Reporter: Camille McEachnie

One Tobago imam is calling out his Tobago and Trinidad Muslim brothers for holding public Eid-ul-Fitr prayers during the COVID-19 pandemic for a “select” five members at different times.

Yusuf Diab, imam of the Masjid Ibn Abbaas at Crown Point and director of the Tobago Islamic Learning Centre, told Guardian Media via email that the imams holding the prayers, which will be scheduled for either Sunday or Monday depending on when the moon is seen Saturday evening, are violating the fair and balanced Islamic legislation principles of Islam and are going against the advice of Islamic scholars worldwide. He said the plan can also cause the virus to spread.

Also calling the prayers “elitist”, Diab, head of one of two Muslim sects in Tobago, said “selecting specific persons to attend prayers on an unjust select basis “is a form of spiritual gatekeeping” and goes against Islam, which seeks to break down “social and racial barriers.”

Diab noted that most of the Islamic world had issued official statements calling on Muslims to hold prayers at home with their family because of the pandemic.

Following is Diab’s full statement:

It has come to our attention that there are some mosques in Tobago and Trinidad that are planning to do the ʿEid celebration with a maximum of five people, due to the COVID-19 pandemic regulations. These five people will be chosen based on “merit,” according to them, i.e. being regulars in the mosque etc. This is extremely irresponsible of them from several angles.

Firstly, the Major Scholars of Islām, those who have all the credentials and right to speak in this religion, have given us a ruling and a concession based on sound, scholastic jurisprudence that we should conduct the ʿEid prayer by ourselves, with our families, in our homes in this novel situation. Add the fact that the official religious bodies of most of the Islāmic world in countries like Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have all issued official statements that ʿEid will be prayed by the people at home this year. This is based on the important principle in the Islāmic Legislation that, “Prevention of harm takes precedence over the enjoinment of good”. So even if there is a slight possibility that one out of those five chosen could have the disease and spread it, then we must take steps to ensure that it is prevented from happening.

Secondly, a person’s position of piety is known by Allāh, The Most High, and there is no precedent for any “merit” system between mankind in matters of worship in Islām, in any of the Schools of Thought in the religion. The only merit system that exists is between the worshiper and his/her Lord Allāh, but between each other we cannot decide who “qualifies” for certain merits or not. e.g. there is no merit system for who goes to Hajj (pilgrimage), or who’s allowed to go to the mosque or other than that. So on what scale has this so-called “merit” system been justified? Who decides which five gets to come to this elite ʿEid Prayer that will undoubtedly leave a larger segment of the local Muslim populous isolated and disenfranchised? Are these five chosen based on a particular race or status in the society? Regular attendance in the mosque cannot be a criterion either, as many Muslims live far from the mosque, unlike in a Muslim country where there is a mosque on every corner, so perhaps some cannot afford to travel to the mosque as regularly as the well-off Muslims can. So piety and “merit” cannot be judged based on attendance, as the best Muslim might be financially poor but spiritually rich in faith, and Allāh knows the hearts of the people best.

Thirdly and finally, if a sixth, seventh or eighth Muslim shows up, as undoubtedly would because of ignorance of the nature of the affair, then who will prevent him from participating? Is it worth the fifty thousand dollar fine if the authorities show up and the scandal that will ensue when Police is involved and it appears like the Muslims are stubborn and defiant?

Islām is a way of life that is divinely revealed and one of its objectives is to equalize the status quo and break down social and racial barriers. So to defy the Scholars of Islām and the official health recommendations—even when staying within the five person constraints—and praying the ʿEid Prayer publicly cannot be an act of piety. Rather, it appears to be a misguided act of selfishness and unjust selective bias that is not pious et al, but a form of being spiritual gatekeepers and no doubt a form of extremism. To conduct such an elitist ʿEid Prayer in the face of the current state of pandemic could be understood as a statement of injustice to the general Muslim population and a bold defiance of the principles of Islām and the fair and balanced Sharīʿah (The Islāmic Legislation)

Yusuf Diab

Imam, Masjid Ibn Abbaas, Tobago.