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Muslim Clerics Guide How to Perform Key Rituals Amidst COVID-19 Pandemic

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Dr. Abdul Hafiz Walusumbi, the head of Sharia Department and Chairman of the Shura (consultative) Council at Islamic University in Uganda, says that while some of the rituals are key to the Islamic faith and may not be suspended completely, adhering to the professional health guidelines and authority is a religious duty of all believers.
Dr. Abdul Hafiz Walusumbi, head of Sharia and chairman of Shura council at Islamic University, explains how key rituals can be performed amid COVID19 risks

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Muslim clerics have explained how the faithful can safely perform several religious rituals without exposing themselves to COVID-19 infection. This comes at a time when many Muslims are wondering how they can perform prayers, burial and circumcision rituals among others without compromising their safety. 

Some of the Muslims have given up on some rituals while have insisted on performing them in disregard of the COVID-19 preventive measures. Dr. Abdul Hafiz Walusumbi, the head of Sharia Department and Chairman of the Shura (consultative) Council at Islamic University in Uganda, says that while some of the rituals are key to the Islamic faith and may not be suspended completely, adhering to the professional health guidelines and authority is a religious duty of all believers.

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Quoting scriptures and interpretations by various top Muslim scholars, Dr. Walusumbi says provided that something doesn’t change core Islamic principles, it can be subject to modification depending on the situation.  Despite this explanation, some Muslim faithfuls and selected clerics insist on operating normally. For instance, many Muslims are still congregating in mosques. 

Hamza Mutyaba is part of the group of Muslims congregating on the veranda at the mosque near the Kawaala-Nabweru intersection. According to Mutyaba, as a male he is obliged to perform his prayers in a congregation. “On top of being an obligation, Allah rewards anyone who congregates for prayers in a mosque 27 times compared to one doing it at home. Even each step one takes to the Mosque for prayers is rewarded. We can’t miss out on the rewards since we don’t know when our time of death will come,” says Mutyaba.  

Imam Ahmad Kyeyune, another Muslim cleric doesn’t dismiss the tradition quoted by Mutyaba. He however notes that it is taken out of context and inapplicable in such times.  He instead says that are many other traditions that guide faithfuls on what to do during pandemics, which are mandatory for every Muslim to follow.

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Sheikh Imran Ssali, the Secretary for Dawa at Uganda Muslim Supreme Council-UMSC and Deputy Imam of Gaddafi National Mosque, says that the scripture has clearly prescribed what should and shouldn’t be done during the times of epidemics such as COVID-19.  According to Sheikh Ssali, whoever contracts COVID-19 in congregational prayers and dies, is likened to someone who has committed suicide.

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Another contentious issue has been the conduct of burials during the pandemic. Islam requires that the bodies are washed, shrouded in pieces of cloth before the last funeral prayers are held for the deceased. The said rituals are primarily carried out by family members, close relatives or religious leaders. Dr. Walusumbi says that if health workers prove that the deceased’s body is contiguous, Islam permits those involved to limit contact by wearing protective gear or performing dry ablution.  

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Although there is still confusion as to how the bodies of COVID-19 victims should be buried, many Muslims still insist on burying their dead in disregard of the preventive measures.  Imam Kyeyune notes that amidst the confusion, they have advised Muslims to suspend the traditional practice of washing bodies as it is conducted in normal times.  

Sheikh Ssali notes that to rule out this confusion, UMSC is arranging a special meeting with Ministry of Health officials to discuss whether the bodies can be handled normally or not. He says that they will communicate to Muslims after the meeting if there is need to take extra precautions.

Sheikh Ssali also says that they will ask the Ministry of Health to train sheikhs on how to handle the bodies if need be. Besides purification, Islam teachings also encourage at least 40 people to perform funeral prayers for the deceased. However, this is twice the number set by the government to contain the spread of the pandemic.

Dr. Walusimbi says those who wish to pray for the deceased can do so wherever they are.  

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The clerics also, advise that non obligatory rituals also known as Sunnah that require interaction or physical contact are suspended.  For instance, Sheik Ssali points out Aqiqah, which requires the sacrifice of an animal for childbirth, saying this can wait until the situation normalizes.

Dr. Walusimbi says that in the case of Aqiqah, the parents can slaughter the animal in this case a goat for a girl child and two goats for a male child and share the meat with their immediate neighbours without congregating.    

Sheikh Ssali says UMSC has noted with concern that several sheikhs are misleading Muslims to act contrary to the COVID-19 preventive guidelines. According to him, some are doing it out because of misinterpreting scripture and need guidance while others are doing it for personal interests.  

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He adds that UMSC has launched a Programme of sensitising Muslims on how to do different things and avoid being misled.

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