All hell is breaking loose because of a virus that has shortly became a part of our lives even though it was not on our agenda. More precisely, a doomsday rehearsal is being performed. Reports, articles, expert opinions and, of course, conspiracy theories are bountiful. The origin of the virus, whether it was produced as a biological weapon and, most importantly when it will leave our lives are the questions occupying everyone's minds, as if it will be any help in eliminating it.
We are being presented with thousands of evaluations ranging from the U.S.-China trade war to global cooling – which is an optimistic conspiracy theory – from the reasons why the virus did not spread from Wuhan, where the virus first appeared, to other areas of China, to claims bringing an end to liberalism. Yet, none of these are able to change the fact that the virus affects human life.
When we consider the disasters encountered and those wrought upon others for the last century, this is perhaps the first time we are experiencing a process that focuses on the benefit of humans. As a result of this virus, we are transitioning from a phase in which human life was trivialized due to colonial orders, wars, diseases, and those subjected to genocide based on religious-sectarian motives or ideological reasons, into a phase in which the value of life is understood.
From now on, nothing will ever be the same.
However, what will become of those who continue to think along the same lines, who continue their ideological myopia despite all the developments and act as lobbyists in the name of the virus? They are continuing to hatch out their old grudges and hatred against the world’s efforts to change and transform. These people whose dirty laundry have been revealed mock the values and discourse of Muslims through their hats -supposedly – in the name of science and rationality instead of seeing all that is being done in Turkey. They are as sickening as the Byzantine priests who were arguing over the gender of angels as the Dardanelles guns were being set up in front of the walls. They think they are prolonging their own lives by lobbying for the virus.
Blind fanaticism, which has driven humanity to disaster in every age and place, within every understanding and belief, has always had followers and will continue to do so. Worry not, because even though these sorts of people emerge at difficult times and raise their disturbing voices (like crows), they will eventually return to their caves. Remember, our history is filled more with the sound of nightingales than crows. Hence there is no need for any concern. Turkey is on the right path. If we adhere to the advised measures to a T, our country and humanity will reach peace as soon as possible, and the events we experienced today will only be a subject of history. Similar to the plague, cholera and miscellaneous epidemic diseases in the past, the coronavirus will also be buried into history.
Allow me to mention some of the measures that were taken in history:
Back in the centuries of Ottoman reign, the biggest human movement occurred on the occasion of the holy pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina, which was repeated every year. Hence, major epidemics occurred in some years due to the diseases carried via seaway from people coming to perform pilgrimage from other countries, particularly British colonies, and not from the pilgrimage itself – as claimed by some today. Unfortunately, there were crows back then too and they associated this situation with the inadequate measures of the Ottoman Empire. Many books have been written and numerous scientific studies have been conducted on this subject. In addition to the book titled “Hicaz’da Islahat-ı Sıhhiya” (Health Reforms in Hejaz), written by Kasım İzzettin, who was in charge of health affairs in Hejaz, which discusses Europeans’ approach to the matter and the measures taken by the state, those who are interested may take a look at Gülden Sarıyıldız’s (Hicaz Karantina Teşkilatı” (Hejaz Quarantine Organization), as well as my student Betül Demir Ayaz’s dissertation, “Hac ve Siyaset” (Pilgrimage and Politics). The criticisms made despite the measures taken or the results of blind fanaticism can be seen in these studies.
An example of quarantine practices in the Ottoman Empire:
The 1830-40s have been years in which epidemic diseases became particularly widespread. The empire imposed quarantines in places like Belen, Misis and the Gülek strait, which is on the route leading to pilgrimage through Anatolia-Damascus, as well as in ports along sea routes. Travelers were not only held and questioned in the lockdown areas but they were also given lessons on awareness. Quarantine was further emphasized on returns from pilgrimage; if any disease was detected, it was prevented from being spread by contact. A quarantine was imposed not only on humans but also on goods and items. Such that, even the old kiswah, the cover of the Kaaba, which was brought from Mecca to Istanbul after being changed every year, was taken under quarantine in 1847.
As a tradition, every year, the kiswah was received in Çanakkale with a grand ceremony and placed into Topkapı Palace with another ceremony in Istanbul. According to a document found in the Ottoman Archives (İ. DH 164/8540), due to cholera that year, the grand vizier reported to Sultan Abdulmecid regarding the Kaaba cover that approached Çanakkale and informed him about the procedure that would be carried out. As can be ascertained from the document, the quarantine applied to the kiswah in the past would be implemented in the exact same way that year before being taken to the palace. The kiswah would be placed under quarantine for a certain period of time at either Mehmet Pasha Mansion or Şemsi Pasha Mansion, which are located in Istanbul’s Üsküdar district, with the “necessary respect” paid. In order to do this, a ship was prepared from the shipyard to intercept the kiswah. Hence, Sultan Abdulmecid also willed the same and decided to quarantine the kiswah.
May this practice be a lesson to those who try to tarnish our history at every opportunity or disobey the quarantine measures taken by the state.