Who could be more wicked than those who prohibit the mention of God’s name in His places of worship and strive to ruin them? Such people should not enter them without fear: there is disgrace for them in this world and painful punishment in the Hereafter.

Qur’an 2:114

Some religious personalities have been using this verse to argue that the temporary suspension of congregational prayers during lockdown is wrong. However, the brief points listed here outline how using this verse for such a conclusion is unsound.

How so?

1. There has been no such prohibition. People aren’t banned from anything. The services are being temporarily suspended (even if it’s just a week or two) due to abnormal circumstances which the shar’ī sources not only intimate to be legitimate, but also to be desired.

2. What was the verse concerning? There are variant opinions: (1) It relates to the Christians and their destruction of Bait al-Maqdis (Temple Mount), (2) The pagans who prevented the believers from the Haram (Ka’bah) at Hudaibiyah, (3) It relates to all mosques where believers are prevented access by a superior and nefarious force. Clearly none of these are analogous with the current and temporary situation.

3. No matter how many times it’s repeated it seems to be missed: the discussion is about temporarily suspending congregational prayers. Mosques aren’t being ‘shut down’ nor are they being abandoned. We know the verse has nothing to do with present circumstances because of the conjunctive which relates to intent. The verse is telling us the disbelievers prohibit the mention of God’s name in His places of worship striving to ruin those places of worship. To characterise the temporary suspension of congregational prayers in this way defies all reason. Mosque leaders are neither prohibiting the mention of God’s name, nor seeking to ruin those places – but preserve life and health for the long run.

4. Some might respond that the verse is general (‘aam) to all situations, but what they mean is that they’re arbitrarily holding a part of the verse to be general, namely “those who prohibit the mention of God’s name in His places of worship”. To hold the entire verse to be general (which I personally do) would then require including “…and strive to ruin them? Such people should not enter them without fear”. But then as this later part makes clear, the verse is speaking of disbelievers who show animosity to believers and prevent the believers from accessing the houses of God in normal times. And as al-Qurṭubī points out, “but when the believers seize control and take authority over it, the disbelievers are subsequently powerless to enter.”

5. If we take the generality of the verse to be so expansive that the divine condemnation includes temporarily suspended congregational prayers, then consistency demands that the condemnation also applies to the exclusion of women who want to mention God’s name in His places of worship. So when services aren’t made available to women, are mosque leaders and scholars, many of whom use this verse without qualification or exceptions, ‘wicked’ (dhalimun)?! And what about closing mosque doors to the severely ill? If the argument now changes to accept that there are indeed exceptions, then why doesn’t a situation where we don’t know who is ill and potentially infectious fall under the same ‘exception’ clause?

Clearly, God wasn’t speaking to the situation we find ourselves in, nor can the verse’s general wording (‘umum al-lafdh) be applied to it – it’s about something else. And any attempt to do so either requires a mischaracterisation of what’s going on, or raises a whole host of inconsistencies.