Lockdown, Covid 19 Corona and extra time with the family.
Sound familiar? It’s more than a common experience – we’re all living a life locked away in the corners of ours homes.
And although staying at home is enjoyable for the introverts among us, for some, it has meant increased time in abusive relationships that lead to or directly result in domestic violence for many in our society.
This, and time in isolation, away from the warm comfort of being in the presence of friends and family has led to a bitter experience for many at best, and toll taking on mental health and health services at worst.
In trying times like these, it is important to reflect over the Islamic advice for difficult times, and how we can seek help if and when needed.
But first – what does Islam teach us to do during the pandemic?
The Prophet of Allah ﷺ mentioned in a narration collected by both Imam al-Bukhari and Imam Muslim in their Saheeh’s,
“If you hear about the plague in a land, then do not enter it. And if it appears in a land where you are, then do not leave it.”
The Prophetic advice in times of plague is restricting travel – something we’ve come to witness both locally by the Australian gov and internationally by both the West and the East – in the attempt to prevent the spread of the virus. The covid-19 pandemic, as such, has led us to stay within the relatively safer confines of our homes – both from an Islamic and secular legal perspective.
Reiterating this idea of safety and security is the broader narration that is narrated in the collection of Ibn Majah: ʿUbādah ibn Ṣāmit RadiAllahu ‘Anhu narrates that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “Harm neither yourself nor the next person.”
The late Mufti Taha Karaan, a contemporary jurist who passed away due to contracting COVID-19, wrote in his ‘Fleeing from fate to fate’ under the commentary of this important narration:
“From a legal vantage point, human life is a set of competing rights and duties which at times coexist harmoniously, but often clash between themselves. It is when they happen to clash that harm comes to fall upon some individuals. Any legal system that has the regulation of human life as its purpose must contain within itself mechanisms for the removal of harm in a manner that ensures that rights are restored, obligations are performed, victims receive support, and aggressors are held in check. The removal of harm is in fact a major feature of our Sharīʿah, represented in one of its five universal rules which states: Harm shall be removed.”
Now that we know the desired Islamic response in the time of pandemics, let us analyse the consequences of such isolation.
Human beings are social creatures. Our interaction with others adds to the blissful fabric of society and builds the community we engage and prosper in. It is almost as essential as water and food – isolation in an absolute sense can and has led to madness and even otherwise seemingly disconnected diseases.
A study done by the University of Newcastle found that “deficiencies in social relationships are associated with a higher risk for coronary heart disease and stroke.”
Another study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology further linked social isolation with higher risks of premature mortality.
The consequences seem dire, and the need to interact as pivotal to healthy living. But understanding the repercussions of living without these safety measures is just as important. The last thing we would want as a global village is to see increased death and suffering, due to not adhering to the guidelines set by community leaders.
The angst of this time has been much more for vulnerable individuals, such as those suffering from domestic violence. With limited access to in-person support services and being restricted from leaving the home, numbers in family violence and domestic abuse have spiked.
“More than two-thirds of service providers (in domestic violence agencies) reported an increase in clients during the pandemic”, an ABC report found.
Kerry Carrington from the Queensland University of Technology said, “We can certainly say that there was a shadow pandemic in Australia in domestic family violence,”
“It wasn’t just an increase in numbers. It was also an increase in severity.”
Muslim women, like all women, are no different, and there are real cases of abuse within the community that should be addressed with serious concern. As Muslims, we should be at the frontline of providing support and empowering vulnerable individuals. More than a common call for social justice, this is a religious duty firmly established within our tradition, as Allah says,
“O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm for Allah, witnesses in justice, and do not let the hatred of a people prevent you from being just. Be just; that is nearer to righteousness. And fear Allah; indeed, Allah is [fully] Aware of what you do.” (Qur’an 5:8)
To add to the already queasy sentiment of the Australian population during the lockdowns and public health orders in Sydney, NSW, and Melbourne, Victoria are going through, self-isolation and lockdown measures have added to the mental pressure and decreased overall mental health at a macro level.
Whilst advocacy continues and outreach is strongly encouraged, vulnerable communities have had many suffer the consequences of isolation away from family and friends. Respondents and religious leaders alike have had to grasp with the unfortunate reality that is life during COVID, from practicing social distancing at the local supermarket to simply not being able to visit friends (barring an intimate partner – see NSW Gov website for updated and precise protocols) – life has been challenging for all.
Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Communities (or CALD for short) have unique and distinct cultures, often diverse from the traditional (read: typical) Australian white experiences. For many ethnicities, social interaction beyond the bounds of family members is at the very core of their lifestyle. From the Sunday barbecue, to the Saturday biryani, and everything between – cultures have differing attitudes and limits when it comes to interacting/isolating.
We must do more to ensure the protection and upholding of human rights across not just our communities, but everywhere in the World. Oppression, be it violence against women, sexual assault, or physical violence, deserves to be called out and condemned. The prevalence of these incidents and abusers should spur our leaders and our people to stand against the oppression rampant in our communities and work towards the empowerment of vulnerable individuals. It is equally important, if not more, to reiterate that social services are available for those that need them. Health care is still accessible in any state of being unfit or unwell – and doctors can be communicated or visited both in-person or online. Further, referrals to appropriate social services can be made if a professional from another care providing service – such as counselling or social work – is needed.
In addition to the above, migrant communities are being catered to during these tough times, and help exists both inside and outside of the Muslim community for minorities and those from CALD communities. Refugees and migrant communities can access help here and here.
Similarly, young people can and should access support networks on social media and outside of it if and when needed. Young people are advised to reach out and seek help when they feel they need it. For help, click here.
The above advices and recommendations are for all community groups and community members as well. If feeling mentally unwell or suicidal, do not hesitate to seek help by calling lifeline – a free helpline dedicated to supporting the vulnerable.
We ask Allah to remove this pandemic and allow us to return back to the ease and comfort of life pre-lockdown.
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Ethical Finance and Innovation
Dr. Sayd Farook is the Executive Director of Crescent Foundation. He is Group Chief Operating Officer of Crescent Wealth and Managing Director of Crescent Finance. He previously served as Advisor to the Executive Office of the Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. In this capacity, he envisioned and executed strategic / transformation initiatives for Dubai and the UAE. Prior to that, he was the Global Head Islamic Capital Markets at Thomson Reuters, where he advised and served large corporates, multilaterals and governments in the Middle East, North Africa and South East Asia.