Coronavirus and religion – update 1 April 2020

By Lianne Kolirin


•  A trainee Anglican priest stranded on the Solomon Islands has told The Times that he is likely to be one of the last Britons to be repatriated. Sam Rylands, from Bristol, who is due to be ordained this summer, has been staying with the Melanesian Brotherhood since the beginning of March. He is in the final year of ordination training for the Church of England, studying at Trinity College Bristol. Mr Rylands had planned to be on the islands, east of Papua New Guinea, until just after Easter but now his flight and others have been cancelled. He told The Times that the British high commissioner suggested his repatriation would not be a priority. “He was very frank in saying it likely won’t impact me for a long while, especially given the vast number of people stranded in so many parts of the world, many of them in big groups,” Mr Rylands said.

• A south London faith healer has been accused of exploiting the “high anxiety” of the coronavirus crisis after it emerged that he has been selling a “plague protection kit” for £91 online. The Daily Telegraph reports that Bishop Climate Wiseman, head of the Kingdom Church in Camberwell, has told followers they can obtain protection from the virus by purchasing a small bottle of oil and a piece of red yarn. The bishop told the PA news agency that his kits, which are no longer on sale, stemmed from religious teachings. “This is based on the Bible — I’m a Christian and there is a way that the Bible says to protect us from plagues,” he said. Victoria Mills, a Southwark Council cabinet member, said: “It is wrong for anyone to exploit people’s fears at this time of high anxiety and we encourage people to report any issues like this to London Trading Standards.”


• Saudi Arabia has urged Muslims to hold off planning for the annual Hajj pilgrimage until there is more clarity about the coronavirus pandemic, Al-Jazeera has reported. Up to 2.5 million international pilgrims flock to Mecca and Medina for the week-long annual ritual in July. The pilgrimage is also a significant source of income for the kingdom, which last month suspended the year-round Umrah pilgrimage. According to Al-Jazeera, minister Mohammed Saleh Benten, the minister of Hajj and Umrah, told the state-run Al-Ekhbariya television: “Saudi Arabia is fully ready to serve pilgrims and Umrah seekers. But under the current circumstances, as we are talking about the global pandemic . . . the kingdom is keen to protect the health of Muslims and citizens and so we have asked our brother Muslims in all countries to wait before doing [Hajj] contracts until the situation is clear.”
(Image: Konevi Pixabay)

• Six worshippers have been arrested at a synagogue in the ultra-orthodox city of Modi’in Illit in Israel, after violating laws aimed at restricting the spread of the coronavirus. According to The Jerusalem Post, the suspects refused to listen to police instructions or leave the synagogue. The arrests come as Israeli police launched a series of raids on synagogues in Jerusalem and other religious districts. There has been much opposition among the ultra-orthodox community – in Israel and elsewhere – to restrict congregating and close synagogues.

• In a separate development, The Jerusalem Post reported on Tuesday that more than 40 rabbis have died from the virus in Jewish communities outside of Israel – most significantly in the New York area.

• Somalia’s government has ordered the closure of all madrasahs in an attempt to contain the spread of the virus. Worshippers have been urged to stay away from mosques and religious schools for two weeks and pray at home instead, the BBC reported. There have been only three confirmed cases in Somalia so far, but there are fears the country, which has been devastated by 30 years of civil war, will not cope with a full-blown health emergency. Government efforts are being hampered by the Islamist group al-Shabab, which controls much of southern and central Somalia and claims the only people susceptible to the virus are “infidels”, such as those who work for the government or international organisations.

• Roman Catholic bishops in Kenya have condemned the nation’s security forces for their brutal enforcement of a nationwide curfew, The Tablet reports.  Bishop John Obala Owaa, chairman of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops Justice and Peace Commission, said: “We witnessed with shock, as vulnerable members of the society such as women, children and also some critical actors such as journalists and food suppliers being equally harassed by security officers.” Unconfirmed reports say one person died in western Kenya during the violence. Many others were injured, with 41 cases confirmed. “We reiterate that human dignity and sanctity of life is a value which must be upheld at all times,” Owaa added.

• Indian authorities are trying to track the movement of thousands of people who attended the Tablighi Jamaat congregation in Delhi a month ago, after several attendees died from Covid-19. At least eight who took part in the event organised by the Islamic missionary movement are reported to have died and many more have tested positive for the virus. According to The Times of India, the authorities believe that several clerics from Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand may have been the source of the infections.