COVID-19 and Islamic Law Roundup

Countries and communities around the world are working to contain COVID-19 and mitigate its effects. The following digest represents a variety of sources in which law, particularly Islamic law, was invoked in the decision making process. All roundups can be found at this link.

“The sanctity of the dead body and the importance of religious burial is an integral component of religious practice for Muslims, as well as Jews. Cremation is forbidden in Islam and Judaism and therefore the possibility of forcing a cremation upon the loved ones of these communities would add further anguish and trauma to bereaved families, who themselves may be in self-isolation.”

  • A joint statement issued by the Islamic Medical Association of North America, American Muslim Health Professionals, Islamic Society of North America, and the Fiqh Council of North America recommends the suspension of daily congregational prayers, Sunday school, Jumuah prayers and other gatherings temporarily. The statement reads, “One’s personal desire to do obligatory prayers at the masjid (mosque) or fulfill other religious duties comes secondary to ensuring the common health of the larger community.”
  • Research institutions clarify their capacities at this time:
    • The Library of Congress, including its Manuscript Division, is closed until April 1, 2020.
    • The National Archives is closed, until further notice, 1) all research rooms nationwide, including those at Presidential Libraries, and 2) all museums, including those at Presidential Libraries. 
    • The Program in Islamic Law (PIL) at Harvard Law School, following Harvard University guidance, commits to live-streaming programming in lieu of in-person gatherings. PIL will continue their regular operations remotely, to the extent possible.
    • SHARIAsource, a project of the Program in Islamic Law, remains a digital resource providing comprehensive content and context on Islamic law, including both primary and secondary sources.
    • NYU’s Arabic Collections Online remains a publicly available digital library of public domain Arabic language content. ACO currently provides digital access to 12,795 volumes across 7,466 subjects drawn from rich Arabic collections of distinguished research libraries.
    • JSTOR expands its range of content available to institutions where students have been displaced due to COVID-19 through June 30, 2020. Many of JSTOR’s articles remain open to the public, regardless of institutional affiliation.
  • Mohammad Fadel, Professor at the Faculty of Law at the University of Toronto, shares an excerpt on plague from the newest translation of al-Muwaṭṭaʾ, the Royal Moroccan Edition; The Recension of Yaḥyā Ibn Yaḥyā al-Laythī, which he co-edited and translated:

“2566. According to Mālik, Ibn Shihāb reported from ʿAbd al-Ḥamīd b. ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. Zayd b. al-Khaṭṭāb, from ʿAbd Allāh b. ʿAbd Allāh b. al-Ḥārith b. Nawfal, from ʿAbd Allāh b. ʿAbbās, that ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb once set out for the Levant. When he reached Sargh, he met the commanding officers of his armies, Abū ʿUbayda b. al-Jarrāḥ and his fellow officers. They informed him of an epidemic that had struck the Levant. Ibn ʿAbbās said, “ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb said, ‘Summon the earliest Emigrants (muhājirūn) to meet with me.’ He summoned them so he could hear their advice, after informing them that an epidemic had struck the Levant. They disagreed among themselves about what to do. Some of them said, ‘You set out to achieve a goal, and we do not believe that you should abandon it.’ Others said, ‘The rest of the army and the Companions of the Messenger of God (pbuh) are in your care. We do not think it right that you should plunge them into the midst of an epidemic.’ ʿUmar said, ‘Leave me!’ He then said, ‘Summon the Medinese (anṣār) to meet with me.’ He summoned them so he could hear their advice, but they reacted in the same way as the Emigrants had. They disagreed among themselves, just as the Emigrants had done. ʿUmar said, ‘Leave me.’ He then said, ‘Summon whoever is present here of the senior Qurayshī statesmen of the Emigrants, those who were present at Mecca’s surrender.’ He summoned them, and they were unanimous. They said, ‘We think you should retreat and not plunge the army into the midst of an epidemic.’ ʿUmar then summoned all the men and said, ‘I shall certainly be departing in the morning, and so should you.’ Abū ʿUbayda retorted, ‘Are you fleeing from God’s decree?’ ʿUmar replied, ‘It is not fitting that someone like you should say something like this, Abū ʿUbayda! Yes, indeed, we are fleeing from God’s decree, but to nothing other than God’s decree. Is it not the case that if you had a herd of camels and brought them to a valley with two slopes, one fertile and the other barren, and grazed them in the fertile one, you would be doing so in accordance with God’s decree? Or if you pastured them on the barren slope instead, wouldn’t you also have done that in accordance with God’s decree?’ ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. ʿAwf, who had absented himself during this debate to attend to a personal matter, said, ‘I know a teaching of the Prophet (pbuh) that is relevant to this matter. I heard him say, “If you hear that the plague has struck a land, do not go there. But if it strikes a land where you are already present, stay and do not flee.”’ So ʿUmar praised God and left.”

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