*From the Scholars of Azzawia, Cape Town*
Over recent days and weeks, we have been following closely, with concern, the historic crisis facing our nation and our community, due to the international COVID-19 Corona virus pandemic. In this time of intense difficulty, out of an awareness of the responsibility that Azzawia has in South Africa, and more widely, we note our obligation to respond proactively to the situation, particularly against the background of recent advice given by the health industry, and the government directives issued on the 15th of March 2020.
Please note: this guidance may be found at Azzawia’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/…/a.10157743280…/10157743278656357/ and may be changed in accordance with changing circumstances. Always relate to the official Facebook page to confirm this advice – do *not* trust social media forwards without relating to the page or our official channels.
Our guidance to our congregation of Azzawia, of the wider Muslim community of Cape Town and South Africa, and our fellow South Africans of all faiths, emanates directly from a particular awareness. We are obliged to centre our awareness of the Divine, the Lord of all the Worlds, and that worldview informs our view on how to advise for their worldly desires, and their spiritual needs.
When it relates to those worldly concerns, we are first and foremost mindful of our commitments to the vulnerable in our community, particularly the elderly and those with health conditions. With that in mind, we firmly remind all: no-one should act as though they are invulnerable to this virus. Those that do not exhibit any symptoms may still be carriers without knowing it, and they may infect others who are deeply vulnerable.
As such, Azzawia stipulates the following, individually and for the community:
We must be aware of all relevant health guidelines pertaining to the limiting of the spread of this pandemic. We recommend following WHO guidelines in this regard (https://www.who.int/…/novel-coronavirus-2…/advice-for-public), which includes ‘social distancing’ and other medically recommended preventative measures.
Additionally, this means that while we continue to give greetings of peace, we should do so from a distance; no shaking of hands; nor hugging; in order to reduce the pandemic’s spread.
**Community Responsibilities in Azzawia: suspension of congregational prayer in Azzawia**
This was a difficult decision to come to. However, it has been made in light of:
– Government stipulations and restrictions due to the seriousness of the contagion crisis, and restrictions that are entirely in keeping with the Shari’a and aimed at protecting the population for its own safety;
– The possibility of acquiring the virus from various surfaces in the mosque, where it can thrive for some time;
– The likelihood of the virus unwittingly spreading due to congregational activities, and the difficulty of managing the attendance of 100 persons per institution;
– The reality that different senior scholars and ‘ulama around the world, including the Higher Council of Azhari Scholars in Cairo, have provided guidance that make it clear there is a precedence for suspending the jumu’a; (https://www.facebook.com/OfficialAzharEg/posts/3325171640830239?tn=K-R)
*We are hereby suspending, until further notice, the daily congregational prayers and Friday prayer (Salat al-Juma’) at Azzawia. For the same reasons, we have also taken the decision of moving our teaching commitments online.*
Indeed, more generally, we recommend that we all avoid congregating in significant numbers, especially in enclosed spaces of all kinds. This is especially the case for those who might already be showing symptoms; but even those who appear well, to avoid the risk of transmission as a carrier who does not show symptoms. Indeed, the recommendation to avoid congregating, for whatever reason, including prayer, may reach the level of becoming compulsory (wajib) owing to the risk of infecting others, or the risk of becoming seriously ill if infected, particularly if elderly, and so forth, depending on the person and the health situation involved.
To that end, and in light of guidance from senior religious scholars, we also note that, generally speaking, the normal obligation to perform Salat al-Juma’ is suspended, until further notice. As such, we recommend that people who wish to perform Salat al-Juma’ instead perform Salat al-Dhuhr in their homes.
As for the daily congregational prayers, we note that praying the daily prayers in congregation is normally a recommended action for individuals to do. They should be carried at home if possible, rather than in large groups at Azzawia or elsewhere. The praying of the daily prayers in congregation is also a communal obligation, which we regard as suspended in the current circumstances, although we may make arrangements to fulfil it with a bare minimum of a congregation internal to Azzawia. Do note: standing next to one another in the prayer is a recommended part of the group prayer, and is not a condition of the prayer. As such, it may be left without sin, especially in circumstances such as these.
The adhan will continue to be declared at Azzawia, with a change to the adhan, as stipulated in our tradition, calling people to pray in their homes.
[In due course, we will be releasing a more extensive explanation of the shari’i justifications and rationalisations of this document.]
**Community Responsibility outside of Azzawia**
In these difficult days, it is the responsibility of all of us to assist the vulnerable. In order to protect those at high risk from Coronavirus, we should be encouraged to stay at home as much as possible. We strongly recommend the following:
– We need to create a network of healthy volunteers ready to help others who might be in our need, such as the elderly, the poor or to ensure that those staying alone are safe.
– To use all our communication channels and social media platforms to help to donate to charities that can help those who may be suffering health-wise, or those who may be threatened in earning their livelihoods.
– Do not excessively hoard. We should not compromise others by hoarding to the point of denying others access to their basic necessities.
– We should engage in counselling and consoling those in our community who will be feeling under stress. We have to stay positive.
– We have to be very cautious about spreading unverified information on social media to our friends and family. There is much fake news going around via social media. We must only spread that which can be verified via a reliable website, rather than forwarding that which cannot be verified.
– If we are in business, we should not increase our prices to take advantage of the situation.
Have trust in the workings of the Lord of the Worlds, and recognise that He is the All-Merciful, the Healer, the Compassionate, the Bestower of Grace. Find in this time your capacity and ability to live those beautiful attributes; to discover the best of yourselves; and to let that realisation enlighten how you respond to these challenges, inwardly and outwardly.
Be a pillar of strength to yourself and to others, particularly those who are most vulnerable, most at risk, and most in need. This is a tribulation, but in all tribulations, there are opportunities for us to deepen our realisation of our true natures, and our innate potential to benefit others.
So, support each other – especially those among you who will be most impacted, and most vulnerable. Recall and remember that in all trials and tribulations, there will be opportunities for the believers to deepen their awareness of the Divine, and to gain nearness to God, the Almighty. May God bless all of us; protect our families; our communities; and our nation; and guide us and all Muslims and all humanity to that which is best and most pleasing to Him.
Shaykh Seraj Hendricks: Resident Shaykh, Azzawia Trust
Shaykh Ahmad Hendricks: Resident Shaykh, Azzawia Trust
Dr Hisham A. Hellyer: Senior Scholar, Azzawia Trust & Professorial Fellow, Cambridge Muslim College