What does a child bride bring to a marriage — a dowry, social status, domestic labor, business connections? What is her value to two families, the one she leaves and the one she joins? And what is the cost to the girl?


Somaya was 13 years old and finishing seventh grade in Herat, Afghanistan, when her father sold her for 250,000 afghani ($3,300) to marry his relative’s son.

She moved into her new husband’s family home, she says, and her father then spent much of the money on her bedding, clothes and jewelry. When Somaya asked if she could go back to classes, she says both her mother-in-law and husband beat her.

“I kept telling them that I wanted to go to school,” Somaya says. Like many Afghans, she uses only one name. “But my in-laws told me, ‘If you go to school, who will do the house chores? We bought you.’”

About 650 million children and women alive today were married before age 18, roughly 17% of the global female population, according to UNICEF. In a yearlong project, Voice of America set out to meet child brides from Albania to Pakistan to Tanzania, putting faces and voices to a practice that the United Nations is trying to eliminate by 2030.

Ending child marriage is pivotal to improving global health, eliminating poverty and expanding human rights, UNICEF says. Married teen girls are often physically abused, and their lives of chores and childbearing perpetuate centuries-old cycles of gender inequality in their communities.

The leading causes of death for girls ages 15 to 19 are complications from pregnancy and giving birth, according to the World Health Organization. Babies born to girls younger than 18 also have higher risks of death and stunting.

Global perspective

Percentage of women married before 18

Early marriage doesn’t happen in only one region or in one religion. The U.S. state of Missouri raised its minimum legal age for marriage to 16 just last year. Couples from neighboring states have long crossed into the Midwestern state to wed, often because the girl was pregnant and the baby’s father feared prison for statutory rape.

In northern Nigeria, where more than 65% of girls are married before they turn 18, according to Girls Not Brides, a London-based partnership of more than 1,000 organizations working to end child marriage, the Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram reportedly rewards its young militants with wives.

On Lombok, a lush island east of Bali in Indonesia, a girl who’s still single at 16 shames her whole family.

“People tend to think that this is an issue that affects a couple of hundred girls in small villages around the world,” says Lakshmi Sundaram, who was executive director of Girls Not Brides from 2012 until earlier this year. “It’s happening everywhere. It may look a bit different in different places, but it is a universal issue.”

The term child marriage refers to formal marriages and informal unions in which a girl or boy lives with a partner as if married before the age of 18. An informal union is one in which a couple live together over time without a formal civil or religious ceremony.

Despite the crushing consequences, more than 12 million girls a year still marry by age 18, according to UNICEF. They are often forced into a union because they may be valued by parents and others in ways that impede the basic right to grow up, get an education and make their own choices.

The practice overwhelmingly affects girls from poor and rural areas, where child marriage is an ingrained cultural practice that some people see as protecting women with limited options.

Global worth

VOA journalists around the globe focused on the worth of a girl, looking to reveal how a young bride is valued by two families — the one she leaves behind, and the one she joins — and the cost to the girl herself of marriage before adulthood.

To solicit global views during the reporting process, VOA news teams and affiliates reporting in 12 languages posted short videos on Facebook and Instagram of girls and women talking about their experience as brides and young mothers.

These clips received millions of views and thousands of comments, from tearful emojis to arguments for and against child marriage that are steeped in faith, money, culture, power, sexism and love.

In the first of her two videos, Somaya, now 15, sits on cream-colored pillows as she calmly tells her story. Her voice breaks only when she talks about school.

“I loved to go to school every day,” she says, her green eyes tearing up. “I lost my chance to get an education.”

Among the girls and women whom VOA interviewed, this theme dominated: They regret being pulled out of school and vow to help other girls, especially their daughters, avoid the same life.

In Kayapinar, Turkey, Sultan Mustafa Tumerdem, now 58, says she has had a happy life with a husband and two adult sons. Her parents forced her to marry a boy she didn’t know when she was a child, she says, and she wouldn’t wish the same for others.

“Don’t get married early, because people feel crushed when they get married early,” she says. “I didn’t go to school, and so I was crushed.”

In Honduras, Olga Emelina Vasquez Pena moved in with her boyfriend when she was 17 and pregnant. They share a home in El Granadillo and have a 15-month-old daughter. Olga says that in her village near rural La Paz, where lucrative jobs are hard to find, “few people get married.

“When you have a partner, he can help you get things,” she says.

Olga’s mother, who sits with her in the video, left school after the second grade, she says, and regrets her daughter not getting more education. Still, Olga, now 19, says she didn’t consult with anyone before her union.

“Here, kids get together with partners around 17 to 21 years old,” she says. “When you are part of a couple, you have more responsibility. You have to do things, even if you don’t want to.”

International effort

The United Nations’ efforts to end marriage before age 18 are part of a global agreement that outlines 17 so-called Sustainable Development Goals.

The SDGs include gender equality and a written target: “Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation.” It asks that governments, civil society organizations, religious and community leaders, and families work together to essentially re-evaluate the worth of their girls.

The economic case for change is powerful. By limiting girls’ education and lifetime earning potential, child marriage may be costing trillions of dollars, according to a report by the World Bank and the International Center on Research for Women, which was released in 2017. The report looked at child marriage in 25 developing countries where at least a third of women marry before age 18.

The enormous economic drain also comes from high fertility rates and poorer health outcomes for mothers and children, and from the strain on government budgets, according to the report.

“If you have high population growth, it’s very difficult to provide quality services for everybody, whether it’s for school … or whether it’s for health services or even basic infrastructure,” says Quentin Wodon, a World Bank lead economist and the report’s co-author.

Wodon emphasizes the importance of keeping a girl in school and delaying marriage.

“Investments in adolescent girls tend to have very high economic returns,” he says. That’s “not the most important reason to end child marriage — the moral argument is — but these economic returns are very useful to convince various policymakers to invest in ending the practice.”

For now, the pressure on millions of girls to give in to a family transaction that includes their marriage can be overwhelming. The deal may be monetary — a payment received or a payment given — or part of a complex set of relationships that involves household labor and grandchildren. To many parents, a daughter’s value may be wrapped up in her virginity and security, or their own honor and status.

Orkida Driza, 40, lives in Albania’s capital city, Tirana. She married at 14 and saw no other choice: Her sister needed surgery, and the woman who wanted her as a wife for her son was friendly with doctors at the hospital.

“I did it to save my sister’s life,” Orkida says.

While Orkida didn’t want her own daughter to marry before finishing her education, economic circumstances dictated otherwise. She allowed her daughter to marry at 12.

In Kalar, a city in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, Shaima Mahmood Muhammed married at 15 because she couldn’t get a job, she says, and felt she had to relieve the financial burden on her father, a Kurdish national soldier with three other children.

Photo of Somaya unfurling a wedding dress she had sewn.

(Photos by Khalil Noorzai for VOA News)

Living life

In Afghanistan, Somaya has had a different outcome. VOA returned to her in Herat five months after the first interview and found her sewing dresses alongside her mother in a sunny living room. Her father was gone, jailed for two years for abusing her and having forced her marriage.

Helped by Medica Afghanistan, a nongovernmental organization that works on women’s legal rights and offers counseling, Somaya was able to divorce her husband in February. She is learning to read the Quran with a tutor’s help and is considering becoming a tutor herself someday.

For now, “I sew clothing with my mother, and my brother works in a factory. We are the breadwinners,” she says. “My life is better.”

Reporting by Eva Mazrieva, Lina Correa, Jaffar Mjasiri, Carolyn Presutti, Muhammad Saqib, Carol Guensburg and Lisa Kassenaar.


COVID-19: Indonesian police deny higher crime rate solely due to release of prisoners to curb outbreak

JAKARTA: Indonesian housewife Lila Kusumah, 37, is worried about her family’s safety after several houses nearby were said to have been robbed this month.

The security guards in her neighbourhood in South Tangerang, on the outskirts of Jakarta, claimed that about 10 people have been arrested.

Residents were also told that the alleged perpetrators were among the 38,000 convicts released from overcrowded jails nationwide in early April to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Upon hearing these, Mdm Kusumah is taking extra precautions to safeguard her house.

“At night I used to ask my eldest son to lock the gate, but now I do it myself to be really sure it is locked tightly,” she said.

“I’m now very vigilant. Every time I have to go out (on my motorbike), I always look at the rear view mirrors to make sure no one is following me.”

Early last week, Indonesia’s national police spokesman Grand Commissioner Asep Adi Saputra said there had been an 11.8 per cent increase in crime rate in the country during the first two weeks of April.

“In week 15 (of 2020) there were 3,423 cases and in week 16, there were 3,827 cases,” he told CNA.

Crimes committed were largely theft such as motor vehicle theft.

Another police spokesman Brigadier General Argo Yuwono revealed on Tuesday (Apr 21) in a press conference that 28 ex-convicts have committed crimes after their release, although he clarified the next day that not all of them were recently released from jail this month.

He added that the police have taken preventive measures such as patrolling and guarding certain areas to deter crime.

However, the police said the release of prisoners is not the only factor contributing to the higher crime rate. At the meantime, non-governmental organisations also urged the government to look into ensuring social support for these ex-convicts, so that they do not return to the path of crime while trying to fend for themselves.


The government has granted the early release of about 38,000 convicts as of Apr 28 to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in overcrowded prisons in Indonesia.

Only those who committed general crimes and juvenile inmates who have served at least two-thirds of their sentence were set free.

In capital Jakarta, about 2,000 prisoners were discharged.

The Indonesian police have acknowledged that the release of these convicts may have led to the increasing crime rate, but stressed it is not the only contributing factor.

“The rise and fall of crimes are influenced by many important factors. The prevention and handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in Indonesia do not only have an impact on formal workers but also informal workers … especially those who have lost their income,” said the head of the national police security maintenance agency Commissioner General Agus Andrianto.

He noted that it is especially important for social aid to be distributed quickly to ensure the livelihood of everyone, not just former convicts.

“There are also people who take advantage of the situation when all are focused on handling the spread of COVID-19,” Commissioner General Andrianto said.


He added that to prevent crime, the police are also educating people on how to spend their time at home and coordinating with local head villagers to create work programmes. The police also encourage people who are not economically affected by the pandemic to help those who cannot fulfil their basic needs.

To ensure that they do not turn to crime again, authorities are using online methods to guide and supervise them, said Andika Dwi Prasetya, head of the correction facilities of the Law and Human Rights Ministry for the Jakarta region.

The ex-convicts and their family members must be contactable any time, Mr Prasetya explained.

“If we lose contact with them, our officers from the correctional centres will immediately go to their places of residence,” he told CNA

The department also liaised with relevant parties such as the police to help supervise the former prisoners.Authorities are cautious and firm, Mr Prasetya added.


“If they do commit crime again we will send them back to jail to serve their remaining sentence, and there will be a tougher sentence.

“Of course we will also process the new crime,” Mr Prasetya said.

He hoped the public understand the government’s purpose of releasing the inmates amid the COVID-19 outbreak. If people chance upon these ex-convicts committing crime, they should immediately inform the ministry’s office in their respective neighbourhoods, he added.


Mdm Lies Marcoes, the director of Rumah Kitab, a non-governmental organisation focusing on research and advocacy for minority and marginalised groups, said even under normal circumstances, crime prevention efforts need to address the root causes such as social inequality.

“Now in the abnormal situation due to COVID-19, extra measures are needed. Law enforcement efforts and crime prevention must be raised by increasing the number of officers in crime hotspots and intensifying self-protection campaigns,” she said.


Mdm Marcoes added that the government must ensure people have access to food and other basic needs such as water and electricity.

“Equally important is the availability of jobs without stigma even in the midst of a job crisis. The point is that the state must boost its effort to protect citizens from criminals who take advantage of the current vulnerable situation,” she said.

Mr Prasetya, head of Jakarta’s correction facilities, said the department is arranging for these ex-convicts to be part of the government’s social aid programmes, so that they can receive assistance immediately.

Full access to income support, social services and medical care will keep the ex-prisoners out of trouble, the Indonesia director of Amnesty International Usman Hamid told CNA.

“The government also has the obligation to make sure that equal access for COVID-19 related programmes such as income support is given to people with certain vulnerabilities, especially those who have just lost their daily income and jobs amid their limited access to social services and medical healthcare,” he said.

The government must also work with civil societies and organisations that have been working on prison reforms, Mr Hamid added.




What Do Countries With The Best Coronavirus Responses Have In Common? Women Leaders

Looking for examples of true leadership in a crisis? From Iceland to Taiwan and from Germany to New Zealand, women are stepping up to show the world how to manage a messy patch for our human family. Add in Finland, Iceland and Denmark, and this pandemic is revealing that women have what it takes when the heat rises in our Houses of State. Many will say these are small countries, or islands, or other exceptions. But Germany is large and leading, and the UK is an island with very different outcomes. These leaders are gifting us an attractive alternative way of wielding power. What are they teaching us?



Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, stood up early and calmly told her countrymen that this was a serious bug that would infect up to 70% of the population. “It’s serious,” she said, “take it seriously.” She did, so they did too. Testing began right from the get go. Germany jumped right over the phases of denial, anger and disingenuousness we’ve seen elsewhere. The country’s numbers are far below its European neighbours, and there are signs they may be able to start loosening restrictions relatively soon.


List of Countries with Female Leaders and Coronavirus death rates

Data from the European Centre for Disease Control as of April 12, 2020



Among the first and the fastest moves was Tsai Ing-wen’s in Taiwan. Back in January, at the first sign of a new illness, she introduced 124 measures to block the spread, without having to resort to the lockdowns that have become common elsewhere. She is now sending 10 million face masks to the US and Europe. Tsai managed what CNN has called “among the world’s best” responses, keeping the epidemic under control, still reporting only six deaths.

Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand was early to lockdown and crystal clear on the maximum level of alert she was putting the country under – and why. She imposed self-isolation on people entering New Zealand astonishingly early, when there were just 6 cases in the whole country, and banned foreigners entirely from entering soon after. Clarity and decisiveness are saving New Zealand from the storm. As of mid-April they have suffered only four deaths, and where other countries talk of lifting restrictions, Ardern is adding to them, making all returning New Zealanders quarantine in designated locations for 14 days.


Iceland, under the leadership of Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir, is offering free coronavirus testing to all its citizens, and will become a key case study in the true spread and fatality rates of Covid-19. Most countries have limited testing to people with active symptoms. Iceland is going whole hog. In proportion to its population the country has already screened five times as many people as South Korea has, and instituted a thorough tracking system that means they haven’t had to lockdown… or shut schools.

Sanna Marin became the world’s youngest head of state when she was elected last December in Finland. It took a millennial leader to spearhead using social media influencers as key agents in battling the coronavirus crisis. Recognising that not everyone reads the press, they are inviting influencers of any age to spread fact-based information on managing the pandemic.



Norway’s Prime Minister, Erna Solberg, had the innovative idea of using television to talk directly to her country’s children. She was building on the short, 3-minute press conference that Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen had held a couple of days earlier. Solberg held a dedicated press conference where no adults were allowed. She responded to kids’ questions from across the country, taking time to explain why it was OK to feel scared. The originality and obviousness of the idea takes one’s breath away. How many other simple, humane innovations would more female leadership unleash?

Generally, the empathy and care which all of these female leaders have communicated seems to come from an alternate universe than the one we have gotten used to. It’s like their arms are coming out of their videos to hold you close in a heart-felt and loving embrace. Who knew leaders could sound like this? Now we do.

Now, compare these leaders and stories with the strongmen using the crisis to accelerate a terrifying trifecta of authoritarianism: blame-“others”, capture-the-judiciary, demonize-the-journalists, and blanket their country in I-will-never-retire darkness (Trump, Bolsonaro, Obrador, Modi, Duterte, Orban, Putin, Netanyahu…).

There have been years of research timidly suggesting that women’s leadership styles might be different and beneficial. Instead, too many political organisations and companies are still working to get women to behave more like men if they want to lead or succeed. Yet these national leaders are case study sightings of the seven leadership traits men may want to learn from women.

It’s time we recognised it – and elected more of it.



The First American Woman Imam Explains the Rise of Islamic Feminism

Since Dr. amina wadud led her first public sermon 25 years ago, Islamic feminism has taken root and sprouted globally.


From the way we see ourselves to the way we are seen, being Muslim means so many different things to individual women across the world. In honor of Muslim Women’s Day this year, we’re focusing on the way Muslim identity presents itself differently—in our personal relationships, our professional endeavors, and more—and how no one experience can speak for us all.

Twenty-five years ago, I was on a two-week lecture tour in South Africa. It coincided with the first one-hundred days of Nelson Mandela’s presidency; equality and justice were in the air. I accepted an invitation to deliver a sermon (khutbah) in front of the Friday congregation at the Claremont Main Road Mosque. It was my first major experience of embodied ethics, when just words are not enough. In August 1994, gender equality in Islamic ritual worship was beyond my imagination. Since then, a quarter of a century has passed, and more of the unimaginable regarding Muslim women’s religious authority has taken root—and sprouted.

Like those of other great religions, Islam’s fundamental canons were established by only the voices of men. As the centuries passed, men’s disproportionate privilege gave them the exclusive right to act as leaders for the sacred rites and rituals obligatory upon all Muslims. Women were consigned to silent participation in supporting roles.


Religious authority in Islam starts with the Qur’an as sacred text and the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) as exemplar. Although there is no text in the Qur’an and no statement of the Prophet ( hadith) restricting women from fulfilling the role of Imam, religious leaders and scholars arrived at a near unanimous opinion that only men should be imams. While all source texts confirm that women have full spiritual agency in Islam, that truth was rendered invisible.


A critical analysis of the way these scholars arrived at the male-only conclusion unveils the same foundation of patriarchy as it is practiced around the world. Only when women began to analyze this history as full intellectual agents—as mandated by both the Qur’an and the Prophet—did its logic come undone. Pro-faith or Islamic feminism tackled the methods of textual interpretations, re-examined the canonical sources, created new interpretive methods, and constructed new knowledge.

Islamic feminism uses the lived realities of Muslim women to inform the way we establish authority, responsibility, and well-being. In the past 20 years, Muslim women reached a critical mass in reclaiming their agency and responsibilities. In every country, at every economic and educational level, in the arenas of politics, law, art, civic society and of course, in sacred public ritual, we have tackled the biased assumption of authority belonging exclusively to Muslim men.

Islamic feminists like the Musawah network have demonstrated there can be no justice without reciprocal equality. Using gender as an analytical lens, we re-examine the underlying assumptions in patriarchal interpretations of the sacred texts and devise more egalitarian conclusions. Among the more well-known Islamic feminist thinkers in the West are its first-generation: scholars like Fatima Mernissi, Rifaat Hassan, and Leila Ahmed; the second generation: Kecia Ali, Sa’diyya Shaykh, Asmaa Barlas; a whole new generation, including Jerusha Lamptey and Aishah Hidayyatullah. Their scholarship has led the way in challenging entrenched and persistent double standards in all aspects of women’s lives.


We have tackled the biased assumption of authority belonging exclusively to Muslim men.


More than a decade after my first major experience of embodied ethics for gender equality, a mixed-gender congregational prayer was organized at the community level in a highly publicized event in New York City in 2005. I was invited to deliver the sermon and lead the prayer. The unimaginable was becoming part of our communal identity. In the decade that followed that sermon, queer Muslims began their own Inclusive Mosque Initiatives, and Muslim women started their Women’s Mosque movement.

A future is unfolding where such a dichotomy between male and female devotees will not survive. Muslim women advocate on their own behalf, and they create their own sacred spaces—permanent or temporary—and perform the full spectrum of ritual observation. While staying in accord of the mandates of our faith, we have moved beyond the confines previously placed upon us by those who maintained dominion over patriarchal spaces in the name of Islam. In other words: Women are no longer waiting for approval from the very ones who restricted us in the first place. While once I could not imagine that, now it is part of our modern Islamic legacy. I look forward to the next 25 years, when women and men’s equal spiritual devotion is presented in every sacred place.



How coronavirus challenges Muslims’ faith and changes their lives

As the world faces the greatest disruption of our lifetimes, Muslims throughout the world are also grappling with the repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic.

But the Islamic cultural, spiritual and theological dimensions offer Muslims myriad ways of coping.

Adapting to new social norms

Muslims have relatively large families and tend to maintain extended family relations. Prophet Muhammad encouraged Muslims to keep strong family ties. The Quran inspires Muslims to be generous to kin (16:90) and treat the elderly with compassion (17:23).

These teachings have resulted in Muslims either living together as large families or keeping regular weekly visits and gatherings of extended family members. Many Muslims feel conflicted about the need to apply social distancing on one hand and the need to be close to family and relatives for comfort and support. Tighter restrictions on movement in some parts of Australia (NSW and Victoria) mean Muslims, like everyone else, are not allowed to visit extended family anymore.

One of the first changes brought about by social distancing has been to the Muslim custom of shaking hands followed by hugging (same gender) friends and acquaintances, especially in mosques and Muslim organisations. After a week or two of hesitation in March, the hugging completely stopped, making Muslims feel dismal.

Visiting the sick is considered a good deed in Islam. However, in the case of COVID-19, such visits are not possible. Checking up on those who are sick with phone calls, messages and social media is still possible and encouraged.

Cleanliness is half of faith

One aspect of coronavirus prevention that comes very naturally to Muslims is personal hygiene. Health organisations and experts promote personal hygiene to limit the spread of coronavirus, especially washing hands frequently for at least 20 seconds.

Islam has been encouraging personal hygiene for centuries. The Quran instructs Muslims to keep their clothes clean in one of the earliest revelations (74:4), remarking “God loves those who are clean” (2:222).

More than 14 centuries ago, Prophet Muhammad emphasized “cleanliness is half of faith” and encouraged Muslims to wash their hands before and after eating, bath at least once a week (and after marital relations), brush their teeth daily, and to groom their nails and private parts.

Additionally, Muslims have to perform a ritual ablution before the five daily prayers. The ablution involves washing hands up to the elbows, including interlacing of fingers, washing the face and feet, and wiping the hair.

While these do not completely prevent the spread of disease, they certainly help reduce the risk.

An interesting detail is that Muslims are required to wash their genitals after using the toilet. Even though Muslims use toilet paper, they are required to finish cleaning with water. This requirement led to some Muslims installing bidet sprayers in their bathrooms.

Closure of mosques and Friday services

Congregational prayers in mosques are important for Muslims in instilling a sense of being in the presence of the sacred, and a sense of being with other believers. Accordingly, they line up in rows with shoulders touching. This arrangement is extremely risky during a pandemic. Australian mosques are now closed because of coronavirus.

Deciding to skip optional daily congregational prayers was not too difficult for Muslims, but stopping Friday prayers has been more challenging. Friday prayer is the only Muslim prayer that has to be performed in a mosque. It consists of a 30-60 minute sermon followed by a five-minute congregational prayer conducted just after noon.

Stopping Friday prayers on a global scale has not occurred since it was introduced by Prophet Muhammad in 622, after he migrated to the city of Medina from the persecution he and his followers endured in Mecca.

Iran was the first to ban Friday prayers on March 4. While countries like Turkey and Indonesia tried to continue Friday prayers with social distancing, it did not work, and soon the entire Muslim world closed mosques for prayer services.

Fortunately for Muslims, the closure of mosques does not mean they stop daily prayers altogether. In Islam, individual prayers and worship play a greater role than communal ones. Muslims can pray five times a day wherever they are, and often home is a place where most praying takes place.

The void left by ending of Friday sermons in mosques has been filled to some extent by Friday sermons offered online.

Effect on Ramadan and the annual pilgrimage to Mecca

Two of the five pillars of Islamic practice are the fasting in Ramadan and the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.

Ramadan is only three weeks away. It starts in the last week of April and goes for a month. During this month, Muslims refrain from eating, drinking and marital relations from dawn to sunset on each day of the month. This part will not be affected by COVID-19.

What is affected are the evening breaking of fast dinners (iftar) and daily evening congregational prayers (tarawih). Muslims generally invite their friends and family members to these dinners. In Western countries, the invitations include non-Muslim acquaintances as well. Islamic organizations have already announced the cancellation of iftar dinners.

The three-day end of Ramadan festive celebrations (eid) will also be limited to family that live together.

The impact on pilgrimage is far greater.

The minor (and optional) Islamic pilgrimage (umrah) happens throughout the year, intensifying near Ramadan. With Iran a hot spot for coronavirus, Saudi Arabia suspended entry to Iranian and all other pilgrims as early as February 27.

The main pilgrimage (hajj) season occurs in late July. Although there is the possibility of the spread of the virus slowing by July, a pilgrimage involving more than two million people from just about every country on earth would almost certainly flame the virus into a second wave. Saudi Arabia is likely to cancel the main pilgrimage for 2020.

In the 14 centuries of Islamic history, pilgrimage has not been undertaken several times because of war and roads not being safe. But this is the first time in pilgrimage may be called off due to a pandemic.

As pilgrims reserve their spot and pay the full fee months ahead, the cancellation of hajj would result in losses of savings for millions of Muslims and cause massive job losses in the pilgrimage industry.

The balance between precaution and reliance on God

An early debate in Muslim circles around coronavirus has been a theological one. Muslims believe God created the universe and continues to actively govern its affairs. This would mean the emergence of the virus is an active creation of God.

So like some other religious groups, some Muslims argue that coronavirus was created by God to warn and punish humanity for consumerism, destruction of the environment and personal excesses. This means fighting the pandemic is futile and people should rely (tawakkul) on God to protect the righteous.

Such thinking may help in reducing the sense of fear and panic such a large-scale pandemic poses, but it can also make people unnecessarily complacent.

The vast majority of Muslims counter this fatalistic approach by arguing that while the emergence of the virus was not in human control, the spread of disease certainly is. They remind us that Prophet Muhammad advised a man who did not tie his camel because he trusted in God: “tie the camel first and then trust in God”.

Prophet Muhammad sought medical treatment and encouraged his followers to seek medical treatment, saying “God has not made a disease without appointing a remedy for it, with the exception of one disease—old age”.

Further, Prophet Muhammad advised on quarantine:

If you hear of an outbreak of plague in a land, do not enter it; if the plague outbreaks out in a place while you are in it, do not leave that place.

Sometimes affliction inevitably comes our way. The Quran teaches Muslims to see life’s difficult circumstances as a test — they are temporary hardships to strengthen us (2:153-157). Such a perspective allows Muslims to show resilience in times of hardship and tribulation, with sufficient strength to make it to the other side intact.

In times like this, some people will inevitably lose their wealth, income and even their lives. Prophet Muhammad advised the grieving that property lost during tribulations will be considered charity, and those who die as a result of pandemics will be considered martyrs of paradise.

As Muslims continue to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, they, like everyone else, are wondering how their lives might be changed afterwards.

Mehmet Ozalp, Associate Professor in Islamic Studies, Director of The Centre for Islamic Studies and Civilisation and Executive Member of Public and Contextual Theology, Charles Sturt University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

If you want to help in the fight against COVID-19, we have compiled an up-to-date list of community initiatives designed to aid medical workers and low-income people in this article. Link: [UPDATED] Anti-COVID-19 initiatives: Helping Indonesia fight the outbreak
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.