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COVID-19: Muslim, Christian Clerics Aligning With Terror Groups To Sell Misinformation To Followers

In no other way has the battle between merchants of doctrine and empirical scientists been fiercer than is evident presently over steps by each to paint the novel coronavirus in lurid colours.

Surprisingly, religious clerics from the Muslim and Christian fold are aligning with terrorist groups like Boko Haram in painting the position of science in this matter as ridiculous.

While science is digging into the verifiable concepts the peddlers of doctrines of unquestioned beliefs, including Muslim, Christian as well as Boko Haram, are mocking the foundations of science and selling the virus to their faithful as a creation of some human enemy to undo their enterprise.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, a number of Muslim and Christian clerics have either claimed that it was a creation of some opposing religion or painted it as God’s way of punishing sinners.

They also claim that the virus is a tool of the antichrist or that members of their religious folds have nothing to worry about ㅡ all of which echo similar sentiments that have been shared by terror groups such as Boko Haram, Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Sheikh Sani Yahaya Jingir, the Jos-based Islamic scholar of the Izala group of Salafi Muslims, claimed in recent sermons that the coronavirus was created by Jews to prevent Muslims from performing the pilgrimage and condemned steps to temporarily stop Friday congregational prayers.

HumAngle already on Wednesday, April 15, published a factcheck on this claim, establishing it as fictitious and barefaced misinformation. The report held that the plague “is not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus”.

Jingir’s group, the Jama’at Izalatil By Waikamatis Sunnah (JIBWIS), later recanted that position and gave an assurance that it would follow guidelines laid down by the government to prevent the spread of the virus.

But mosques managed by the group have continued to conduct Friday prayers “because there has been no outbreak yet in the state”.

Dr Abubakr Imam Ali-Agan, an associate professor of Islamic Studies, also condemned the decision to shut down mosques. He argued that Islam already endowed Muslims with a “potent immune system” from the virus especially through the practices of handwashing before prayers and hijab-wearing.

This Islamic scholar, refrained from admitting to his followers that numerous Muslim-dominant nations like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey have shut down mosques due to the pandemic.

Director of Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) and Professor of Islamic Eschatology, Ishaq Akintola, has a conspiracy theory of his own. Though he did not claim the coronavirus was created by non-Muslims, he recently queried the high number of confirmed cases and suspected COVID-related deaths in Kano, a Muslim-majority state, and suggested there might be an attempt to depopulate adherents of the religion.

“Something is fishy here. We are surprised that testing centres are almost nonexistent in the North,” he said in a statement made public on Monday. “Is this a deliberate attempt at debilitating Northern population with its attendant impact on Muslim majority population in the country?”

But it is not only Muslim clerics who have criticised government policies designed to curb the spread of the plague.

In the Christian fold, the Senior Pastor and General Overseer of Omega Fire Ministries International, Apostle Johnson Suleman, during one of his sermons said the COVID-19 pandemic was God’s way of punishing China for sinning greatly against Him.

Statistics from Worldometres, however, show that eight countries have recorded more deaths from COVID-19 than China, including the U.S, Spain, Italy, UK, France, Germany, Iran, and Belgium.

In the same breath, the pastor said the virus was created by the Chinese as a way of overthrowing U.S. President Donald Trump and giving rise to a New World Order and the antichrist. Chris Oyakhilome, the founder of Christ Embassy, made similar claims.

Suleman said many had contracted the disease through testing, further asserting that a vaccine which would be released as antidote would even be more dangerous. But there is no evidence supporting this.

“The policy of not having people gather together to reduce and contain the virus is targeted at disrupting the believers from gathering to pray because they know when believers gather together to pray, their plans and agenda will end up in futility,” he said.

Quoting Psalms 91:10, the cleric, who also claimed to have cured an entire family infected with the coronavirus through an Instagram Live Broadcast, said no evil or plague was capable of affecting his followers.

Pastor Kingsley Innocent, also known as Talknado, the general overseer of Bible-Believing Mission, Aba, said coronavirus was helpless against his “corrosive anointing”. He also claimed that the virus would not survive in Nigeria, describing the index case in the country as a hoax.

Identical messages from terror groups

Statements recently released to the public by some terror groups reflect a similar tone of self-righteousness and scepticism about the pandemic.

In a recently shared audio file obtained by HumAngle, Boko Haram factional leader, Abubakar Shekau, blamed the virus on evil perpetrated by others, arguing that members of his group had anti-coronavirus.

He also criticised the preventive measures taken that have affected congregational prayers and Islamic pilgrimage. “It’s evil to lock down people,” he said.

Al-Qaeda’s propaganda unit, As-Sahab, described the coronavirus in late March as “the smallest soldier of God on the face of the earth” and divine punishment “for the injustice and oppression committed against Muslims”.

ISIS in its official online publication, Al-Naba, called the virus “God’s army that destroys the kafir (infidels)”.

Members of the group have also been reported to say the disease did not infect Muslims because they were pious. They said Muslims who had contracted the disease were indecent and oppressive.

AbdulBasit Kassim, a PhD candidate in Religion at Rice University and a Visiting Doctoral Fellow at Northwestern University’s Institute of Islamic Thought in Africa, explained that there was evidence for the positions of the clerics in both Islamic and Christian theologies.

Modern-day clerics and insurgents, however, seem to have an agenda in pushing them, he said.

“Even if ISIS members, for example, are infected by the coronavirus, they will still alter their discourse to fit into the belief that it is martyrdom for the Muslims and punishment for ‘infidels’,” he said.

Like their Islamic counterparts, including Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī, 14th Century Christian theological scholars such as Konrad von Megenberg and Giovanni Boccaccio, held the belief that plagues were a form of God’s wrath and punishment for sins.

“What these groups are saying is not new, it is just the way they are framing them that is different and the goals they want to achieve,” Kassim said.

He said some of the things the clerics and terror groups intended to gain included attracting attention, remaining relevant in the conversation around the pandemic, and convincing their members they had divine protection.

Kassim, who is co-editor of The Boko-Haram Reader, urged the people to learn to reconcile their beliefs with the latest scientific advancements in order to remain safe and not endanger others during the pandemic.

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'Kunle Adebajo

Head of Investigations at HumAngle. ‘Kunle covers conflict alongside its many intricacies and fallouts. He also writes about disinformation, the environment, and human rights. He's won a couple of journalism awards, including the 2021 Wole Soyinka Award for Investigative Journalism, the 2022 African Fact-checking Award, and the 2023 Michael Elliott Award for Excellence in African Storytelling.

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