New advice on how to adapt Islamic religious practices during the coronavirus crisis were released today by Islamic Relief Worldwide in a bit to stop the spread of the deadly virus in Muslim communities across the world.

Developed in partnership with the British Board of Scholars and Imams (BBSI), which represents the diverse make-up of the Sunni Muslim community, the Guidance on safe religious practice for Muslim communities during the coronavirus pandemic provides faith-sensitive advice for communities including faith leaders, mosques, funeral workers, health professionals and chaplains as well as aid workers across the Muslim world.

The guidelines include information such as: religious justifications for mosque closures during times of crisis; the religious obligation (wajib) to self-isolate if one exhibits symptoms or is at risk; and the safe adaptations to traditional Islamic burial practices that would better protect frontline workers. It also offers spiritual counsel and consultation to the loved ones of those who pass away from Covid-19.

“In times of crisis, religious practices can be adapted and we need to communicate this to keep people safe,” says Atallah Fitzgibbon, Faith Partnership Advisor at Islamic Relief Worldwide.

“Islamic law, like humanitarian work, is based on the broader principle of ‘do no harm.’

This guidance provides the basis within Islamic law and also medical understanding of the disease so far, for Muslim communities to adapt the guidelines to their particular context around the world.

“Islam is a practical religion that offers us different methods for dealing with different situations. The tools and information we need are there already but it is a matter of ensuring that people have the knowledge they need to fight misinformation and misunderstanding that costs lives.”

The guidance has been shared with and developed in consultation with the World Health Organisation as well as international aid agencies. It will be used by Islamic Relief teams across the world who will disseminate them to at-risk communities where they work.

“The Global South has bought itself time by introducing governmental action on social distancing, but if the coronavirus strikes there next, many poorer places or those affected by conflict will simply not be able to cope. This is why it is imperative that steps are taken now to educate people and put culturally and religiously sensitive preventative measures in place,” says Fitzgibbon.

“Building on lessons learnt during the Ebola crisis – where certain faith practices, like traditional burials – were exasperating the health crisis, we feel it is critical to issue guidelines on safe behaviours. This includes religious justifications for ending collective worship when it is not safe to do so, and also religious explanations on safe burial practices.

“We hope that by making it clear that we all have a collective responsibility to save lives, and outlining our primary obligations to protect the lives of those around us, the guidelines will give aid workers and communities of faith around the world the resources and clarity they need amidst this crisis. We also hope it will offer some spiritual consolation to those who may be unable to seek solace in religious practices in the usual way at this challenging time.”

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 For more information on the guidelines please contact atallah.fitzgibbon@irworldwide.org