The coronavirus pandemic affects all communities, and most American Islamic institutions are taking the same precautions as others. Many dozens of mosques, community centers have canceled events and even Friday prayers.
Prominent mosques with well-established Islamist ties, such as the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center and the All Dulles Area Muslim Society, now sensibly advise congregants to "wash hands with soap and water for 20 seconds before Wudu [ritual ablution]" – a far cry from the dicta of Salafi activists in years past, some of whom deemed soap a bid'ah [sinful innovation].
Most Western Islamists today are preeminently pragmatic - an approach that, worryingly, yields a much more effective ideological movement than that of the parochial, fiery clerical-driven Islamism of the past.
However, despite their reduced influence, these clerics have not disappeared. And several have offered some explicit ideas about the causes of the coronavirus.
French cleric Bechir Ben Hassen has declared: "The virus is a soldier in Allah's army. Today, it's toppling people as if they were insects. The Chinese authorities imposed a siege on a million Uighur Muslims, and now, 50 million Chinese are besieged because of the virus, and they can't find a cure for it because this is God's will."
Canadian imam Hussein Amer has echoed this claim, adding "Can it not be a punishment from Allah? This is possible. This is conceivable."
Shafayat Mohamed, a prominent Florida-based cleric from the Deobandi Islamist movement, argues that the coronavirus is punishment for those who "don't do their duty for Allah"; but it is "purification" for those who follow Islam. (Similarly, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, has called coronavirus a "blessing".) China is being punished, Mohamed concluded, because it "harms Muslims" and "destroys Qurans."
Colorado Salafi imam Karim Abuzaid is particularly explicit. At his pulpit, he explains that coronavirus is divine punishment for homosexuality and adultery: "Any nation, they commit adultery openly, indecency, homo-, I don't want to be trouble here. We can't talk about that any more, you get in trouble for that. .... Allah will infect them with diseases, plagues their ancestor never experienced."
Yasir Qadhi, a leading modernist imam once known as a fiery preacher, attempts a more reasonable tone, in line with his recent embrace of "post-Salafi" thought. He writes that claims the coronavirus is a divine punishment is "not only unbefitting from a theological perspective, it is also unbecoming from a humanitarian perspective."
However, he then references the same hadith cited by Shafayat Mohamed, in which plagues are a "mercy for the believer." Qadhi attempts to strike a balance: "Every single disaster, personal or national, has the potential to be a punishment, or a means of mercy. It is how we respond that dictates which of the two it falls into."