COVID-19 is doing its part for mankind to expose religious fundamentalism and fanaticism like never before. There have been multiple instances, where, people belonging to Abrahamic faiths like Islam and Christianity underestimated the potential of the raging pandemic, and paid for the same with their lives, after of course, endangering the lives of others.
The fundamental argument of people who have been overestimating their frivolous, and some would say even individually fraudulent faith, is that “God and prayer is bigger than the virus”. Now while this is a debatable proposition, one we cannot afford to indulge in right now, it is nevertheless amply clear that the same is an ignorant and arrogant way of looking at things.
In this piece, we talk about how the religious faith and orthodoxy of some has resulted in devastation for large swathes of population.
Beginning of course, with the infamous Tablighi Jamaat, which has emerged as the epicentre of COVID-19 in Southeast Asia. The fateful four-day Muslim gathering at the Sri Petaling Mosque in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, was attended by 16,000 people including 1,500 foreigners, from February 27th to March 1st. The attendees then flew all across the region, spreading the disease like wildfire.
In the month of March, a Tablighi Jamaat congregation was attended by over 8000 people at the Nizamuddin Markaz. This congregation spelled a disaster for India’s fight against COVID-19, just when we were on the path to flatten the curve. Many foreign nationals who attended the religious gathering, among other Indians, have tested positive for COVID-19 and nearly 22,000 Tablighi Jamaat members and their contacts have been quarantined across the country so far.
In Pakistan, meanwhile, the Islamist clerics are giving an equally Islamist administration a run for their lives. Mosque officials are said to be ‘revisiting’ their decision to support the government’s fight against COVID-19.
Clerics have shown their anger over an incident which took place on Friday in Frontier Colony of Karachi, when Sharafat Khan, a woman SHO of the Pirabad police station, tried to prevent worshippers from entering the mosque. Khan was injured in an attack by a group of worshippers. Ever since, there have been demands by clerics to have the SHO removed, apart from veiled threats to the administration that they would no longer oblige to the cessation of Friday prayers. With Ramzan around the corner, these Islamists have just been given an excuse to do all they can for Friday prayers to resume.
In Iran, people from the Muslim community were licking and kissing Shi’ite shrines, claiming that since these are places of healing, they cannot contract the virus. By doing so while taking a video of himself, a man encouraged all Muslims to do the same. The man was later arrested by authorities. Interestingly, the cleric who had called for such behaviour has also died of the Chinese virus.
In India, Tik Tok videos are being made which show Muslims placing sunnat and ‘Islam’ above public health. And they are doing so with a sense of heroism, for sadistic reasons best known to them. Only few days ago, a boy from Madhya Pradesh’s Sagar district, who had dismissed the importance of masks by saying that he trusts the almighty, had tested positive for COVID-19.
Meanwhile, Christian fundamentalists too are giving stiff competition to their Muslim counterparts. In the USA, Florida, an Evangelical pastor by the name Rodney Howard-Browne, from the River of Tampa Bay Church mocked the “pansies” who are scared of the coronavirus — as he insisted his packed church will only shut its doors “when the Rapture is taking place.” “If you cannot be saved in the church, you are in serious trouble,” the pastor was heard saying as he encouraged congregants to hug in defiance of health warnings.
At the River of Grace Community Church in Gyeonggi Province, near Seoul, an official used the same saltwater spray bottle on multiple church-goers without disinfecting the nozzle, causing a large number of the 100 or so attendees to be infected, including the church’s pastor and his wife. The church was consequently closed and all its believers who attended the prayer sessions were tested.
A Pastor from Virginia in United States, belonging to the New Deliverance Evangelistic Church in Richmond said that he will keep the church open unless he is in jail or the hospital. He basically refused to shut down the Church prayers due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “I am essential…I firmly believe that God is larger than this dreaded virus. You can quote me on that…I am a preacher, I talk to God”, the pastor, Bishop Gerald O was quoted as saying. Interestingly, he was tested positive for COVID-19 and is now dead.
An evangelical congregation in France, held at the Christian Open Door church in Mulhouse has contributed over 2,500 cases, as the event proved to be the France’s biggest COVID-19 cluster. At the time of the event, France had reported a meagre 12 positive cases, which shot up in a matter of days due to the event.
It was important to mention all these cases in an article, to highlight how religious fundamentalism threatens our lives just as much as COVID-19. Senior clerics and priests being dismissive about the disease, and continuing to behave as though everything is normal is a behaviour typical of an unscientific and irrational mind-set.
Yet, COVID-19 is debunking myths spread in the name of God. People are able to see the bare truth, which is that flamboyant claims made by religious heads are nothing but lies. A virus does not differentiate between the religious background of its hosts, and therefore it is silly to even believe that one is immune to the same because of the ‘religion’ they follow.
People are coming to realize that they have been lied to in the name of religion, and that arrogance, coupled with ignorance towards the disease will only be detrimental to their lives. Religious fundamentalism is being exposed like never before, and it must collapse completely for the world to be a haven of sanity.