience and complete the fast as best we can. All matters are judged by intent.
This virus is not racist, although racial disparities have been evident in some of the data collected. This virus is not a culturist, although marginalized populations who live with poverty, are under resourced, experiencing health inequities and other burdens will undoubtedly suffer more doing this pandemic. This virus is not a nationalist, although some nations are hit harder than others, it affects all. These are trying times, but we’ve been presented with challenges throughout history and like everything else, they are temporary. We have and will, with Almighty G-d’s help, overcome. As mentioned in a previous statement, the more the soul is challenged the more the good potential in the soul is brought out as we endure and turn towards each other in the spirit of universal kinship. For our human souls are not black, white, red, etc., not ethnic, not national, etc., but human
We’d like to express our gratitude to all who are contributing to the solution and not the problem by cooperating and adhering to the cleanliness, distancing, and self-quarantine guidance presented by our health experts. We look forward to a successful, dignified and blessed experience. We extend our best regards to everyone for a blessed Ramadan and a blessed and joyful Eid.
Sura (Chapter) 103 perhaps does a good inclusive comment in the finality of things but there are numerous statements in the Qur’an that can be referenced.