04/14/2020, 16.47
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Algeria: people told the epidemic can be stopped with the Qurʼān

by Kamel Abderrahmani

Handing out copies of the holy book and using loudspeakers to read passages from it are supposed to help fight the coronavirus. In reality, by giving the current health crisis an apocalyptic character, those in power are using religion to stay in power.

Paris (AsiaNews) – A young Muslim intellectual slams the use of religion, specifically Qurʼānic chapters (Sūrah), to fight the coronavirus. Recited and broadcast with loudspeakers, this keeps people in ignorance. His criticism underscores the tragic situation of Algeria’s civilian hospitals, which lack everything compared to military hospitals, reserved for the elite, which are well stocked. (Translation by AsiaNews).

Ridicule may not kill but ignorant people can do by themselves what their enemy dare not do. This is what is happening in Algeria right now. Whilst our Mediterranean neighbours are using all medical resources at their disposal to stop and defeat the COVID-19, in Algeria, to achieve this goal, the Religious Affairs Ministry has undertaken two completely outlandish, abject, inconceivable, dishonest, and even laughable initiatives.

Rest assured that the first initiative is not about handing out masks to poor people or providing some of its budget money to help our underequipped hospitals. No, it involves handing out copies of the Qurʼān across the country. This is a way to push people towards irrational and religious arguments, which are useless vis-à-vis the pandemic.

In order to carry out this "important project", the state has mobilised Islamic associations, local Salafist militants who ensure that neighbourhoods and villages tow the line, and is providing residents with copies of the Qurʼān, inviting them to "deal with" the health crisis through religion. Meanwhile, public hospitals endure severe shortages of the most basic means of protection against the coronavirus, except for the right to a copy of the Qurʼān; whilst military hospitals, which are reserved for the powerful, have proper equipment that cannot be found in regular hospitals. In short, the Qur'an is for the poor and medicine is for VIPs and their families.

I have the impression that the Algerian state and Islamists would like us to reserve our place "up there". Put another way, Algerian authorities seem more concerned with the faith of ordinary Algerians in the present and in their fate in the afterlife than in their health and their need for hospital beds in the here and now.

The second initiative is more controversial and trickier than the first. The Algerian state, faithful to its old modus operandi, uses the sacred to silence people and manipulate the masses, through Religious Affairs Ministry. The latter issued instructions to imams to broadcast Qurʼānic readings via mosque loudspeakers even if mosques themselves are still closed. Thus, Sūrah are recited for about 30 minutes before noon prayers. According to the Ministry, this stems from “popular demand”! I wonder who asked for this? How did they ask for it? The demand came from social media, petitions and Islamist associations, Minister.

This argument is entirely disingenuous. The request came from Islamist associations which try every which way to keep up “religious appearances” as a way of holding the ground and attach an apocalyptic character to this health crisis. This suits the authorities too as they try to paralyse the population. In other words, the use of the sacred is far from being a healthy practice. The authorities seek to distract the people from the real issues and the major problem; in this case, the health emergency that threatens people and the dismal, if not catastrophic state of Algerian hospitals. This goes to show that Islamism has always been the friend of dictatorship and social deprivation.

What is the use of this? Will it save us from the tragedy that COVID-19 can cause? Wouldn't it have been better to inform people and teach them how to protect themselves, how to manage confinement? Instead of reciting the Holy Qurʼān with loudspeakers, which can upset the sick, the elderly, children, or focus on invocations, mosques should try instead to influence people by appealing for civility since the personnel of these religious establishments are supposed to be role models.

For their part, instead of providing needed care and basic products to help people avoid endangering themselves as they rush to buy bags semolina, as we see every day, the authorities and their institutions have chosen to leave people in ignorance and obscurantism, feeding them an archaic notion of religion.

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