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Religious Obligations over Coronavirus according to Ayatollah Sistani

The office of Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Sistani has answered some questions about the coronavirus outbreak and its repercussions‌ include how a person should deal with those who are infected, [the limits] of visitation and interaction among people, performing the ritual wash on a person who has died due to COVID-19, and many others.

During this global coronavirus outbreak, the Office of the Supreme Religious Authority, Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Sistani (May God prolong his life), has been receiving many questions about the current pandemic and its repercussions. These questions include how a person should deal with those who are infected, [the limits] of visitation and interaction among people, performing the ritual wash on a person who has died due to COVID-19, and many others.

Below are some of these questions along with their answers, which will be updated regularly.

His eminence Ayatollah Sistani mentioned the following recommendations in his statement concerning this pandemic:

“Treating patients, caring for them, and managing their affairs [while they are unable to do so] is incumbent upon all those qualified to perform these tasks like physicians, nurses, and other healthcare professionals. This is based on al-wujub al-kifa’i or the obligation to do so upon those who are qualified until the aforementioned tasks are adequately executed by some (i.e. the obligation is lifted from others thereafter). There is no doubt that the effort these honorable individuals are exerting – in spite of all the challenges – is great and invaluable, and perhaps it is as important as the strife of those who fight in defense of their country and people. Certainly, God Almighty appreciates their efforts in this world and will reward them for it in the Hereafter. Rather, it is hoped that those who sacrifice their lives for this cause will be honored [by God] with the reward and status of a martyr on the day of judgement. Hence, we offer them abundant thanks and utmost appreciation for their great humanitarian work. We pray to God Almighty to guard and protect them and keep away all evil from them.

Question 1. With the spread of the coronavirus, what is the duty of the believers?

Answer 1: 

  1. Praying and pleading to God (i.e., asking for His Grace) for this affliction to be removed from everyone. Hopefully, the prayers of the believers will be accepted by God Almighty.
  2. Adhering to the professional health guidelines as much as possible.
  3. Striving to help others keep safe from the virus, and if possible, attending to those infected by it to help them recover. Of course, in certain cases and circumstances, some aspects of the last two duties will be obligatory (wajib).

Question 2. When would it not be recommended (mustahabb) or obligatory (wajib) to establish daily congregational and Friday prayers?

Answer 2:  The prohibition must be taken seriously wherever such a gathering has been prohibited in order to prevent the spread of the aforementioned virus. If there is no prohibition, then there is no problem [in attending such a gathering] as long as the health guidelines are observed. Of course, if someone fears that as a result of attending, they may become infected by the virus and suffer significant harm, or it may lead to their death, then that person must avoid attending.

Question 3. If doctors advise that a person should keep a distance of 1 to 2 meters from others, would congregational prayers with such gaps be valid?

Answer 3:  There is no problem if the gap is approximately one meter. However, if the gap between  those praying in one row (i.e., next to each other), or between the place of the feet of those in the row in front and the place of the turbah/mohr in the next row, is approximately two meters, then the  formation of the congregational prayer is problematic (i.e., based on obligatory precaution, it is not  valid).

Question 4. If one is visited by a believer, is it permissible to refuse them entry into the house if it is reasonably suspected the visitor may be infected with the coronavirus?

Answer 4:  There is no problem in doing so provided the way they deal with the visitor does not belittle or disrespect them.

Question 5. If a person fails to adhere to the precautionary health guidelines, would this be considered a sin?  If they cause another to become infected, would they be liable to pay for the person’s medical expenses?  If, God forbid, it resulted in the death of the other person, would they be liable to pay blood money?  If the infected person was unable to work thereafter, would the person [who infected them] be liable to pay for the loss of earnings?

Answer 5:  Adhering to the health guidelines with regard to oneself is definitely necessary when there is fear of becoming infected with the virus and there is a serious possibility of death or significant harm if the person were to become infected. In the event that one does not adhere [to the health guidelines] and what they [previously] deemed a possibility actually transpires, then they will not be religiously excused [i.e., they will be culpable].  If someone is infected with the virus and does not adhere to the health guidelines in their interactions with others and the other party is unaware [that the person is infected], then they will be liable for any harm that the other party suffers. If it leads to the other party’s death, the person must pay blood money. Furthermore, if the other party is a worker who makes a living by working, then during the period of their treatment and inability to work, the person who infected them is liable to pay them [for loss of earnings] at the standard rate.

Question 6. What is his eminence’s advice on traveling for recommended (mustahabb) ziyarah in Iraq, Iran, and Syria, and for recommended (mustahabb) umrah, and later for obligatory (wajib) or recommended (mustahabb) hajj?

Answer 6:  See the answer to question 2.

Question 7. With reference to Ruling 656 and 657 in the Farsi Tawdih al‐Masa’il Jami’ book and the obligatory (wajib) and recommended (mutahabb) acts concerning a dying person, if a doctor advises not to touch someone infected with the coronavirus, what would be the ruling?

Question 8. With reference to Ruling 662 in Tawdih al‐Masa’il Jami’ book, would the recommended (mustahabb) act of transferring a dying person in pain to the place where they used to perform their prayers, become disliked (makruh) or haram if they were infected with the coronavirus?

Question 9. Would the disapproval of leaving a dying person alone be lifted in a coronavirus infected case?

Question 10. With reference to Ruling 664 in Tawdih al‐Masa’il Jami’ book, would it be recommended (mustahabb) to close the eyes and mouth of a dead body that is infected with the coronavirus?

Answers 7, 8, 9, 10:  If someone fears they will suffer harm due to the fulfillment of given act, then what was obligatory (wajib) no longer remains obligatory, and what was recommended (mustahabb) or disliked (makruh) must be avoided. In cases other than these, the act can be performed.

Question 11. With reference to Ruling 706 in Tawdih al‐Masa’il Jami’ book, if performing ghusl on a dead body that has been infected with the coronavirus poses a risk for the person doing the washing, can tayammum be performed instead?

Answer 11:  Yes, if there are no means for performing ghusl without risk, then tayammum must be performed.

Question 12. If it is harmful to perform tayammum on a dead body infected with the coronavirus, either with the hands of the person performing the tayammum or with the hands of the dead body, how would tayammum be performed?

Answer 12:  Tayammum on a dead body must be performed by the hands of the one performing tayammum (i.e., the one performing the rituals of death and burial), and in case performing it without wearing gloves poses a risk, then there is no problem in wearing gloves.

Question 13. If performing tayammum on a dead body becomes obligatory (wajib) but there is a high risk of contracting the coronavirus, is it permitted to bury the dead body without ghusl and tayammum?

Answer 13:  If there is fear of harm in performing ghusl or tayammum, then the dead body must be buried without ghusl and tayammum.

Question 14. With reference to Ruling 728 in Tawdih al‐Masa’il Jami’ book, if it is not possible to apply obligatory (wajib) camphor to a dead body that is infected with the coronavirus, is it permissible to leave it out camphorating, and is there any replacement act?

Answer 14:  In case of fear of harm, it is not required and there is no replacement.

Question 15. With reference to Ruling 755 and 757 in Tawdih al‐Masa’il Jami’ book, is it allowed to bury a dead body infected with the coronavirus in a coffin?

Answer 15:  There is no problem in placing the dead body in a coffin. If the coffin is buried in the ground, then of course the dead body must be laid on its right side in a way that the front of the body faces the qiblah.

Question 16. With reference to Ruling 756, in Tawdih al‐Masa’il Jami’, if based on obligatory precaution it is not allowed to keep a dead body in cold storage, then is it permissible to do so if the body is infected with the coronavirus until it is safe for burial?

Answer 16:  If it is required to keep the body in cold storage for a relatively long period of time so that  the obligatory (wajib) acts of burial can be performed, then there is no problem; in fact, in such a case, it  is necessary [to keep it in cold storage].

Question 17. With reference to Ruling 758 in Tawdih al‐Masa’il Jami’ book, if someone dies on a ship, the burial must be delayed until the ship reaches land. In such a case, should the burial be delayed until the infection is controlled, so that the obligatory (wajib) acts of burial can be performed on a dead body infected with the coronavirus?

Answer 17:  There is no problem [in delaying the burial] as long as the dead body does not decompose and there is no issue with it staying in cold storage.

Question 18. What should be our duty towards non‐Muslims who are affected with the coronavirus locally and globally?

Answer 18:  Helping them to recover and get better is an admirable thing to do.

Question 19. What should be our belief about such afflictions?

Answer 19:  The belief should be that there is profound wisdom behind all the tribulations and afflictions that happen, even though we may not know what that wisdom is.

Question 20. What spiritual acts does his eminence recommend for averting this affliction?

Answer 20:  The recommendation is to read the Glorious Qur’an and the supplication (Du’a) that have been reported from the Infallible and Pure Ahl al-Bayt (p).

Question 21: What is the ruling on washing, shrouding, and burying the body of a dead person if the cause of death is an infectious virus (or other contagious pathogen) that requires caution and avoidance according to the religious edicts of his eminence Ayatollah Sistani (may God prolong his life).

Answer 21: Any act that poses harm to the person who undertakes the preparation of the deceased [under such circumstances] is revoked. However, if it is possible to perform tayammum on the deceased, albeit wearing gloves, and shroud the body, even if with a plastic cover, it must be done. The funeral prayer and burial should be performed as required thereafter.

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About Ali Teymoori

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