Faiths to the test

Publish date 20-04-2020

by Claudio Monge

Christians, Jews and Muslims between instinct and rationality.


In a time of global health emergency, there is a lot of talk about the "democracy" of the virus, which knows no geographical, social, political, cultural and religious barriers. In reality, if nobody is sheltered from the possibility of being infected, it is certainly not the same thing to be a homeless person or a refugee in refugee camps, rather than comfortably holed up in one's own home; it is the most striking example of the impact of social differences and historical-environmental conditions! This crisis, however, also in the southern Mediterranean, is determining new rules of coexistence, within a general strong limitation of some fundamental freedoms: among these, religious freedom - especially in its community cult dimension. It is a very delicate aspect that intimately affects the daily lives of millions of people. When the free exercise of religious practice which, especially in a moment of crisis, is an essential factor of my experience, is made impossible by the prohibitions imposed on public life, I can easily consider it an unacceptable abuse! Not only. Someone pointed out how the coronavirus emergency forces us to rethink our religion, not only intellectually, but also visually, emotionally and anthropologically.


This is a formidable test for our theology: liturgy and sacramental life, ecclesiology and relations between the State and the Church in the first place. Furthermore, our moral theology is strongly tested, as epidemics and pandemics tend to awaken brutal survival instincts in all of us, not rarely to the detriment of others! At the heart of the Catholic Church the risk is to give emergency responses that reflect an approach that is still too clerical and ministerial, as if the suspension of ordinary liturgical life also entailed the suspension of the "liturgical spirit", preventing us from discovering that there is a "sacramentality" which does not depend on the sacraments itself. The other Abrahamic religious universes, even without having a comparable structure of rites and ministries and, even less, a "priestly class", also move in terrains that have not been explored today.


For rabbis in general, the duty to safeguard one's life and health and the life and health of others is halakhic (legally regulated) but nevertheless involves unprecedented ritual adaptations. The chief rabbi of Israel has asked to stop the Mezuzah kissing (door jamb containing passages of the Torah), and European rabbis have asked those who have symptoms related to the virus not to go to the synagogue for Shabbat. The Islamic world has referred to a hadith that regulates the behavior to be adopted in cases like this: "if an epidemic should appear on earth, do not go to the mosque; and if you find yourself in it, do not escape by running away ». But it is clear that the pandemic is also changing Islamic worship in the world: the Saudis first restricted access to the Kaaba esplanade in Mecca (the navel of the Islamic world) and then completely closed the Umrah, the pilgrimage to the Holy Places in extra-Ramadan times (but it is the great pilgrimage of the month of fasting itself, which is now in danger): a first time in history!


Most Islamic countries also canceled the collective Friday prayer; before the definitive ban, Muslims in Singapore had been invited to bring a personal carpet to the mosque! The Turkish Diyanet, which is the Ministry of Religious Affairs (thus eliminating any possible divergence with state provisions in the bud), has published a 14-point vademecum which, in compliance with the general provisions on the fight against COVID-19, encourages the prayer in the houses to nourish hope in the future. Mustafa Akyol, a well-known journalist and expert writer on the religious universe, a few days ago tweeted: «In the Islamic world, there are rational and irrational responses to the coronavirus. Irrationals tend to blame "sins" and seek treatment more in prayer than in precaution. " The Egyptian intellectual Mustafa Mahmud was more explicit: "If a believer and an atheist jump into the sea, only those who can swim will be saved. Allah does not favor the ignorant. Therefore, ignorant Muslims will drown while infidels who know how to swim will be saved. "


See the focus Reflections in Time of Covid 19

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