ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews / 8 July) – We thought after transitioning from one quarantine status to another since the middle of March this year, we have passed through the worse situation. It seems we are just entering the worse-case scenario with sources of infection now from multiple sources, i.e., locally-stranded individuals (LSIs), returning OFWs (ROFs) and local transmission. We also need to watch the movement of 5,300 deportees (REFs) from Sabah, Malaysia.
Tawi-Tawi, which had remained COVID19-free for more than a hundred days, has now reported its first case. Sulu has continued to keep its confirmed cases in single digit. Basilan and Lanao del Sur doubling their confirmed cases. Zamboanga City’s epicenter used to be the City Jail, now the LSI and ROF movements as well as local transmission are contributing to its three-digit cumulative confirmed cases, which now stands at 253 at the time of this writing with 71 active cases. All of these within a short period of time after hosting LSIs through the Hatid Probinsya Program of the DoTr. To the effect that Basilan local government had requested the National Inter-Agency Task Force (NIATF) for a break and was granted a 15-day respite from LSI and ROF movements because the LGU feared its local capacity might be overwhelmed, given that even its front liners have also tested positive to the virus.
Health emergency like this is not new to the Moros in this part of the world. During the American regime in Moroland, there were reported outbreaks, such as Cholera. Is this even in our lexicon? In his dictionary, eminent language advocate Dr. Benjamin Bangahan educates us about quarantine as “pangtalungkû”. But what about this plague? While the native term is “sakit-lamiyasay mapangsan” as pointed by him, for most Sinug-speakers, it was convenient to simply say “panyakit” or “sakit panyakit”.
As Muslim, the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad advised us this way, “if you hear of an outbreak of plague in a land, do not enter it; but if the plague breaks out in a place while you are in it, do not leave that place” (Sahih al-Bukhari 5728). During the caliphate of ‘Umar ibn Khattab, there was a plague in Amwas (Emmaus).
We are also happy that Abu ‘Ali al-Husayn ibn Sina (more popularly known as Avicenna), one of the outstanding polymaths in Islam’s golden age, is said to be the “first to come up with the idea of quarantine to prevent spread of diseases. He suspected that some diseases were spread by microorganisms; to prevent human-to-human contamination, he came up with the method of isolating people for 40 days. He called this method al-Arba’iniya (“the forty”)”. This 40-day isolation period was eventually picked up by Venetians trading with the Muslim world, thus the Italian word “quaranta giorni” or “space of forty days” came to be standard practice for all arriving ships as a measure of preventing the spread of infectious diseases.
However, in our case, even when the virus is spreading and the daily confirmed numbers largely stayed the same, we wonder why the government thought of starting LSI and ROF movements. Was this “hatid probinsya” program even informed by an honest-to-goodness risk assessment? Is the situation unfolding in the receiving cities and provinces ever been considered in the risk assessment? This week’s case of unloading more than four hundred LSIs of BASULTA in Cagayan de Oro instead of Zamboanga tells us that the risk assessment and management are superficial and unprepared.
So, what was the use of our more than 100 days of pagtalungkû (quarantine), when the government’s “hatid probinsya” action itself had become super spreader of the virus? The government agency in-charge of pushing this program need to get back to the drawing board and learn from the spread now ranging across the receiving cities and provinces. Humanitarian concerns can be addressed properly, without being the source of infection or aggravating the health emergency. What is the use of our disaster risk reduction and management (DRRM) preparations, policies and funding allocations if we can’t respond properly? While government needs to bring its act together before it is too late, citizens need to be responsible for themselves and their families. The virus can’t be seen coming. If you have symptoms, then it is too late, as it has entered your body; and since there is no vaccine or medicine to treat it, it will now be up to individual immunity.
Meanwhile, my fellow Muslims and fellow Pinoys in this country, can learn something from the five advices of Imam Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah connected with the Prophet’s hadith on the plague –
Firstly, Imam Ibn Qayyim advised us to avoid the means that lead to harm and to be distant from them. In practical terms, we need to avoid carelessness, roaming around and mingling, and we need to maintain physical distance, from one to two meters.
Secondly, he advised preservation of well-being (al-‘āfiyah) which is the provisions of this life and the next. Mundane well-being could include maintaining our health and immunity, i.e., talking a healthy diet, exercising safely, regular handwashing with soap or alcohol and taking vitamins and minerals (our doctors advised us to take vits with zinc) that will boost our immune system, the natural the better. The provision for the hereafter (akhirah) is our ibadah (worship) for we will never know who will be hit by the virus and how we will get through it.
Thirdly, Imam Ibn Qayyim advised us to be careful inhaling the spoiled, corrupted and polluted air and then become afflicted with the sickness. This is why our doctors advised us to wear face mask in public (better if we can have the medical-grade ones), avoiding crowds and unnecessary touching, including what we consider as social graces like handshaking and “beso-beso” (kissing on the cheek).
Fourthly, the imam said, we should avoid close contact with those afflicted with the plague such that we are not afflicted with the same sickness (by Allah’s permission). If we had been in contact with individuals who have been confirmed positive, then we need to voluntarily submit ourselves for contact-tracing protocols. Our denial and insolence might cost us our life or the lives of our loved ones and others.
And finally, Imam Ibn Qayyim advised us to protect ourselves from falling into belief in evil-omens and superstitions. I guess, even if he lived from the 13th to the 14th century, their false beliefs then are now the embodiment of fake news that have many among us fallen prey, especially on social media. I remember being awakened too early in the morning because someone is said to have found out the remedy to the virus, by eating boiled egg before sunrise. Only to find out, it came from an egg vendor eager to sell his produce and worried that he might end up with a loss during the lockdown.
(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Noor Saada is a Tausug of mixed ancestry – born in Jolo, Sulu, grew up in Tawi-tawi, studied in Zamboanga and worked in Davao, Makati and Cotabato. He is a development worker and peace advocate, former Assistant Regional Secretary of the Department of Education in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, currently working as an independent consultant and is a member of an insider-mediation group that aims to promote intra-Moro dialogue.)
 “Muslim scholar Ibn Sina first came up with idea of quarantine” (April 2020) – https://www.siasat.com/muslim-scholar-ibn-sina-first-came-idea-quarantine-1870313/
 “The Plague (Tā’ūn) and Contagious Diseases (Wabā’) ―The sayings of the Prophet, the Sahābah, Ibn Al-Qayyim and An-Nawawi ―What should a person do when it afflicts a land?” – https://www.abukhadeejah.com/plague-taun-and-contagious-disease-waba-the-prophet-sahabah-ibn-al-qayyim/