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Tags: covid-19 | islam | reform

COVID Might Spur Needed Reforms in Islam

a small number of worshippers performing prayers
A few worshippers performing al-Fajr prayer at the Kaaba, Islam's holiest shrine, at the Grand Mosque complex in Saudi Arabia's holy city of Mecca. (AFP via Getty Images)

Micah Halpern By Friday, 31 July 2020 01:16 PM EDT Current | Bio | Archive

Eid al Adha is one of two most important holidays in Islam. The other is Eid al Fitr, But Eid al Adha takes precedence, it is actually the more important of the two.

Eid al Adha translates from Arabic as the Festival of the Sacrifice, it is found in the Koran in section 30, or Sura 30, lines 100 to 112. It is the parallel story of the Binding of Isaac from Genesis 22. This holiday is also known as Eid al Qurban. Qurban is a synonym for sacrifice. It began on July 31.

In the Koranic version of the story, Allah challenges Ibrahim’s faith and commands him to take Ishmael, his son, and offer him as a sacrifice. In the end, Allah intervenes and stops the sacrifice. and Ibrahim’s faith has been proven. The Koran’s rendition is a near exact replica of the story of Abraham and Isaac in the Bible.

At the end of the Koranic story, a sheep is replaced for Ishmael. In the Bible, a ram takes the place of Isaac.

Eid al Adha is as much a feast as it is a holiday. The feast is traditionally a four-day celebration of food and prayers with family. An entire sheep is slaughtered and prepared. Two thirds of the sheep is eaten by the family, the third share is gifted to the poor.

But we are not living in normal times. And many Islamic traditions, like almost all other traditions and behaviors, have had to shift and morph to accommodate COVID-19. This year, because of COVID coupled with a crippling financial crisis, the Islamic population on the West Bank has scaled down their celebrations.

The sale of animals has dropped more than 50% according to some slaughterhouses and animal sellers. Many families are abandoning the traditional sheep and instead, pooling their funds and buying a larger animal, such as a cow.

This year, at the same time that Eid al Adha is being celebrated, the Hajj is taking place in Mecca. The Hajj is an annual five-day pilgrimage to Mecca, which is located in Saudi Arabia. One of the five Pillars of Islam, it is a reenactment of Muhammed’s life and every Muslim hopes to make the pilgrimage once in their lifetime.

Mecca is a closed city that only Muslims may enter. About 2.5 million Muslims usually descend on Mecca during the Hajj. But, once again, nothing is usual in the year 2020. This year, in deference to COVID, Saudi leadership has limited the number or worshippers to a mere 1,000.

It was a very wise and cautious move. About 270,000 Saudis have Coronavirus. There have been 2,800 deaths. No one not already living or stationed in Saudi Arabia can be part of the chosen 1,000. No one from any other Middle East countries. No Muslims from any other country, like India, which usually sends 200,000 worshipers a year.

The Saudis also decided to issue every attendee a wristband with a GPS chip connected to their phones. The wristbands must be worn at all times so that the devotees are trackable at all times. Should someone fall ill, the tracker can identify all those who were close to him.

The Saudis also designed special colorful dress for attendees to don. The dresses are treated with Nano Silver to prevent contagion. They also drew lines on the ground, much like what you would see at an Olympic track meet and everyone must walk on the line. The Saudis also gave out special and colorful umbrellas which, when open, ensure that safe social distancing is maintained.

During their pilgrimage to the Hajj, Muslims circle the Kabba, the big black rock in Mecca, seven times, walking in a counterclockwise direction. They walk around and around and around gain, moving closer to the Kabba. This Hajj, each circle has its own colored umbrella and dress. It makes for a splendid and well-choreographed, even if extremely nontraditional, image.

Bending to the strictures of COVID again, no one over the age of 50 is permitted. Gone are the wheelchairs which permitted the elderly and the ill or infirm from fulfilling their lifelong dreams. This year, only those between the ages of 20 to 50 make the pilgrimage. And they are checked several times a day to make sure that they arrive healthy and remain healthy. After completing the five-day Hajj, pilgrims must quarantine for a week before returning to their homes.

The changes were made because they needed to be made. They were made because of COVID. But they were not made easily.

Change does not come quickly or easily in Islam. While these changes, or modifications, may only be temporary, the lesson we are learning from them should be long and lasting. When necessary, when prudent, when well-advised, Muslim religious leadership can break with tradition – and make significant adjustments to tradition.

Christianity had a reformation. Judaism had reformation. Islam did not. Islam never had a reformation. The significance of the reformations was that reforms were instituted. Their real essence was not theological, it was societal. The reforms allowed religious leadership to blend and integrate modern society and issues into long-held tradition.

This idea has very important ramifications for Islam as it faces challenges and confronts modernity. COVID, in a most ironic way, might just be the starting point for reform within Islam.

Micah Halpern is a political and foreign affairs commentator. He founded "The Micah Report" and hosts "Thinking Out Loud with Micah Halpern" a weekly TV program and "My Chopp" a daily radio spot. A dynamic speaker, he specializes in analyzing world events and evaluating their relevance and impact. Follow him on Twitter @MicahHalpern. Read Micah Halpern's Reports — More Here.

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Change does not come quickly or easily in Islam.
covid-19, islam, reform
Friday, 31 July 2020 01:16 PM
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