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How pandemic has altered Muslims daily call to prayer

By Ishaq Jumbe and David Ochami | April 8th 2020
A Muslim prays outside Jamia Mosque in Nairobi on March 21. The mosque has been closed due to the outbreak of coronavirus in Kenya. [Edward Kiplimo, Standard ]

Long before police began storming churches to flush out worshipers in the wake of coronavirus, Muslims had already heeded the call to stay home.

Yet the Muslim call to prayer or the Adhan faithfully rings out from the majestic towers of the mosques daily.

So what did the Muslims do right to still faithfully pray without congregating, and in so doing make an invaluable contribution in preventing the spread of Covid-19?

This is what they did: Observant Muslims and non-Muslims have noted the slight but significant alteration of the Muslim call to prayer or Adhan.

The adhan, recited by the muezzin or muadhin (caller to prayer), traditionally from the mosque’s towers, summons Muslims to the five obligatory prayers (salat).

Recited five times a day, the adhan serves as a brief summary of the Islamic faith whilst urging faithful to congregate for prayers, mostly, in the mosque.

Traditionally salat or swalat in the mosque is obligatory for adult males. But Prophet Mohamed advised that women who wish to participate in congregational prayers should not be denied the chance.

But in line with government directives on combating coronavirus and advice by Muslim leaders and scholars, Muslims found a unique way of still praying together without congregating in mosques.

Like other aspects of Muslim prayer, the adhan has undergone some slight change to accommodate changed circumstances, and Muslims are no longer urged or obligated to congregate for prayers in mosques.

As soon as coronavirus was reported in Kenya, Islamic leaders and scholars immediately searched and found jurisprudence for not congregating, derived from the Koran, which is the primary source, and hadith (the recorded words and actions of Prophet Mohamed).

They found that this accommodates slight but lifesaving changes to the adhan, thus addressing the anxieties of Muslims who may have felt like they are descending into sin for not congregating in mosques.

Additionally, this jurisprudence was derived from the experience of early Muslims and the Prophet when they encountered circumstances like extreme weather and disease that would hinder them from performing the obligatory salat.

In brief, the muezzin recites that Arabic words hayya ‘ala salah (hasten to the prayer), hayya ‘ala falah (hasten to the salvation).

In the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak, the doctrine of necessity, which is permissible in Islam has compelled a slight rendition of the adhan.

In addition to or replacement hayya ‘ala salah, and hayya ‘ala falah, the muezzin nowadays chants- “As salat fi buyutikum” which in Arabic means “pray in your homes.”

In Coast and across the world, Muslims are answering the call to prayer from their homes.

According to Sheikh Hassan Omar, the national treasurer of the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya, Muslims have, historically, since the day of Prophet Mohamed, been advised to pray from home in times of danger or during any other calamity that requires people to seek safety at home.

The Friday sermon is an opportunity to advise the faithful on current affairs, which would have been the ideal platform to sensitise the public against the pandemic.

Besides, Muslims observe ritual purification or wudhu using water before engaging in prayer. This involves washing of hands, mouth, feet, face and ears which in themselves are touted as among the best practices against the spread of the disease.

Situations that require quarantine are not new in Islam. One hadith states that Khalifa Umar, a close companion of Prophet Mohamed, was on an excursion when he and his companions came across a town whose citizens were suffering from a contagious disease.

He asked his companions on their opinion on whether to proceed or head back to Madina.

A few said they should proceed, others advising that they turn back.

One companion, however, narrated that he had overheard the Prophet say, “If you hear a contagious disease exists in a country, do not travel there,” he reported.

Khalifa Umar ordered that they return to Madina on the strength of that hadith whereupon one of the companions asked him: “Are you running away from the qadar (predestination) of Alah ya amiirul Muumineen (leader of the faithful)?”

To which Umar replied, “Rather we are moving away from one qadar to another.”

Another hadith states that Abdul Rahman bin Awf, who was also a companion of the Prophet, narrated that he heard the Prophet say: “If you hear of a plague in a land, do not go there, and if it breaks out in a land where you may be, do not leave.”

But Prophet Mohamed did not give all his followers a carte blanche to do as they wished.

One hadith says a blind person went to the prophet and told him there was no one to guide him to the mosque. He asked the Prophet whether for those reasons he could be exempted from swalah. The prophet initially agreed, but after angel Jibreel (Gabriel) immediately spoke to him on the matter, he called the blind man and told him, “Do you hear the adhan?”

The man said he did. The prophet then said to him, “If you hear the call, answer it by going to the mosque.”

It is reported that Prophet Mohamed never missed a single congregational prayer.

But coronavirus and the doctrine of necessity meant that all this had to change.

Ishaq is a Muslim and journalist. Ochami is a journalist who has studied Islamic jurisprudence.

Covid 19 Time Series


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