Some imams in Somalia are saying Muslims are immune to COVID-19, going against senior Muslim scholars who have insisted the coronavirus pandemic is a severe threat to all people around the globe.
A medical worker in the country told Al Arabiya English the rumor is putting Somalis at risk and working against efforts to try to educate the population of 15 million about the threat of the outbreak.
“Some mosques spread this rumor that this disease is only for non-believers,” said the medical worker, who wished to remain anonymous in fear of societal backlash, in an interview with Al Arabiya English.
“People are very religious in Somalia and we believe what our imams tell us more than any doctor or any government,” the medical source added.
The statements by certain imams in Somalia go against senior Muslim scholars, who have urged worshippers to heed medical and government guidelines, to suspend mosque services and activities, and to pray at home during the holy Islamic month of Ramadan.
Dr. Mohammed Al-Issa, Secretary General of the Muslim World League (MWL), called on communities to follow “all health guidelines” during the crisis and said the temporary closure of mosques in some countries across the Islamic world is considered a “religious duty” in light of the pandemic.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al Sheikh asked Muslims to pray at home during Ramadan, and the Saudi Arabian government suspended mosque services.
The misinformation from the imams in Somalia is fueling the potential COVID-19 catastrophe the country is facing. Authorities have already confirmed almost 900 cases, despite only having four PCR testing machines in the entire country.
The falsehood that Muslims are protected from the virus is making it “really difficult” for the medical community to fight the pandemic, said the source, who said most of the population do not practice social distancing or wear masks, as preventative measures.
The situation in Somalia is just one example of how leaders of many different religions have interfered with COVID-19 public health guidelines.
“Nothing could be further from the truth”
Some Christian leaders in the United States have continued group worship despite bans, while imams in Iran kept mosques open for weeks after the outbreak despite public health officials’ calls for closure.
Last week hundreds of members of an Orthodox Jewish community in hard-hit New York City held a funeral gathering in violation of the city’s social distancing measures, prompting condemnation from Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Certain Orthodox Jewish communities place low trust in secular authorities and orders, and have at times interpreted Jewish law as against medical advice such as vaccines.
New Jersey Jewish leader Rabbi Douglas Sagal said nothing in Jewish law can justify the refusal to act in a way to protect others or abide by legitimate medical advice.
“These communities are simply influenced by unhealthy community behaviors – perhaps instigated by ignorant individuals and then imitated by others, who mistakenly believe that this is somehow adhering to a more strict religious lifestyle,” said Rabbi Sagal in an interview with Al Arabiya English.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said.
“Faith without science remains without support”
The statements by the imams in Somalia are “a wake up call” that the world needs “more voices explaining why science and religion are not at odds,” according to former US Science Envoy Dr. Peter Hotez.
“Unifying scientific and religious thinking represents one of humankind’s great challenges,” Dr. Hotez, co-director of Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development, said in an interview with Al Arabiya English.
Although the areas of modern medicine and traditional faith have often been viewed as distinct, the belief that there is a contradiction between faith and science is a deception, according to Pope Francis’ top aide Yoannis Lahzi Gaid.
“There is a complement. Science without faith remains without horizon and faith without science remains without support,” said Gaid in an interview with Al Arabiya English.
“This is a great lesson of COVID-19,” he added.