Governments in the Middle East have imposed severe restrictions on religious practice to prevent the spread of COVID-19. These include banning public Ramadan prayers and iftars, cancelling the hajj to Mecca, and imposing dusk to dawn curfews. Most states have closed mosques for public worship. However, even as Sunni and Shiite clerics have acknowledged the gravity of the pandemic, some Muslims have refused to comply with the restrictions. Theological arguments and historical precedents have been invoked to justify government restrictions and also criticize them.
The Brookings Doha Center held a webinar discussion on what Islamic texts say about altering (or suspending) religious practices as a result of the pandemic, especially during Ramadan and discussed questions: What do these texts say about performing religious duties in times of crisis? Are governments forbidding what is ordinarily permitted for political expediency? Or are clerics and other groups misinterpreting Islamic precepts? And who has the authority to decide? Are states using the pandemic to regain more control over the religious message in the longer term? Or are religious leaders reasserting their power over the state?
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