The debate on the round table this time was about the question, if the present pandemic is curse of God. To relate to it as a curse of God is a commonplace belief unfortunately, not only among ordinary people but also among the so called scholars. This debate took us into the history, centuries ago, when Muslim world was under the fire of the ‘Black Death’. The following story will give you a glimpse!

The autumn of 1347 represents the beginning year of a stirringly horrible period of Islamic history that unfortunately followed the death and destruction caused by Mongol invasion just a century before. This was another invasion of a different kind.

The sailors landed at Alexandria Egypt with the Black Death on their bodies. It soon engulfed the whole the Muslim world like fire in the jungle, from Damascus to the remotest west point in North Africa. This was an extremely lethal pandemic of Small Pox. Being both ‘bubonic’ involving skin and lymph glands, and ‘pneumonic’ meaning contagious by breath going deep into the lungs instantaneously, it sprayed out death everywhere. It is estimated that within one and a half year, up to one third of the Muslim population perished from the face of the earth. The death came very swift. Those afflicted would die from internal bleeding in no time, within hours to minutes. Mosques were turned into mortuaries where corpses were deposited in such large numbers that their burials had to be often hastened without funeral rites.

Was it a curse of God? Muslims in pain and great suffering asked this question. Many were quick to believe that the sickness that has caused such a havoc was the result of poisoned arrows from invisible Jinns aimed at human habitations, as a curse of God for their immoral behavior. It is amazingly intriguing that many centuries later, even today many, including very seemingly rational and educated Muslims, are still struggling with similar questions.

People derived consolation from well-sourced hadiths. Though reassuring in a way, they reinforced the belief that this was supernatural, a divine plan bound to happen. To paraphrase the Hadith it was indeed a ‘great blessing in disguise’ for the believers, as it made them martyrs. The death in pandemic was a ticket to Jennah.

The boldest and the most arrogant dissent to above understanding came from a progressive scholar of their time, from the farthest outpost of Islamic world Andalusia. His name was Ibn al-Khatib who died 1378. Discarding any divine hand or any demonic assault in the causation of disease, he wrote his thesis on this human catastrophe a decade later in which he introduced for the first time, the hypothesis of a “contagion” that transmitted the disease from person to person by physical contact thus concluding that it was all cause and effect like many other things in the world. He wrote “it is true that the Prophet was sometimes said to have suggested otherwise, but a proof taken from the traditions has to undergo a renewed and modified identification when they are in manifest contradiction with the evidence of the perception of senses (scientific evidence.)” A few years later he was strangled to death in his jail cell. Heresy was one of the charges against him. This shows that story of violent extremism in Islam in an old one. In the panic of the pandemic, Ibn al-Khatib became a condemned victim unfortunately for his impertinent contradiction to the belief of divine reassurance or rebuke.

It is very unfortunate and sad that even now after so much of breakthrough research and advancement in medical science, a pandemic still gives rise to unscientific and unreasonable ideas among Muslims. Even educated and seemingly balanced-minded individuals are quick to declare it as God’s punishment or work of the devil or some kind of underworld conspiracy. The same mind, we see in operative in spreading false theories about vaccination, be it against Polio or Covid, promoting resistance to its acceptance. Then there are ignorant religious scholars who don’t hesitate to instill doubts about science among the ignorant masses in order to prove superiority of faith over reason. They often do so they disseminating fake stories from the past to support supernaturalism.