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Coronavirus: Religious guidelines on safe worship and burial hope to save lives this Ramadan

New advice on how to adapt Islamic religious practices during the coronavirus crisis have been released ahead of the holy month of Ramadan by Islamic Relief, in a bid to stop the spread of the deadly virus in Muslim communities across the world.

Ramadan, expected to start on Thursday 23 April, is traditionally a time when communities and families come together but the threat of COVID-19 means that in many places, festivities will need to be adapted or cancelled.

“There has been much controversy and sometimes anger over the closure of mosques in the Muslim world, but this is based on misinformation and misunderstanding,”

says Atallah Fitzgibbon, Faith Partnership Advisor at Islamic Relief Worldwide.

“The guidelines provide clarity and religious justifications for altering behaviour for different aspects of religious practices that Muslims perform daily from congregational prayers at mosques to safe funeral and burial rites.

“The world learnt the hard way during the Ebola crisis that not talking to communities of faith costs lives. By making sure people have the information they need, we’re arming them with the skills they need to adapt practices and keep people safe from this deadly virus.”

The faith-sensitive guidelines, which complement medical facts, outline:

  • The religious justifications for mosque closures during times of crisis
  • The religious obligation (wajib) to self-isolate if one exhibits symptoms or is at risk
  • Safe adaptations to traditional Islamic burial practices – including the need for mass graves and the ability to use body bags instead of traditional burial shrouds – which will better protect frontline workers.
  • Best practices on providing spiritual counsel and consultation to loved ones of those who pass away from Covid-19.
  • Religious obligation to not spread misinformation or falsehoods

The guidance was 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.

It was also created in consultation with the World Health Organisation as well as international aid agencies which will distribute it to ensure it can support faith leaders, mosques, funeral workers, health professionals and chaplains as well as aid and community workers across the world.

“Health systems in the world’s richest countries have crumbled in the face of COVID-19. We have seen mass graves in New York to mass mourning across Europe where tens of thousands of families have not been able to say goodbye to their loved ones and more than 100 priests have died from the disease in Italy alone,” says Fitzgibbon.

“If this is happening in the US and Europe, the horror that would unfold if the virus took hold in horrifically over-crowded African cities or often squalid refugee camps across the Middle East, is beyond belief. Just one person can cause a severe outbreak in these fragile communities. With Ramadan around the corner, it is critical that people remain vigilant and safe. Unfortunately, this is not always happening.”

Haroon Altaf, Humanitarian Programme and Policy Manager at Islamic Relief Worldwide, said:

“For now, the virus has spared much of the Global South but the information we’re getting from many places is deeply worrying. In Somalia, the government has officially closed places of worship but despite this many stay open. In other communities we’re seeing mistrust of alcohol-based hand sanitiser, while in many places where we work a belief is being propagated that the faithful will be immune from the disease.

“This is not in line with Islamic teaching, which actually goes to extreme lengths to outline ways to keep safe at times of crisis like this. Islamic law, like humanitarian work, is based on the broader principle of ‘do no harm’ and protecting lives.”

Islamic Relief has launched a mass global coronavirus response, aiming to get $10 million USD worth of aid to at-risk communities in 20 countries in the coming weeks. Support includes the provision of PPE equipment like surgical masks and gloves as well as medical supplies like ventilators. It also includes widespread education programmes to inform people, including children, about the risks and the best hygiene practices.

“In many rural communities providing equipment is not enough and you need to marry this with broader awareness raising initiatives. Faith often needs to play a key role here and faith leaders of all religions are always on the front lines of crises. As our experience has shown time and again – not least during the Ebola crisis – engaging them early saves lives.”

Working with Christian Aid, Cafod and Tearfund, Islamic Relief is now hoping to build on the guidelines and create a body of inter-faith work and messaging that will ensure safe religious practices and messages can be spread to billions of people across the world.


Images from IR’s global corona response can be found here:

To arrange an interview please contact [email protected] / +447742404114 or [email protected] / +447760221890

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