الطُّهُورُ شَطْرُ الإِيمَانِ” – “Cleanliness is half the faith [Sahih Muslim Hadith]
India is setting new global records in daily COVID19 cases while neighboring Pakistan has seen an unrelenting decline in coronavirus cases in recent weeks. This is happening in spite of the fact that both nations have taken similar measures on paper to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. Both have imposed lockdowns. Both have required people to wear face masks in public. Both share similar climates, demographics and socioeconomic conditions. Then why this difference? Is it in the implementation of such measures? Or the fact that people in Muslim-majority Pakistan wash their hands before prayers much more often everyday with or without soap, a hygiene practice highly recommended by public health experts during the pandemic? Or could it be that fewer women in Pakistan participate in the work force? Let's examine this difference.
The best practice to limit transmission of coronavirus is to wash your hands with soap and water. Multiple studies have shown that hand-washing even without soap is quite effective in killing viruses and bacteria. A 2011 study from researchers at the London School of Tropical Hygiene found that washing with water alone reduced bacteria on hands to about one-quarter of their prewash state. A Japanese study reported that Washing your hands under running water — even without soap — is more effective at stopping the spread of flu germs than using ethanol-based hand sanitizers. When a significant percentage of a large population such as Pakistan's does indeed wash their hands under running water even without soap, the collective benefit has the potential to be large.
Muslim Wudu Includes Hand-washing
As the COVID19 pandemic began, many Muslim scholars began to recommend that people wash their hands for 20 seconds with soap before doing wudu. While British urban neighborhoods with large ethnic minority populations make up more than three quarters of England's coronavirus hotspots, the numbers coming from Muslim communities in areas which could be expected to be hard-hit are low.
|Coronavirus Case Trajectory in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh & United States|
In terms of global numbers, there are no major Muslim-majority countries among the most affected by coronavirus, with the possible exception of Iran. As of now, the top 5 nations most affected by COVID19 cases are: United States, Brazil, India, Russia and Peru. Measuring by deaths per million, the top 5 are: Belgium, Spain, UK, Italy and Sweden. Muslims make up a tiny percentage of populations in these countries.
COVID19: Government Response Stringency Index. Source: Our World in Data
Professor Richard Webber of Newcastle University has attributed this phenomenon to cultural habits such as frequent hand washing (wudu) that may be protecting England's Muslims from coronavirus. The Webber Phillips report shows that of 17 coronavirus hotspots in Britain – three quarters of which have large minority populations – Muslim areas are ‘conspicuous by their absence’.
Muslim women, however, may be protected and contribute to lower rates among their communities because so few of them have jobs – a report by the Young Foundation shows just 29 per cent of British Muslim women are employed. Labor force participation rate of women in India and Pakistan is about the same at 22%.
COVID19 Impact. Source: Worldometer August 24 2020
Dr. Syra Madad, the 34-year-old Pakistani-American head of New York City’s Health and Hospitals System-wide Special Pathogens Program, conveys the importance of personal hygiene in containing the spread of viruses. She takes regular breaks to say her prayers at the Islamic Center of New York University. Before entering the prayer room, Madad stops to perform wudu, and washes her hands, mouth and face as well as her feet, according to a Washington Post report.
Dr. Madad is featured in a 6-part Netflix documentary series "Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak". She had warned of a deadly pandemic in December, 2019, just days before China reported to the World Health Organization that it was treating dozens of patients for a novel virus of unknown origin. We now know it as coronavirus or Covid-19. The series debuted in January 2020, but recent events have pushed it into Netflix’s “Top 10 in the U.S. Today.”
Dr. Syra Madad is a devout Muslim. The Netflix series shows her praying at her home in Long Island, New York. She says, "I live and breathe being a Muslim. It shapes my daily life. I don't drink I don't meat that's not halal.....I do no harm and help others".
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