Fairfax County houses of worship are starting to plan for the unthinkable but possible: a pandemic flu that could sweep the country, sickening and killing millions.

More than 125 leaders from churches, synagogues, temples and mosques met recently at the Fairfax County Government Center to grapple with questions ranging from the practical to the theological as they began preparing their communities for the possibility of a flu outbreak.

Houses of worship could play a crucial role in managing such an epidemic, say religious leaders and health officials, because they have such large constituencies and are intimately involved in the daily life of the community. Not only are they gathering places for hundreds of thousands of parishioners and groups such as Scouts and senior citizens, but they also minister to the disadvantaged.

It is “a substantial religious network that, if properly organized with the right kind of spirit, can have a tremendous positive impact on helping to do our part to ensure domestic tranquility,” said Lewis Saylor, a member of Faith Communities in Action, a coalition of diverse religious organizations that organized the meeting last month with the Fairfax County Health Department and the county’s Community Interfaith Office. . .

The Muslim community has begun to grapple with many of these issues. Leaders want to ensure that preparations follow Islamic law and want to head off misunderstandings and misplaced fears among Muslims, said Johari Abdul-Malik, imam of the Dar Al Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, who attended the meeting last month.

For example, he said, some Muslims avoid hand sanitizers because of religious prohibitions against the use of alcohol. However, he said, exceptions can be made in extreme circumstances.

Islamic burial practices, which require the washing of a body and quick burial, could also be modified. Many Muslims might not know that, under Islamic law, the bodies of victims of a pandemic do not need to be handled in such a way, he said.

“We are looking to say we have to begin the public education of our community to tell them that the thinking will be easier, that rules will be relaxed during the pandemic and what are the limits of that relaxation,” Abdul-Malik said.


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