COVID-19: This is the first time I would miss Juma’at service, says 110-year-old Ondo Muslim leader
•Muslim leaders speak on pains of lockdown
“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.” This quote is from Karl Marx. The German philosopher was said to be making a structural-functionalist argument about religion and particularly about organised religion when he made the timeless statement.
Marx, it is said, believed that religion had certain practical functions in society that were similar to the function of opium in a sick or injured person: it reduced people’s immediate suffering and provided them with pleasant illusions which gave them the strength to carry on. Perhaps the attitude of the religious-minded in Nigeria, particularly, Muslims and Christians, is a testament to this statement. And if the statement is anything to go by, these are definitely not the best of times for this section of Nigerians.
The spiritual life of Muslims and Christians has been hit hard in the face of the government’s crackdown on the coronavirus pandemic in Nigeria. For the time being, there are no more church services on Sundays, just as Muslims have since ceased to gather for their Friday prayers. Most neighbourhood mosques have equally been deserted.
Some Muslim leaders speak to SAHEED SALAWU on how they and their followers have been coping with the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic. Their responses are as follow:
This is the first time I have missed a Juma’at service -110-year-old Ondo Muslim leader
The father of the National Organising Secretary of Ansar-Ud-Deen Society of Nigeria, Alhaji Aderibigbe Kilani Balogun, is the oldest Muslim in Afin Akoko, Ondo State, he is 110 years old. He said this was the first time ever that he would miss a Jum’at service. However, he said he knew that the government’s heart was in the right place at this time in banning all religious gatherings. The Muslim leader assured Muslims that their private prayers in their homes would be accepted by Allah.
Alhaji Ishaq Kunle Sanni, chairman, Muslim Community of Oyo State: “From the little one can see, because everybody is staying at home, in my own area, and from all the information at my disposal, Muslims are complying with the directives of the government. This is because Islam is a way of life. There is nothing that has happened, that is happening and will happen that is not accommodated in the Sharia. Plagues happened in the time of the Prophet and the Prophet told the people to keep distance from one another.
“In the time of Imam Malik (an Arab Muslim jurist and premier scholar of prophetic traditions), the mosque was closed for 12 years because there was a kind of epidemic like this. Sp, you cannot be holier than the Prophet, his Apostles and the imams that succeeded them.
“What we know in Islam is that if you intended to do a good thing and you were unable to do that good thing, Allah would deem you as having done it and reward you accordingly. You have always prayed in the mosque five times a day with the jama’a but because of certain peculiarities you can’t go to the mosque, you will still get the same amount of blessing. The Qur’an says, ‘obey Allah, the Prophet and those who are charged with authority over you. So, Allah has spoken, the Prophet has spoken and those in authority say stay at home. If you disobey, even if nothing happens to you, you have disobeyed God. A month ago, the president or the governors did not tell anybody not to go to the mosque, because that would be against the constitution, your right to freedom of religion or association. But this is something that is global. It is a peculiar situation and any reasonable Muslim would know that it is not because the governor of Oyo State or the governor of Osun State or the governor of Rivers State or the governor Kano State hates Islam. It is not against the Muslims alone. It is comprehensive; it is general. So, it is very easy to convince a Muslim. The imams know the antecedents; that things like this happened in the time of the Prophet and after the time of the Prophet, and what our governors have done is exactly what the Prophet did.
“The Prophet said, if there is an epidemic in a town, the people in that town should not go out and those outside should not enter that town. We have all these things in Islamic history. There is not a reasonable Muslim who would find fault with what the authorities have done except people who want to be overzealous, who may know the truth but want to do something different.
“We have gone round. We have issued statements and talked to the imams and so on. There was supposed to be a special prayer by the chief imam [of Ibadan] last week but he cancelled it, and he issued a statement that all mosques should be closed.
“As I am talking to you now, at the central mosque of Bodija, there are about four of us here talking to each other from a distance, brainstorming on how to get round to our people, you know, even to provide little things to make them comfortable. We are not up to 10 because we have to obey the law of the land. You are not a good Muslim unless you obey the law of the land. Under normal circumstances, you find about 60 people but the place has been closed down. We pray that by the grace of God, this thing will end soon.
“If some people don’t understand, these government directives are in our interest because it is when you are alive that you can worship God. And somebody who worships for 10 years, you cannot compare him with somebody who worships for 50 years in terms of the benefits they are going to get from Almighty Allah. So, it is better to play safe, worship God for so many years so that you can get a lot of barakah (blessings) on the Day of Judgment. ‘I must enter the mosque’; ‘I must pray Juma’at’; ‘I must pray in congregation’. Why? The situation on the ground does not allow for it, and then obedience to the authorities is obedience to God, according to the Islamic principle and jurisprudence.
“Apart from the government directives, the generalissimo and supreme leader of the Muslim Ummah in Nigeria, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, after due consultations with the fatwa committee of the Supreme Council For Islamic Affairs, directed that all mosques be closed until the pandemic subsides.”
Dr Bashir Olanrewaju, Oyo State Missioner, Ansaruddeen Society of Nigeria: “So far, the Muslim community in Oyo State has been able to comply with the government’s stay-at-home directive. My followers are no exemption. All mosques have since been shut down completely. There have been no Jum’ah prayers and daily congregational prayers in all our mosques throughout Oyo State as we have been able to monitor them.
“We have been able to cope with the COVID-19 challenges with prayers, endurance and strict observance of the medical tips provided for the prevention of the deadly disease. We have also made efforts to disabuse the ignorant minds of some of our people concerning the reality of coronavirus, especially those who believe it to be a myth.
“One of the main conditions for congregational prayers in Islam is to stand in rows shoulders to shoulders and toes to toes, but due to the ongoing pandemic and as a result of the distancing regulation, this has become unsuitable for now. Muslims have to comply because the basic intention of sharia (maqasidush shari’ah) is to protect lives, promote human health and protect wealth and mental well-being of not only the Muslims but the entire human race.”
NACOMYO secretary general and Chief Imam Alhaja Wasilat Aduke Alli central mosque, Ifeoluwatedo new Ife road ibadan, Alhaji Mas’ud Akintola: “The level of compliance is very high, especially in this part of the country since the leadership of the Ummah had spoken. Congregational prayers have stopped since about two weeks ago and the awareness about the virus is increasing daily
“The position of Islam in respect of epidemic or pandemic is very clear: those affected should be isolated, while those not affected should not mingle with the affected. Hence we are able to cope.
“The congregational daily prayers have been suspended at the respective mosques and members of the ummah have been praying at home since the restrictions started. At the NACOMYO level, we have suspended all our activities until further notice. We were supposed to have a da’wah retreat this month. This and others have been suspended. We also asked our members to comply with the advice of healthcare professionals in combating the scourge.
“At Alhaja Wasilat Aduke Alli Central Mosque, Ifeoluwatedo, New Ife Road, Ibadan, where I am the chief imam, Jum’ah and daily prayers have been suspended.”
Former president of the National Council of Muslim Youth Organisations (NACOMYO) and current Ogun State coordinator of the Muslim Media Watch Group of Nigeria (MMWG), Alhaji Kamal’deen Akintunde: “First and foremost, the present experience occasioned by efforts of government (and stakeholders) geared towards curtailing the coronavirus that is ravaging the world constitutes an impediment to human activities, especially in terms of economic survival and seeking the favours of Allah for the attainment of human purpose in life. It constitutes an affront on religious right and freedom.
“But since the government has a responsibility to do and means well for all and sundry, the stay-at-home order could be said to be in the overall best interest and at attainment of individual and collective goal.
“However, it is unfortunate that a section of Nigerians, including the religious-minded, are indifferent to that government’s directive banning religious gatherings, including Friday prayers, which have been proved to promote the transmission of the pandemic.
“It is the belief of some Muslims that the mosque is a sanctuary, a place of refuge and worship which offers opportunity to cry to the Creator of the earth and the heavens to rescue the troubled world from the seeming incurable epidemic that has brought the whole world to near standstill due to the lockdown, a result-yielding measure at containing the spread of the disease. Compliance with the order thus becomes strange to such people and sects or groups who hold such sentiment and they are reluctant to abide. But such divine favour seekers have forgotten the prophetic tradition that the desire to worship should be devoid of safety.
“Enforcement of the order by government has, therefore, become expedient and a must adhere to by the citizens since it is targeted at saving lives. More so that it often said that ‘there is nothing in this world that is not health-related’. It requires being in a good state of health and safety to worship your God.
“No doubt, it has been pretty challenging to cope with the constraints posed by the pandemic, especially the precautionary measures that have undermined group or cluster activities, socio-communal, religious interactions and economic well-being. The well-intended directive by government has put a stop to group observance of the five daily prayers and even ordinary handshake.
“Since the present experience is for a limited time, aimed at checking the spread or occurrence of coronavirus, Nigerians and Muslim faithful must show understanding with the government and imbibe practices and behaviours that will ward off diseases, promote health and prolong life.
“This order, checking people’s activities that will not put them at the risk of contracting the disease has made them not to be enthusiastic in group or congregational observance of the five daily prayers in mosques, more so that they must maintain the socio and physical distancing rule which contravenes the Islamic norm of shoulder-to-shoulder standing position and group-rendered supplications.”
Alhaji Ibrahim Kilani is the National Organising Secretary of Ansar-Ud-Deen Society of Nigeria. He disclosed that immediately the government gave the directive, the national president of the organisation, Dr Ademola Sanni, sent a circular to branches nationwide to suspend all activities, including the Jum’ah service and the weekly asalatu.
According to Alhaji Kilani, in compliance with the directive of the Ondo State government and Muslim leaders, all central mosques in the state have been closed for the weekly Jum’ah, a development which is unprecedented in the history of Islam in Akoko land. He added that central mosques in places like Ikare, Afin, Oka, Akungba, Oyin Arigidi and Ogbagi are currently under lock.
“However, the compliance might not go well with many Muslims because the importance Muslims attached to weekly Jummah service. At Ikare Akoko Central Mosque which has the largest congregation in Akoko land was locked from the gate. Only the security men are around the mosque.
“I hereby call on Muslims to embark on fervent prayers in their various homes as this is acceptable in our current situation. This is a period of emergency that calls for great understanding. Many of the containment measures being taken by the governments might look like infringement on our religious right but they are only temporary,” he said.