National Lockdown: To Close or Not to Close, That is the Question
The Story of Banu Quraizah
In the famous story of Banu Quraizah, the Prophet(s) ordered the Companions not to pray Asr prayer until they reached a place called Banu Quraizah.
Some of the Companions took a literal understanding of his command and delayed the Asr till sunset, until they arrived at Banu Quraizah, whilst others stopped to pray on the way claiming that the intent of the statement was to hurry and not to delay the prayer.
When the Prophet(s) heard about this difference amongst the Companions, he did not censure either party; both parties had acted in good faith to do the right thing.
To Close or Not to Close
Opening or closing a masjid during a national lockdown is never going to be an easy decision. Obviously, there is no hadith regarding opening or closing a masjid during a lockdown, however there are some parallels with the story of Banu Quraizah as to how we as human beings interpret guidance given to us.
Some will focus on the letter of the text, the Literalists, whilst others will look to understand the spirit of the text, the Pragmatists. Let us look at a portrait of each of these animals, one by one.
The Literalist will use a magnifying glass to look for a clause in scant government guidance to justify keeping the masjid open, totally detached from the reality unfolding in intensive care units and graveyards up and down the country. He will claim an undying love for the masjid as the mainstay in his emotional argument to keep the doors open.
As far as he's concerned, it's business as usual and we should depend on Allah. What's all the fuss about, he says. The vaccine is here! He will keep his children off school, but be happy to send them to Friday prayers. As far as he's concerned it's someone else's problem.
The Pragmatist will look at the overall picture of what is actually happening and understand that we as a community have a role to play in this national crisis. He will feel the national spirit in the prime minster's address tonight. He will dutifully carry with him a mask wherever he goes and encourage others to do the same.
He does not carry the immigrant mentality of an outsider. He tries to do the right thing and does not justify his position based on hastily written government guidance (which could never have foreseen every situation on the ground).
He values the prayer in the masjid, but at the same time understands that Islam has the flexibility to accommodate a temporary suspension of religious services for the greater good.
Some Personal Thoughts....
1. Each masjid management should have the right to make their own judgement (ijtihad) in this matter, without fear of reproach from their congregation. So long as all factors have been given adequate consideration, then the decision they have arrived at is the right one for them. Reflect on the story of Banu Quraizah.
Just because other masjids are opening their doors does not make it right to follow suit (or vice versa). It's good to act in sync with other centres, wherever possible, in the interests of pan-masjid unity, but there is also the wider national unity to be considered.
2. The masjid management should have on board the right calibre of thinkers who can navigate crises of this type and show the required leadership; not just to blindly follow the man next door.
3. Let's be honest, many in the community have given pure lip service to the national effort in combating the spread of the virus. I don't have to give examples....you know what I'm talking about. And if you say you don't, who are you kidding?
Those choosing to remain open have to ask themselves, do they really believe what they are doing is the right thing to do? (Just because you checked someone's temperature at the door or enforced wearing of masks doesn't mean you actually bought into the national effort.) If the answer is yes, then there should be no issue.
4. Congregations should be patient with the decisions taken by their local masjid management.
I have been involved in Islamic community work for over thirty years. I don't claim to know everything, but what I do know is that the vast majority of decisions in the way Islamic projects are run are matters of discretion and not linked to a religious text.
Give the management the benefit of the doubt. Don't be of those who sow the seeds of doubt and confusion in times of crises. It doesn't help anyone and may even be sinful. Things are not always black and white.
Inshallah, the management is acting in the best interests of the community, even though you may see otherwise. The buck stops with them in this world and the hereafter for the decisions they take, so let the matter end there.
These are difficult times which require patience and understanding. We should remain united as brothers and sisters and not have bad thoughts of the masjid management, regardless of what they have decided. They are trying to do the right thing in testing times, often under pressure and with limited information.
If you were sitting in their position, you may well have made the same decision; believe me it's a totally different vantage point.
And Allah knows best.