My sister’s birthname is Lawanen, named after the Princess in the Maranao mythical folktale Darangen. Growing up, she went to Mecca with my mother and was “christened” Maimona, or Emon, interchangeably with Aida. (Among Muslims, if you successfully performed the Haj pilgrimage, you may adopt an additional Arabic name from Islamic tales.)
She is the most religious among the siblings, bar none. She not only performs the basic tenets ordained by the Holy Koran and the Hadith al-Sharief (traditions and tales about Prophet Mohamad PBUH), but performs as well other Islamic chores, which ordinary Muslims are not wont to perform because they are not mandatory. As far as I can recall, since coming of age she has not missed a single pilgrimage to Mecca, be it the obligatory Haj or the non-obligatory Umrah pilgrimage. They recently constructed a mosque complete with ablution space and room for peripatetic evangelists who have no place to spend the night and converted the top floor of her three-story building as worship cum assembly hall for her lectures on Islamic values and traditions. Like her husband Rifaat, she is active in the Tablighi Jama’at, a religious and spiritual movement for the teaching of key Islamic principles and practices founded by Maulana Muhammad Ilyas. She joins likewise in the da’wa evangelization of Islam that gets her even to foreign countries to proselytize. Her belief and devotion to Islam is absolute to a fault.
She observes Ramadan, fasting with all its dos and don’ts to the letter. Not only that. There are special days in the Islamic calendar that suggest fasting for a day or several days, which are not obligatory but discretionary, which she observes doggedly. At one time, I kidded her that with her religiosity, there is a chance of her being canonized as a latter-day santa (saint), not that we have that in the Muslim tradition. The last week of this month is the start of the fasting month of Holy Ramadan and she had made the prep for her family to buy and store foods and other necessities for the holiday.
With the outbreak of the pandemic, she left her fate absolutely to the will of Allah SWT. She posted in our family chatroom the relevant verses of the Holy Koran and the number of times we will chant them, which she believes are antidotes for the viral menace. She exudes confidence that she is prepared for the virus. Where is her optimism coming from?
She performs the obligatory Muslim prayers five times a day like a clockwork. (Her knees and forehead show signs of black callous due to constant prostrations and bowing against the prayer mat). Before prayer, a devotee is obliged to do ablution. Among the parts of the body to be cleansed are the face, the mouth through gargling, nose and ears. According to health experts, COVID-19 enters the throat and lungs to attack the respiratory system through these entry parts of the body. And note that this hygienic ritual is performed five times a day. Is there a better and more effective mechanism versus the virus than this practice?
Emon, since I can remember, has been donning the burqa-like raiment of a Muslim Afghani woman where the entire body from head to foot is covered with a black dress, including wearing socks and hand gloves. Imagine the inconvenience she has suffered for years. When she eats, she has to lift a part of the cloth covering her mouth. The little slit that provides her vision is even covered with a reading glass. Where will the virus enter? This is more than the face mask and the so-called personal protective equipment, which government and health authorities prescribe to frontliners and the general public. No, I am not suggesting that all women should consider wearing the burqa. This is not even a universal practice among Muslim women. Some find it too strict an interpretation of the Koranic injunction, impractical, divisive and retrogressive. But Muslim women should consider wearing them while the virus is staring at us.
Will she be spared from the deadly virus? No, there is no guarantee. Far from it, she could anytime fall victim to it. But I daresay that barring any unexpected health problem, she has the least chance of being inflicted despite her vulnerable age, in sha Allah.