That question has been raised by a few people on social media, usually with a sense of dismay and anger: “I don’t see other religions doing this. How come we are?”
I did a little Googling and found this, on CNN:
On Thursday, leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints told its 15 million members worldwide all public gatherings would be suspended until further notice. None of Mormonism’s 30,000 congregations will gather for sacrament meetings this Sunday, or for the near future.
“Bishops should counsel with their stake president to determine how to make the sacrament available to members at least once a month,” the Latter-day Saints leaders added.
For many Muslim men, group prayers on Friday are a religious obligation. But as congregations across the country and the world weighed whether to stay open, experts in Islamic law stepped in.
One of the more influential statements came via the Islamic Society of North America. Together with Muslim medical experts, the society strongly recommended that congregations take precautions against the pandemic, including immediately suspending congregational prayers, Sunday school, and other community gatherings.
“It is our moral duty as Muslims that we take all steps necessary to safeguard ourselves and others around us from this terrible disease,” the Fiqh Council of America wrote in the society’s statement.
“One’s personal desire to do obligatory prayers at the masjid (mosque) or fulfill other religious duties comes secondary to ensuring the common health of the larger community.”
Muslims in Kuwait, Germany, Iran and other spots around the world have also suspended services as of Friday.
In non-hierarchical religions, like Judaism and Buddhism, local congregations are making their own decisions or looking to scholars for advice.
The Rabbinical Assembly, which issues opinions on Jewish law for Conservative movement Jews, advised following civil and medical guidance. It also advised engaged Jews to postpone their weddings, if possible.
“Protecting human life overrides almost every other Jewish value,” the assembly said in a statement.
The Rabbinical Council of America, which issues guidelines for Orthodox Jews, modified their guidance as the week wore on. On Friday, the council said public gatherings in synagogues and schools should be severely limited. (They also noted the decision of rabbis in Bergen County, New Jersey, to shut down services and gatherings.)
The Sikh Coalition issued guidelines via an infectious disease specialist in California. Dr. Jasjit K. Singh urged fellow Sikhs to take precautions, but not to panic. By Friday, several gurdwaras, including in Washington, DC, had decided to cancel services this weekend.
Many Buddhist centers and sanghas have canceled services and public events through most of March. That’s particularly true in areas where the virus has been active, such as Washington state.
The Washington Post offered this overview of Muslim reaction:
Muslim organizations including the Islamic Medical Association of North America and the Islamic Society of North America on Thursday sent a joint statement strongly recommending the Muslim community to take precautions, including suspending Friday prayers.
“Protecting human life is one of the fundamental objectives of Islamic Shari’ah,” the statement said. “This concept takes precedence over all other objectives of Islamic faith as life represents the foundation of our existence. Therefore, at times, preservation of human life and human rights is far more significant than continuity of even essential practices of devotion.”
Other Virginia mosques that are canceling services are Islamic Center of Northern Virginia and Manassas Mosque. In Washington, Masjid Muhammad mosque will be closed for Friday prayers. Friday prayers that take place at the U.S. Capitol were postponed.
Johari Abdul-Malik, who was an imam at Dar Al-Hijrah and has been a prominent Muslim leader in the Washington area, said that during a conference call with mosques in Maryland on Thursday night, some leaders said they were reducing their services to 250 to meet the governor’s recommendations for large gatherings while several were deciding to cancel.
“Those who said they weren’t closing were given grief, like get with the program,” he said. “They decided it’s important that we agree and teach our congregations that we can all still be good Muslims and disagree on the level of precaution.”
Finally, Rolling Stone looked at how religions have handled these events in the past:
This isn’t the first time a pandemic has gotten in the way of religious services. The 1918 Flu Pandemic is, to date, the most severe disease outbreak in modern American history, leaving 675,000 dead in the U.S., and causing a total of 50 million deaths worldwide. Dr. Monica Schoch-Spana, a medical anthropologist and public health expert at Johns Hopkins University says that it had a major impact on churches in Baltimore city.
At first, Baltimore’s Health Commissioner, John D. Blake was hesitant to close places of worship, but as the flu spread, he saw no other option (though he did permit saloons to stay open). More than a century later, Schoch-Spana says that there are lessons we learned from that pandemic that can be applied to the current situation — including how religious gatherings function as support systems for many people. Because of the closures in 1918, the people of Baltimore found other ways to support each other without worshipping together in the same building, like providing meals or childcare for working parents — a strategy that can also work today. “There are ways that churches and synagogues and mosques can exercise their spirituality by helping others during the outbreak,” Schoch-Spana tells Rolling Stone.