2020: Religious and Government
(COVID-19) in Malaysia, France, etc.
Between 2020-FEB-28 and MAR-11, a tabligh was held in the Sri Petaling Mosque in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. A tabligh is a four-day meeting meeting of Muslims that focused on the propagation of the message of Islam. It was organized by members of Tablighi Jama -- a global movement of evangelical Muslims. Estimates of the total number of attendees range as high as 16,000. About 1,500 attendees came from other countries.
Unfortunately, at that time, the dangerous potential of large public gatherings spreading the Coronavirus were not widely appreciated by the public as they were later in March. Since some of those at the tabligh were infected by the caronavirus, they spread the virus to others at the meeting. Later, those from other countries they returned home and spread it there.
Infections traced back to the tabligh quickly appeared in Singapore and Thailand. Later, they spread to other countries in Asia. Almost two-thirds of Malaysia's subsequent coronavirus infections have been linked to attendees at the tabligh.
Khairi Akbar, has been actively involved in the Tabligh Jamaat missionary movement. He recalled:
"... thousands of fellow Muslims sitting in the mosque praying together, eating together, and listening to sermons on 'how to rectify our own flaws, how to prepare ourselves for the afterlife, that sort of thing'."
About six hundred of the attendees have since tested positive for the virus. About 25 of them will probably die from it. Many more have yet to be tracked down and tested as of late 2020-MAR. 1
For decades, a five-day prayer meeting called "Christian Open Door" has been held annually at the evangelical church of Bourtzwiller, France, near the German border. The 2020 meeting started on FEB 17 and lasted for five days. At the start of the meeting, there were only 12 known cases of COVID-19 in France. None of them were were in the Alsace region where the church is located.
One -- or perhaps more -- attendee at the meeting had been infected with the coronavirus prior to the meeting, and spread it to others. When those at the meeting returned home, they in turn infected others. The first known transmission from the meeting was to a mother whose children had attended the meeting with their grandmother.
The spread of the virus was unique. In the words of a local health official:
".... a kind of atomic bomb that went off in the town in Late February that we didn't see."
France''s health minister, Olivier Veran, said:
"The tipping point was the evangelical gathering ... The epidemic spread across the country from that gathering. 9
Eventually the virus spread across France and then overseas.
Nathalie Schnoebelen, a church spokesperson, said in a statement to the French press:
"Church representatives say they resent being blamed for the outbreak, given that the government had not yet recommended any health protocols at the time of the prayer meeting."
"Contrary to what certain political leaders have said, we didn’t ignore basic rules of security, because at the time there were none ..."
James McAuley, writing for The Washington Post, said:
"By the time authorities had a clearer picture of the extent of the transmission, containment was no longer possible. The Christian Open Door became a case study in how quickly the coronavirus can spread in an interconnected world."
"As of Wednesday (2020-APR-01), France reported 56,989 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, and the country’s death toll is the fourth highest in the world at 4,032, including 509 within the last day. And the actual number of fatalities may be higher, because public health authorities were initially not including deaths that occurred outside hospitals in the tally...."
"Since the beginning of the pandemic, churches and other houses of worship have been linked to the transmission of the coronavirus around the world, in places such as South Korea, India and the United States. France appears to be no exception." 9
Various religious leaders have proposed interesting cures for the Coronavirus:
- A Christian Maronite priest, went into the skies over Beirut, Lebanon in a small airplane. He carried a sacred golden vessel. He was attempting to bless the country and protect it from the virus. By 2020-MAY-01, Lebanon had detected 729 COVID-19 cases, with 24 deaths. 56% were the result of personal contact with another confirmed case. 25% were travel related. 10
- A Buddhist monk stated that ingesting one specific piece of fruit and three specific seeds would give persons immunity from the virus. (We sincerely doubt that this cure is effective.)
- In Iran, some pilgrims sought immunity by licking walls of Shiite Muslim shrines.
- A U.S. preacher claimed during his television program that a medication he held before the cameras can magically cure Christian believers through their TV screens!
- Right Wing Watch posted a video of Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne at his Tampa FL megachurch on MAR-15 encouraging members to shake hands, and said that the church would remain open because God would keep the members safe there. He said: "This Bible school is open because we're raising young revivalists, not pansies. 5
It is my personal opinion that all of these "cures" and methods of preventing the virus spreading are useless. They might even be counter-productive, by giving people a false sense of security. This might cause them to feel that they do not need take the precautions being recommended by their health organizations.
Many deeply religious people believe that if they are in a group meeting praising and worshipping God, that He is certain to protect them from illness. Data from around the world seems to indicate that the virus spreads effectively during both religious and secular meetings.
Other religious leaders propose enhanced prayer which they believe would be effective. However, we have been unable to find any evidence that it does:
- The Ashkenazi chief rabbi in Israel, Rabbi David Lau, asked Jews to say 100 blessings daily. The Bible mentions that King David did this when he was confronted with a plague.
- The Sephardic chief rabbi, Yitzhak Yosef, urged Jews to "... petition the Almighty to stop the epidemic and to leave his throne of judgment and sit instead on the throne of mercy."
Other government and religious groups have taken meaningful precautions:
- The Government of Saudi Arabia has suspended all pilgrimages to Mecca or Medina indefinitely.
- The Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem was closed for prayer.
- Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India is urging Hindu pilgrims to not come to the state of Uttar Pradesh during late March and early April for an annual nine-day celebration. Hundreds of thousands of Hindus normally attend. 6
The Uttar Pradesh government detected more than six or more Covid-19 cases among 15 of its districts. From APR-08 to at least APR-15, no one in the "hotspots" of these districts
were allowed to leave their home, and all essential services were required to be home delivered. 7 Elsewhere in Uttar Pradesh, people will be allowed to leave their home, but had to wear a face covering. Markets and other locations -- where crowds normally gather -- were sealed. By APR-08, three coronavirus deaths had been reported in the state.
A nationwide lockdown in India was announced. Areas with no Covid-19 cases were scheduled get conditional relief from the lockdown on APR-20. 8
U.S. Democrats & Republicans have very different views on the lethality of the COVID-19 virus:
Two 2020 Gallup/Knight public opinion surveys -- one in 2020-March and the other in April -- found that American adults generally know about how the virus spreads. But a wide gap exists among members of political parties about the lethality of COVID-19:
About 50% of Republicans say that the pandemic's death rate is exaggerated by the media; only 5% of Democrats agree. 11
Researchers generally agree that the death rate among adults who catch the seasonal flu is about 0.1%. However, the death rate fron COVID-19 is typically around 4% and varies somewhat from country to country depending upon their health care systems. It also varies with the age of the victim, and other health problems that the victim might have, like diabetes, respiratory and other health concerns.
However, a public opinion survey in the U.S. during April 14 to 20 showed that:
- 87% of Democrats believed that the death rate from the pandemic was greater than that of the seasonal flu.
- 66% of Independents agreed.
- Only 40% of Republicans agreed! 11
The difference among those of different political affiliation had widened since a similar survey in March 17-29.
Gallup reported that:
"Republicans are 10 times as likely as Democrats to say the death count is overstated (50% vs. 5%, respectively). Thirty percent of independents say the same. Most Democrats, 72%, believe the death count is understated." 11
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- Tashny Sukumaran, "Coronavirus: I attended tabligh mass Islamic prayer in Malaysia, now I’m in hospital ," Scrip, 2020-MAR-21, at: https://www.scmp.com/
- Jamie Gumbrecht and Jacqueline Howard, "WHO declares novel coronavirus outbreak a pandemic," CNN, 2020-MAR-11, at: https://www.cnn.com/
- "Over 8,000 Muslim pilgrims gather in Indonesia, despite coronavirus fears," South China Morning Post, 2020-MAR-18, at: https://www.scmp.com/
- Vivian Yee, "In a Pandemic, Religion Can be a Balm, and a Risk," New York Times, 2020-MAR-22, at: https://www.nytimes.com/
- Chrissy Stroop, "Christian responses to Covid-19 raise old religion v. science questions," Religion Dispatches, 2020-MAR-19, at: https://religiondispatches.org/
- Vindu Goel and Hari Kumar, "Worried About Coronavirus, India Tries to Head Off a Mass Hindu Pilgrimage," New York Times, 2020-MAR-19, at: https://www.nytimes.com/
- "UP seals Covid-19 hotspots in 15 districts, makes mask mandatory," India Today, 2020-APR-08, at: https://www.indiatoday.in/
- "Coronavirus lockdown till May 3, areas with no hotspots to get conditional relief from April 20: PM Modi," India Today, 2020-APR-14, at: https://www.indiatoday.in/
- "How a prayer meeting at a French megachurch may have led to scores of coronavrius deaths," The Washington Post, 2020-APR-01, at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/
- "Coronavirus COVID-19 Lebanon Cases," Epidemiological Surveillance Program, 2020-MAY-01, at: https://www.moph.gov.lb/
- Zacc Ritter, "Republicans Still Skeptical of COVID-19 Lethality, Gallup, 2020-MAY-26, at: https://news.gallup.com/
Copyright © 2020 by Ontario
Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2020-MAY-27
Author: B.A. Robinson