By OUR STAFF REPORTER
RISHIKESH, 8 May: The Global Interfaith WASH Alliance (GIWA), the world’s first alliance of interfaith leaders working for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, organised its fourth Interfaith Webinar on the faith response to the Coronavirus, this time bringing together Muslim leaders in Africa on the topic, ‘Africa’s Faith Leadership in the Times of Crisis: Ramadan Response to Covid-19’.
In partnership with UNICEF, WSSCC and United Religions Initiative, GIWA brought together eminent Muslim Leaders of Africa for a special online webinar during the holy month of Ramadan. Swami Chidanand Saraswati, President of Parmarth Niketan, Rishikesh, and Co-Founder/Chair of GIWA, and Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati, Secretary-General of GIWA, introduced, led and moderated the panel.
The discussion pressed the importance of uniting together as faith communities to conquer the challenges faced by the world today in the face of Covid-19. Although Tanzania and some other countries which have lower recorded numbers are not under lockdown, recorded infections of the Coronavirus are rising, spelling the seriousness with which we must act now. All the panelists encouraged people to stay at home, keep social distancing, and ensure all safety precautions are followed.
The webinar focused on two main themes: 1) Exploring how individuals and collectives could prevent the spread of Covid-19 and 2) how there could be harmony, oneness and peace across religious and community lines to stamp out discrimination, stigma and communal violence.
The eminent faith leaders unanimously emphasised the importance of staying home to stay safe and the fact that the greatest religious duty today is to keep oneself, one’s family and the communities safe and protected by following guidelines by the WHO on Covid-19 Prevention.
Swami Chidanand Saraswati shared the impact and outcome of the other three webinars that the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance has held, all of which included renowned Muslim leaders of India, with one especially focused on Ramadan with India’s top Sunni and Shia leaders. He shared the messages that the Muslim leaders of India have been giving to their communities and followers.
Among those who participated were Dr Kamal Boraiqa Abdelsalam Hassan, General Coordinator, Al-Azhar Centre for Interfaith Dialogue; Sheikh Haroun Rashid Kasangaki, Secretary General Union, Muslim Councils for East, Central and Southern Africa; Ambassador Mussie Hailu, Regional Director, United Religions Initiative, Africa; Sheikh Othman Mohamed Saleh, Senior Advisor to the Mufti of Zanzibar; Sheikh Khalid Ali Mfaume, Secretary General, Office of the Mufti of Zanzibar (MoZ); Sheikh Issa Othman Issa, Grand Imam, Masjid Ma’amur and Member of Muslim Scholarly Committee (Ulemaa); and Sheikh Mohamed Abdi, Deputy Mudiir and Board Member, Tanzania Ithna Asheri Community.
Swami Chidanand urged the leaders, “We must take the situation seriously, and follow the lockdown. We are all one. We have to work for all living beings, not just human beings. Our primary duty, our primary Ibadat, now, is to fight the Coronavirus by coming together and by staying at home.”
He warned against fake news and also pointed out that Corona should not lead to discrimination and no stigma, no matter what.”
Ambassador Mussie Hailu shed light on the practical efforts being made in Africa by faith communities. He also shared how this time of great difficulty is an opportunity for us to develop and come together. Sheikh Issa Othman Issa echoed the sentiment of oneness and urgency. Sheikh Othman Mohamed Saleh stated, “In Zanzibar we are encouraging our followers to keep a distance from one another even when praying in the mosque. Every little thing counts to help protect ourselves from Covid-19.”
Sheikh Mohamed Abdi added, “Protecting yourself and others is a religious obligation. According to the Quran, causing harm to anyone, including yourself, is one of the forbidden acts. So, stay at home and protect yourself and others in turn. Religious spaces should not become the place where people are contracting the virus.”
Sheikh Haroun Rashid Kasangaki said, “I am very happy to see that no Sheikh is fighting with the Pastor, or vice versa, because we all are in this together in order to win this war.”
Sheikh Khalid Ali Mfaume declared, “It is up to all of us to educate our communities so that there is collective action against Covid-19.”
Sadhvi Bhagawati emphasised the need for innovation in spirituality. “I am so glad to see the way, being so grounded, rooted and anchored in the sacred tradition of Islam, you are seeing how there needs to be innovation in the practices to keep people safe and healthy. It is clear we have a common enemy and the only way to fight that enemy is cohesively, collectively and connected.”