This year, as he does every year, Dr. Munir El-Kassem, a professor of Dentistry at the University of Western Ontario, is escorting a group of 450 pilgrims – the largest Canadian contingent – to the Hajj. He said the pilgrims he leads receive an intensive Islamic course in the field.
“I go over to provide religious guidance for people not fully aware of the rituals and the meaning of the rituals,” Prof. El-Kassem said.
On concerns about H1N1, he notes that the five daily prayers include the act of cleansing the nose and mouth: the only two portals the H1N1 virus can enter the body through. Doctors suggest cleaning hands and gargling with warm salt water, and the same for the nostrils, to get rid of the H1N1 virus.
An H1N1 outbreak among 200 French military personnel and their families has meant they are unable to perform the Hajj. The spokesperson, Abdelkader Arbi noted that, “The pilgrimage reflects demand among Muslims military personnel and that the number of Muslims within the army.”
The French Council of the Muslim Faith’s (CFCM) director Mohammed Moussaoui has discouraged French Muslims from the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia because of concerns of the spread of the H1N1 virus. 14 Deaths have been reported in Saudi Arabia. Instead Moussaoui encouraged piety during the month of Ramadan.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) called on Islamic Religious Leaders and Imams to use daily and Friday prayers in the nation’s mosques and Islamic centers as a platform for providing information about preventing the spread of swine flu, or the H1N1 virus. CAIR said that imams are in a unique position to offer public health information, and suggests that religious and spiritual leaders stay up-to-date on the spread of the virus in their areas. “In times of crisis, public health and safety takes precedence over normal actions and activities that could lead to the spread of infection,” said CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad. “Imams, because of their access to those attending mosques every day, are well-placed to offer advice to community members based on input from public health authorities.” Awad added that the prophet Muhammad encouraged actions designed to prevent the spread of contagious diseases, and that there is a religious obligation to take part in striving to protect human health.
According to some Muslims and Jewish people of faith, the common name of the H1N1 virus, “Swine Flu,” is offensive in its reference to pigs, because the animal is considered unclean to Muslims and Jews. Some Israeli health officials have urged changing the name to “Mexican flu.” In the United States, the Center for Disease Control has recommended identifying the strain by its official and scientific name. Eating pigs and pork products is forbidden in both the Jewish and Muslim traditions.