This article published by The Conversation (April 2, 2020).
As the world faces the greatest disruption of our lifetimes, Muslims
throughout the world are also grappling with the repercussions of the
But the Islamic cultural, spiritual and theological dimensions offer Muslims myriad ways of coping.
Adapting to new social norms
Muslims have relatively large families and tend to maintain extended
family relations. Prophet Muhammad encouraged Muslims to keep strong
family ties. The Quran inspires Muslims to be generous to kin (16:90)
and treat the elderly with compassion (17:23).
These teachings have resulted in Muslims either living together as
large families or keeping regular weekly visits and gatherings of
extended family members. Many Muslims feel conflicted about the need to
apply social distancing on one hand and the need to be close to family
and relatives for comfort and support. Tighter restrictions on movement
in some parts of Australia (NSW and Victoria) mean Muslims, like
everyone else, are not allowed to visit extended family anymore.
One of the first changes brought about by social distancing has been
to the Muslim custom of shaking hands followed by hugging (same gender)
friends and acquaintances, especially in mosques and Muslim
organisations. After a week or two of hesitation in March, the hugging
completely stopped, making Muslims feel dismal.
Visiting the sick is considered a good deed in Islam. However, in the
case of COVID-19, such visits are not possible. Checking up on those
who are sick with phone calls, messages and social media is still
possible and encouraged.
Cleanliness is half of faith
One aspect of coronavirus prevention that comes very naturally to
Muslims is personal hygiene. Health organisations and experts promote personal hygiene to limit the spread of coronavirus, especially washing hands frequently for at least 20 seconds.
Islam has been encouraging personal hygiene for centuries. The Quran
instructs Muslims to keep their clothes clean in one of the earliest
revelations (74:4), remarking “God loves those who are clean” (2:222).
More than 14 centuries ago, Prophet Muhammad emphasised “cleanliness
is half of faith” and encouraged Muslims to wash their hands before and
after eating, bath at least once a week (and after marital relations),
brush their teeth daily, and to groom their nails and private parts.