Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on religion

The COVID-19 pandemic caused by coronavirus disease 2019 has impacted religion in various ways, including the cancellation of the worship services of various faiths, the closure of Sunday schools.


  • ...Holy water is not a hand sanitizer and prayer is not a vaccine. Political decisions aimed to guarantee public safety should be based solely on scientific evidence...At a deeper level, religion, for worshipers, is the ultimate source of meaning. The most profound claim of every religion is to make sense of the whole of existence, including, and perhaps especially, circumstances marked by suffering and tribulation. Take such claims seriously enough, and even physical health, when it is devoid of greater purpose, starts to look like a hollow value....Today the threat comes from a virus that makes no distinction between believers and atheists, but the fundamental tension between religion and secular authorities is still there....In Italy,...churches are being treated as providers of nonessential services, like movie theaters and concert halls. That has sparked intense reactions among some Catholics, who see the celebrations as particularly essential at a time when an invisible and pervasive menace strikes not just bodies but also souls, spreading panic and eroding social trust. What's the difference between a handful of people gathering in a church, keeping safely at distance from one another, and groups meeting at restaurants, bars or riding the subway? The question is a practical one but hints at an underlying tension around religious freedom that the medical emergency is revamping...The tension between physical health and spiritual comfort is in some ways an irreconcilable one —... Nonetheless, there's something sad about how this time around, the tension has barely been treated as something real, to be genuinely grappled with....
  • The Satan is using this opportunity as it has always done to lead us astray from our religious duties in the name of precautions, treatment and protection. Whenever a calamity strikes, Satan makes the victims of calamity commit such acts which destroy their rewards and add to their woes. This is the time to populate the mosques and to invite the ummah towards repentance. As I have already said, this is the time to make our supplications effective. This is not the time to pay heed to false remedial measures….
  • ...We will not accept the targeting of women on the pretext of such ludicrous accusations. We in Pakistan have fought hard for claiming our rights as enshrined in the Constitution of Pakistan...Simply absurd for anyone under any guise to even suggest the Covid-19 pandemic is a result of women wearing short sleeves or because of private schools/universities misleading the youth. This simply reflects either ignorance about pandemics or a misogynist mindset. Absolutely unacceptable....
  • ...The spread of a pandemic must never and under no circumstances be correlated or linked to a woman's piety or morality. It is danger to make this correlation as violent crimes against women/girls continue to take place with impunity...
  • ...The coronavirus is yet another piece of evidence that humans are all 'atheists'. People do not believe what they say they believe. People are on their own, their own hope, but they do not seem to know....Saudi Arabia is a deeply religious country. Most of the people in the Persian Gulf nation pray five times a day, 35 times a week, 140 times a month and 1,680 times a year. We don't even do that with food and sex—which sets the stage for us to begin life.....There are mosques everywhere in Saudi Arabia. Muezzins bellow the call to prayer so forcefully only people who are hard of hearing can miss it. The Saudis will drop everything to go pray once they hear the call to prayer....But they had to ban pilgrimages because they know perfectly well that if the coronavirus enters their country, Allah is not going to help them. No country is seeking Allah's help over the coronavirus. He will do and say nothing. That has been the case since time immemorial. Experience shows that leaving everything in God's hands—and that is assuming he does exist—means you are taking great risks.
    ...Qatar, like Saudi Arabia, is a deeply religious country. During the holy month of Ramadan, Qatari police arrest people who are seen eating in public. No one is supposed to eat in public until the fast is broken in the evening.
    Qatar would lead you to think that Allah is in control of everything and that it relies on him to protect its people. In theory, Qatar relies on Allah for many things. But in practice it does not. For example, every single foreigner seeking work in Qatar must go for a medical test at a government health facility, and the main reason is for the authorities to throw out people with infectious diseases such as HIV/Aids and tuberculosis. People with HIV are summarily deported.
    There is any number of examples one can cite to show that religious people and religious countries act remarkably like non-believers when they have real challenges to deal with. It is not hard to see why. I have challenged people I chat with (especially on social media) to name just one thing God has ever done for people that people themselves cannot do, and I have never had a proper answer.
  • “It’s an ideal setting for transmission,” said Carlos del Rio, an infectious-disease expert at Emory University, referring to church gatherings. “You have a lot of people in a closed space. And they’re speaking loudly, they’re singing. All those things are exactly what you don’t want.”
  • People want to make meaning in a time of fear, uncertainty and suffering, and that's totally understandable and natural...and Passover is coming up, so people are making those comparisons. But no, I do not think God is smiting us. My theology does not involve a man in the sky with a pair of dice saying, 'It's smite-the-people o'clock.' That's not how I understand what God is.....I don't think God caused the coronavirus, but I see God's work everywhere, every single person who makes the decision to love their neighbor as themselves, in every person who's staying home even though it's not convenient, in every doctor and nurse and health care worker who are putting themselves at risk, in every grocery store worker....The proof of the holy is a lot of places.
  • The Southern Baptist Convention said Friday it was "pleased" with Trump's decision.
    But the Interfaith Alliance and the Council of American-Islamic Relations said Friday that they oppose the call to open places of worship amid the pandemic.
    CAIR said that American Muslim scholars and community leaders have already determined that public religious activities will be restricted due to the pandemic and that is unlikely to change despite the new guidance.
    Representatives of two of Judaism's major branches, Reform and Conservative, said Trump's declaration does not change their stance and that their members are not expected to hold religious services soon. CNN has also reached out to a representative of the Orthodox branch for comment.

“Religious affiliation and COVID-19-related mortality: a retrospective cohort study of prelockdown and postlockdown risks in England and Wales” (1/2021)Edit

Charlotte Hannah Gaughan, Daniel Ayoubkhani, Vahe Nafilyan, Peter Goldblatt Chris White, Karen TIngay, and Neil Bannister; “Religious affiliation and COVID-19-related mortality: a retrospective cohort study of prelockdown and postlockdown risks in England and Wales”, J Epidemiol Community Health. 2021 Jan.

  • The probability of becoming infected and subsequently die from COVID-19 has been shown to vary depending on a variety of factors including socioeconomic determinants and behavioural factors. Despite concerns expressed by the WHO that religious practices can contribute to the spread of COVID-19, little is known about the differing risk of mortality to religious groups. For example, extended transmission during communal religious prayers and large attendance at religious gatherings and festivals may be factors in community transmission. Cultural factors, such as contact with large extended families and strong community links, are also considered likely factors in the spread among religious communities. Furthermore, several studies have traced outbreaks to centres of worship and religious ceremonies.
  • We make two contributions to the literature on disparities in COVID-19 outcomes. First, while evidence suggests that religious services may spread infection, to the best of our knowledge, no study has specifically examined the mortality risk of different religious groups, and specifically after adjusting for sociodemographic, occupational and geographical determinants. Second, this study examines the association between state-mandated prohibition of religious services and COVID-19 mortality risk across different religious groups.
  • We analysed COVID-19 deaths between 2 March and 15 May 2020 linked to Census data to understand the risks to religious groups. The age-adjusted rates show an elevated risk of COVID-19 mortality for Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs and Buddhists compared with the Christian population. Those affiliating with no religion were at a lower risk than their Christian counterparts. Compared with the age-adjusted results, the estimated HRs for religious groups were reduced when covariates were included in the models, indicating that geographical and sociodemographic factors to some extent mediate the relationship between religion and COVID-19 mortality. The HRs for individuals of no religion remained relatively constant as covariates were added to the models.
    Including the prelockdown and postlockdown risk models gives us an indication of the risk to non-Christian religious groups of the uncontrolled spread of COVID-19, and how the risk to religious groups changed as the result of government measures. While the risk both before and after lockdown is highest for Muslims, Jews and Hindus, the variation in the risk between religious groups is reduced. It is notable the risk to Jewish men and women was particularly high in the prelockdown period.
  • Our results confirm that COVID-19 mortality risk for each non-Christian group is in general higher for males than females, and where heterogeneity in risk is observed between religious groups, the elevation in risk compared with the Christian group is generally greater for males than females. We observe a large and unexplained increased risk for Jewish males; after controlling for geographic factors which reduced the relative risk, the risk then increased slightly as additional factors were included in the model. Jews had a raised risk despite being relatively advantaged in terms of the risk factors that contributed to higher mortality in predominantly non-white religious groups.
  • Our findings suggest that behavioural changes as a result of the lockdown and intervention measures operated to reduce the risk for religious groups, which may be a consequence of restrictions on congregating in places of worship. However, it is not possible from this analysis to confirm whether the reduction in risk to religious groups comes as a result of preventing other activities (eg, prohibiting households from mixing, ordering pubs to close, and so on) as opposed to specifically the banning of religious gatherings. It could also be the case that religious leaders and communities used social capital to communicate and mitigate against risks of COVID-19 mortality, as has been noted in previous epidemics. This is a potential explanation as to the reduction in risk in the postlockdown period; that is, as increased mortality among certain religious communities became apparent, religious groups could have disseminated public health messaging overcoming linguistic and cultural barriers and using trust and common identity.
    While behaviours relating to religious practices could be responsible for higher infection rates leading to higher mortality rates, it is not clear that all the residual risk from religion is a consequence of behaviour. For example, the impact of racial prejudice and self-reported racism has been shown to increase the risk of stress in ethnic and religious communities resulting in higher prevalence of illness including the impacts of anticipatory stress. In light of the extant levels of religious prejudice in the UK society, it is highly possible this is experienced by certain religious communities, and therefore it is possible that part of the increased risk seen in both the age-adjusted and fully adjusted models is a result of stress-induced conditions resulting from religious prejudices.

“COVID-19 and religious congregations: Implications for spread of novel pathogens”, (7/2020)Edit

Sayed A.Quadri, “COVID-19 and religious congregations: Implications for spread of novel pathogens”, “International Journal of Infectious Diseases”, (July 2020), Volume 96, pp. 219-221

  • Dealing with religious congregations (RC) in times of epidemics could be challenging. Most world religions prescribe congregations of its adherents at local, national, and international levels as part of their faith. This mobilization and gathering could serve as a potential focal point for dispersal of novel pathogens, especially those transmitted through the respiratory route. The events related to the COVID-19 spread among religious assemblies seemingly corroborate this. Ideally, to circumvent this possibility, assemblies of people need to be suspended during such times. It is also imperative that all possible preventive measures be exercised during ordinary times to reduce the chances of cross infections during religious ceremonies. The RC needs to be looked at from this perspective. It has a direct bearing on the extent of epidemic diseases and their global spread. COVID-19 should serve as a game-changer in the manner in which we deal with infectious disease outbreaks from the perspective of RC and their suspension.
  • Iran was one of the worst-hit countries in the current pandemic. It is a prime example of how RC can impact disease transmission. The first COVID-19 deaths were reported from the Shiite city of Qom on February 19, 2020. The disease had apparently started two to three weeks earlier. The Head of the main shrine in Qom appealed to the pilgrims to keep coming to the shrine and called it a place of healing. This apparently led to the unabated spread of the infection, not only within Iran, but around a dozen neighboring countries (Wright, 2020).
  • Saudi Arabia suspended all Umrah pilgrimage on March 4, 2020. This was a timely and preemptive step to forestall a potential COVID-19 outbreak among the pilgrims. Continuation of the pilgrimage could have posed a severe threat of local and international spread. Saudi Arabia was one of the few Islamic countries to suspend congregational prayers in the mosque, as early as March 17, 2020. All the Gulf states and many other Muslim countries suspended mosque prayers at about the same time. Muslim organizations in Non-Muslim countries also followed suit. Some conservatives in other countries argued for continuing congregational prayers at the mosque. Nevertheless, most of them fell in line; however, by that time, much damage had been done.
  • A Christian congregation in South Korea was the origin of a large number of COVID-19 cases. After an initial success in limiting the spread, there was a sudden spurt of cases starting in the third week of February 2020, originating from an infected patient attending the Shincheonji Church of Jesus. This Cult believes that illness is a sin, and the sufferer must attend prayers to atone for the sin (Park, 2020). This belief motivated its followers to avoid testing, and some covertly continued to attend Mass. This augmented the problem. A large number of the Cult’s followers were tested, and 5209 were found positive up to April 8, 2020 (Statista 2020).
  • COVID-19 infection rates among the ultra-orthodox Jews of Israel were disproportionately high compared to other Israelis. It is suspected that as many as 40% of residents in an ultra-orthodox neighborhood could be infected. Besides big families and crowded living, unflinching observations of communal religious prayers are considered important causes. The synagogues in this particular neighborhood experienced massive attendance during the Jewish holiday of Purim on March 9, 2020. The community continued its religious gatherings after that and refused to suspend them (Tarnopolsky, 2020)
  • Pilgrimage to holy places, known as Thirtha yatra, is an important component of the Hindu religion. Hindu sacred sites in South Asia are visited, either for seeking material gains from the Gods or for the sake of spiritual solace. Tens of thousands of people could be visiting these places every day. Kumbh Mela, a congregation of tens of millions of the faithful, is held every decade on the banks of river Ganges (Singh and Haigh, 2015). All Hindu sacred sites were closed by March 20, 2020. At that time in India, COVID-19 transmission was still in stage 2, and no clusters were reported from these sites.
  • The extent of COVID-19 infection had a noticeable pattern with regards to RC. An evident association between early suspension of communal gatherings and lower occurrence of COVID-19 infections in countries that took such measures promptly, can be easily discerned. There are lessons to be learned from the COVID-19 pandemic for governments as well as national and international health organizations. The implications of RC during pandemics cannot be ignored. Prompt responses such as suspension of communal gatherings must be promulgated to ensure social distancing. Reconciliation between the practice of RC and preventive measures has to be introduced during times of heath calamities. Religious, social, and political leaders have to exhibit sagacity and adopt a pragmatic approach. The clergy has to be co-opted in the suspension of congregations. Countries should prepare an exigency plan such as a Standard Operation Procedure (SOP), with regards to RC during times of infectious disease epidemics.

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