6 April 2020
The Prophet Muhammad (s) is reported in Bukhari as having said: “The likeness of the one who observes the limits prescribed by Allah and that of the one who transgresses them is like the people who get on board a ship after casting lots. Some of them are in its lower deck and some of them in the upper deck. Those in the lower deck, when needing water, go to the people in the upper deck and say to them: ‘If we make a hole in the bottom of the ship we shall not harm you.’ If the people of the upper deck leave them to carry out this plan, they will all be drowned. But if they do not let them go ahead, all of them will remain safe.”
I call to mind this hadith in response to the lawyer’s letter sent to the South African Government by a maverick lawyer on behalf of two so-called clergy bodies who, by their own admission, represent only 20 mosques in South Africa. They want the Government to let Muslims continue their 5 daily ritual prayers in the mosque, making the case firstly, that prohibiting this is an infringement of Muslims’ rights to freedom of movement and the free practice of their religion. Secondly, they assert that: “Considering the Shariah, Muslims are required to pray five times daily IN THEIR MOSQUES.” (My emphasis)
This is what happens when a radio mufti, a Muslim tabloid, a bogus council and a maverick lawyer converge: they claim rights, but shun responsibility; they pretend that the right to worship is infringed; they then confuse a fard — the obligation to pray — and a confirmed sunnah — the recommended tradition of prayer in mosques; and thus expose a character flaw of not being honest, not even with established facts in Islam. The hadith asks us to distinguish between those who observe the limits prescribed by Allah and those who transgress them.
They are also opportunistic. Previously charlatans argued against the Coronavirus by resorting to conspiracy theories, calling it a Chinese virus, a hoax or hype, a punishment for all kinds of people, and a disease imposed by God and one that would be removed by God without human precaution. As the global Muslim community takes precautions like closing mosques for prayers and jumuah, and even the Saudis are weighing up the prospect of continuing the haj for this year, these arguments fall away. The tracing of infections to tablighi gatherings in Kuala Lumpur, Delhi and Raiwind have also removed any moral force from their arguments.
Now they appear to plead for concessions. Suddenly the Minister of Transport is their model. The misguided cannot guide other misguided: if 100% or 75% full taxis is misguided, so is gathering people in the mosques. These are the people of the lower deck wanting to make a hole in the bottom of the boat. As the Prophet said: “They will all be drowned!” They do not seek so much a concession as they seek to deceive — as with the name Jamiatul Ulema they have claimed for themselves — and open the floodgates of extremism.
My advice to the government is to probe if indeed it is such a ‘spiritual depression’ — the Arabic word they invoke is ‘Qabdh’ — to be separated from congregational prayers in the mosque, then why does the affliction of qabdh only affect men, and not women? How many of their mosques relieve or cure women from qabdh or spiritual depression by allowing them into the mosques? What if Christians and Jews have the equivelant of spiritual depression for Shabbat or Easter?
But the clear instruction from the Prophet Muhammad (s) in the hadith is absolutely unequivocal: we cannot let them go ahead. We have to stop them from making a hole in the bottom of the boat lest we all drown! We have tolerated them when they were supportive of, or ambiguous about, ISIS and violent extremism, when they blocked legal recourse for women against misogyny, when they trade insults so regularly against those revered in our community, when they refer to the same government they now petition as a ‘Kuffaar” and evil one, and so forth.
The only challenge we now have is to find the best wisdom to implement the instruction of the Prophet (s) and devise ways of stopping them. This is no time for a false unity and solidarity with those knocking a hole in the boat. How do we defeat the people of the lower deck? The mainstream Muslim leadership must speak as one to tell the authorities that the people of the lower deck are a fringe, if vocal, minority; that they are misguided and seek to misguide; that, like all extremists, their extremism is now inert, but as soon as they find a source of power they will unleash destruction; and that together we have a responsibility to think of all the occupants of the boat.
More importantly, we need Muslims and all South Africans to understand the distinction between the mainstream and the fringe so that they don’t believe that the fringe speaks for us. If we do not, the resultant Islamophobic backlash will be severe when they see mosques open and churches closed. This is the time for leadership, despite our internal nuances and difference of opinion. Our differences are a source of mercy and blessing. Our difference with the fringe is a matter of drowning or not.