As of Sunday, Febrary 2nd, 2020, His Eminence resumed meeting with visitors to his office…
During this global coronavirus outbreak, the Office of the Supreme Religious Authority, Grand Ayatullah al-Sayyid al-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 al-Sayyid al-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 37: In order to [safely] hold congregational prayers in mosques and other places of worship, government officials in our country require congregants to keep a distance of two meters (approximately 6 feet) between adjacent individuals in any given row, and that a vacant row should be included between one row and another. Therefore, can congregational prayer take place under such conditions (i.e., is it valid) according to the rulings of His Eminence al-Sayyid al-Sistani?
Answer 37: A [maximum] distance of 120 cm (approximately 4 feet) is permissible between a prayer congregant and the person standing next to them in the same row and between the place of prostration of a given row and where congregants stand in the row ahead of them. A distance of two meters [between congregants], as described in the question, is problematic for the establishment of a valid congregational prayer. [Source: https://www.sistani.org/arabic/qa/02756/]
Question 36: What is the ruling on placing the deceased in a box (i.e., coffin) and burying the box in the ground?
Answer 36: It is permissible, and if possible, the deceased must be placed on their right side inside the box facing the direction of Qibla.
Question 35: Cadavers infected with contagious pathogens (e.g., coronavirus) are often cremated in some non-Muslim countries. Is it permissible to cremate a Muslim’s body? Should the family of the deceased refrain from it if they have a choice?
Answer 35: It is not permissible to cremate the dead body of a Muslim, and the family and relatives, or anyone else must refrain from it and insist on burying the deceased according to Islamic laws.
Question 34: Is shrouding the dead body with three garments obligatory? What if the health authorities prohibit the sealed plastic that is wrapped over the body from being opened, is it permissible to shroud the body over the plastic?
Answer 34: It is necessary to shroud the deceased with three garments if possible, even if it is done over a sealed plastic cover. If it is not possible to shroud the body with all three garments then it must be shrouded with what is feasible, such as the full wrapping or izar that covers the entire body.
Question 33: Is there any replacement ritual act if it is not possible to apply obligatory (wajib) camphor to the seven parts of the dead body?
Answer 33: The obligation of camphorating is revoked in such a case and there is no replacement.
Question 32: Is it obligatory to perform a ritual wash (ghusl) on the body of a person who died due to COVID-19 or is it sufficient to perform dry ablution (tayammum)? What if the health authorities do not allow dry ablution (tayammum) given medical staff place the deceased in a special bag with preservatives and prohibit the bag from being opened before burial?
Answer 32: If performing a ritual bath (ghusl) on the dead body is not possible due to a risk of transmission, then dry ablution (tayammum) must be performed on it by the hands of a living person, even if it is performed wearing gloves. If tayammum is not possible either [due to the high risk of disease communication], or the health authorities prohibit it, the dead body must be buried without ghusl or tayammum.
Question 31: What do you advise believers in the difficult circumstances being faced with this dangerous pandemic?
Answer 31: We recommend the honorable believers the following:
A. Resort to God Almighty and plead with Him to remove this affliction. In addition, perform more good deeds such as giving charity to the poor, helping the feeble, reading the glorious Qur’an and supplications of the Prophet and his purified household (pbut).
B. Take precaution that is appropriate for this pandemic without panicking, and implement the fullest prevention measures and treatment according to what the specialists instruct, and stay away from any unscientific (i.e., unproven) methods.
C. Raise awareness among others of the dangers of underestimating this virus and urge them to abide by the directions issued by the authorities and not violate them.
D. Help families that are affected by the current situation due to business disruptions and restrictions on the movement of people.
E. Care for those who are infected by the virus, regardless of their religious and sectarian affiliation, and seek to provide them with what they need.
Question 30: Is it permissible to utilize religious dues (e.g., zakat & Khums) in providing the necessary supplies to protect against the transmission of the virus from those who are infected by it, such as medical gloves, masks, cleansers, sterile materials, as well as medicines and other supplies that are urgently needed in combating this pandemic? If it is permissible to utilize the religious dues in this way, does this apply to a specific country or for all countries where the need exists?
Answer 30: There is no problem in spending from the portion that is designated as the cause of God of zakat [sabeel Allah] and from the portion of the Imam (p) (i.e., sahm al-Imam) of khums provided that the religious criteria of distribution are observed, and this is not restricted to a specific country.
Question 29: Is it obligatory for a person who arrives from a country where there is a virus outbreak or they have interacted with those who are infected by it [in that country] to adhere to a home quarantine or undergo a diagnostic test to make sure they are not infected by the virus?
Answer 29: Yes, it is obligatory to do so, taking into account the instructions issued by the relevant [health and government] authorities in this regard.
Question 28: If a person has a contagious disease or has signs of possibly being infected by a contagion, is it permissible for them to mix with others who are unaware of their condition?
Answer 28: It is not permissible for them to mix with others such that they transmit the disease to others. If they do, they would be liable for any harm that results as well as any consequent blood money (diya) in the case of death.
Question 27: Is it necessary to avoid contact with others who might be ill by avoiding shaking hands, hugging and kissing, and is it permissible to mix with them without taking precautionary measures such as wearing medical gloves?
Answer 27: If one fears transmission of infection due to [social] mixing with others such that it entails severe harm, even if it does not cause death, the person must avoid such interactions. This is the case except if they take the necessary precautions such as sterilization and the use of appropriate masks and medical gloves such that they can ensure protection against the infection. Therefore, if they do not adhere to these precautionary measures, and become infected as a result, they will not be excused religiously (i.e., they will be liable for its consequences).
Question 26: What are the recommendations and advice on humanitarian aid, especially in light of the current situation in which many people are starting to lose their jobs and need care and attention?
Answer 26: It is primarily the responsibility of the government to provide for the basic needs of families affected by the current situation. However, in the event of [a shortage or] insufficient attention to discharging this service, it is imperative for those who are able to contribute to this important cause to do so, which is one of the best deeds of goodness. Therefore, cooperation and assistance are expected from the following:
1) Those who are financially capable should contribute what they are [reasonably] able to do so, and they can include it from their religious dues (e.g., khums) according to (i.e., as long as they follow) the religious criteria of distribution.
2) Merchants of foodstuffs should display and provide (i.e., not hoard) what they have and they should avoid raising the prices (i.e., price gouging).
3) Youth volunteers should seek out needy families who may be neglected and deliver food to them. However, they must coordinate such activities with the authorities to avoid violating curfew in the regions where there is a ban. Moreover, all necessary measures must be taken to safeguard themselves from this virus, God forbid.
4) Organizers of Husseini procession (i.e., those who organize and participate in the annual Arbaeen processions and other such gatherings that move from one place to another) should mobilize their activities and services by supporting the affected families, while simultaneously observing all necessary measures to prevent the infection and spread of the virus.
Question 25: What is the ruling for those who do not follow the instructions of doctors and the government mandates instituted to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, and instead, wish to attend places of worship for supplicating and practicing religious rituals?
Answer 25: It is sufficient for one to supplicate at home with their family. Whoever violates the instructions of the healthcare and public health professionals is considered a sinner. Moreover, anyone who knows that they are infected with the virus and [do not heed the instructions and intentionally violate the necessary restrictions and] cause transmission of the virus to others [resulting in their death], their act is considered a sin and an intentional killing, and as such, they are responsible for the consequent blood money. Even if they did not know that they have the virus [and similarly do not heed the instructions and intentionally violate the necessary restrictions], they are responsible for the sin of an unintentional killing.
Question 24: Healthcare professionals provide health advice based on their expertise while government agencies [also] share relevant advice and instructions to reduce the spread of the coronavirus pandemic in order to protect lives. What is the view of the supreme religious authority (i.e. from a religious perspective)?
Answer 24: His eminence al-Sayyid al-Sistani deems it incumbent on everyone to follow the guidelines provided by healthcare professionals and the course of action necessitated by the national government in this regard. Furthermore, he prohibits any congregation of people that is expressly prohibited by government officials. Thus, it is necessary to act in a rational manner [in every circumstance], including matters of health and well-being. As such, in order to protect all citizens, it is not permissible to participate in [any] public gatherings that the government prohibits, because [in this case] violating government decisions is considered a violation of the supreme religious authority, which is religiously unlawful.
Question 23: Does the obligation of shrouding (takfeen) the deceased become revoked if the cause of death is an infectious virus (or other contagious pathogen), just as the ritual wash (ghusl) and dry ablution (tayammum) become revoked due to fear of transmission of the infection? What about the funeral prayer?
Answer 23: It is necessary to shroud the deceased with three garments if possible, even if it is done over an insulating plastic. Moreover, prayer must be performed on them. Thereafter, the deceased can be placed in a box and buried. However, if possible, they must be placed on their right side facing the direction of Qibla.
Question 22: Does the obligation of performing the ritual wash (ghusl) and dry ablution (tayammum) on a deceased become revoked if the cause of death is an infectious virus (or other contagious pathogen) and fear of transmission of the infection exists [for those performing the ritual acts]?
Answer 22: If it is not possible to perform the ritual wash on the deceased due to fear of transmission of infection, even when wearing special [protective] clothing meant for dealing with infected individuals, one must resort to dry ablution (tayammum), even if by using medical gloves. If that is not possible either, the obligation is revoked. Hence, the deceased should be buried without a ritual wash or dry ablution.
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 Ayatullah al-Sayyid al-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.
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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 9. Would the disapproval of leaving a dying person alone be lifted in a coronavirus infected case?
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 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 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 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 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 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 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 1. With the spread of the coronavirus, what is the duty of the believers?
- 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.
- Adhering to the professional health guidelines as much as possible.
- 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).