Religion in Quarantine: Rebecca Hankins on Practicing Islam in the Time of COVID-19

The following blog post is an edited excerpt from an essay appearing in the Network’s second eBook Project entitled Religion in Quarantine: The Future of Religion in a Post-Pandemic World. This book features personal and research reflection on how their understanding of religion is being altered and shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic. The eBook is available for FREE download at:

Practicing Islam in the Time of COVID-19
Rebecca Hankins

Islam/Muslim COVID-19: Questions and Challenges
According to an article published in the Washington Post, Islam is the second-most-followed religion after Christianity in 20 states (Wilson, 2014). Within the broader Muslim community, African American Muslims face double marginalization that impacts them in ways similar to and different from the larger African American and Muslim populations. This essay will discuss how the virus has impacted Muslim communities as a whole. How has it impacted our religious practices? How are issues of sickness and death changing our rituals? How has all of this changed my reality as an African American Muslim and the future of Islam in America?

Our Reality: "Racism is Death" (Kendi, 2020)
Numerous essays and newspaper articles are detailing the outsized impact of this virus on Black and Brown communities. The statistics are staggering, with major cities such as New York, Chicago, New Orleans, and Detroit reporting that there is an over-representation in the number of deaths within these communities from the virus. African American Muslims are finding these same issues in their experiences, where the lack of testing has impacted these communities and the lack of medical facilities within these communities, as well as the lack of necessary resources, has exacerbated the spread of this virus. For example, in Michigan and Illinois, African Americans makeup 14 to 15% of the population but account for 41% of the COVID-19 deaths. In Chicago alone, African Americans account for 70% of the city's deaths, yet just 30% of the population. In Louisiana, one of the hot spots of the virus, African Americans comprise about a third of the population but 70% of the COVID-19 deaths (Jones, 2020).

Funerals were the one activity that was of concern; they are a time of coming together to wash and shroud the body, have prayers, and console the family of the deceased, all within 24 hours of the death of the individual. The virus has forced delays in every aspect of Islamic burial rituals from recovering the body from hospitals to the inability to perform the washing of the corpse, conduct the prayers while also social distancing and console the family via cell phone (Farooq, 2020).

Many factors have forced the Muslim community to make changes in its weekly prayer gathering, Jum' ah, that occurs every Friday all over the world. These gatherings of men and women praying close to each other have now ceased, replaced with virtual gatherings. Islam has a faith tradition that encourages congregational prayer, events, celebrations, and family gatherings. Still, we have shown the flexibility of our practices to tackle this new world demand of social distancing. The upcoming month of Ramadan fasting will test us, but we have models of Muslims all over the world who have had to make these changes and more due to war, famine, and other catastrophes, for decades, if not longer. American Muslims have done what is necessary to slow the spread of the disease by closing down mosques, modifying prayers, and providing avenues to share all over the country. Muslim groups have sought to find ways to support communities and alleviate suffering through fundraising for families in need of financial assistance, food, healthcare, and housing. American Muslims seek to embody the ideal religious community despite their marginalization. "One of the prophetic traditions that really inspired this campaign is the one that says the most beloved people for God are those who benefit people the most” (Farooq, 2020).

Personal Reflection
For me, the most concerning issue is the disinformation and misinformation that is being passed around in Islamic social media circles by individuals. Conspiracies have always had a foothold within the African American community, and not without some validity. African American Muslims, marginalized and demonized, have often embraced these stories as attempts to destroy or damage Islam. That is not to say that all conspiracies are unfounded. Most African Americans know about the Tuskegee syphilis study carried out on Black men from the 1930s to the 1970s. These and many more instances have created a healthy skepticism among Black people, so that this virus's unknown properties have allowed all types of conspiracies and unfounded cures to flourish, all alive and well online. I make a concerted effort to debunk these dangerous postings whenever they appear.

This pandemic will test faith communities due to the randomness of the exposure, the inexplicable deaths of our loved ones, and the inconsolable grief that follows. What does the future hold for African American Muslims and Islam in America? We modify our practices, we move to the virtual online platforms, we adapt. We continue as we always have since the times of our enslaved ancestors trying to hold on to our faith and practices. We believe that when one dies from an epidemic, believing in Allah (God), the Prophet, and the Last Days, then they die as a martyr, and our sins are forgiven (Umar, 2020). This understanding continues to bring Muslims comfort and strengthen us for the future, whatever it may hold.

Rebecca Hankins is Professor, librarian, and certified archivist at Texas A&M University. She is an affiliated faculty in Interdisciplinary Critical Studies that include Africana Studies, Women's & Gender, and Religious Studies. Hankins's research and scholarship fit within a broader discourse on African American Muslims' religious identity and new media.

Farooq, U. A. (2020, April 6). Coronavirus is changing how American Muslims hold funerals. Middle East Eye. Retrieved from

Farooq, U. A. (2020, March 20). We see this as our responsibility: Muslims fundraise for Americans impacted by coronavirus. Middle East Eye. Retrieved from

Jones, C. P. (2020, April 9). Exposing U.S. racism in a stark new way: COVID-19 kills disproportionate number of Black Americans. Democracy Now. Retrieved from

Kendi, I. X. (2020, April 10). [Twitter moment].

Mohamed, B. and Diamant, J. (2019, January 17). Black Muslims account for a fifth of all U.S. Muslims, and about half are converts to Islam. Pew Research Center Fact Tank. Retrieved from

Taylor, V. (2020, April 7). Black Muslims in U.S. fear they could be “disproportionately impacted” by coronavirus. Middle East Eye. Retrieved from

Umar, M. (Shaykh) (2020). Islamic guidance pertaining to the spread of COVID-19 [coronavirus] [Web log post]. California Islamic University. Retrieved from

Wilson, R. (2014, June 4). The second-largest religion in each state. The Washington Post. Retrieved from