Almost two-thirds of American believers think that COVID-19 is God telling humanity to change how it lives; according to a poll conducted by the University of Chicago Divinity School and The Associated Press which indicates many people are searching for deeper meaning in the devastating CCOVID-19 outbreak.

The poll found that 62% of Americans who believe in God feel strongly or somewhat strongly, that the virus is a sign from God telling humanity to change. Evangelical Protestants are more likely than others to believe that strongly, at 43%, compared with 28% of Catholics and mainline Protestants.

Among black Americans who believe in God, 49% say they feel strongly that God will protect them from the virus, compared with 34% of Latino and 20% of white Americans.

I think the poll should have asked two more questions about God’s protection. Whether or not people get infected depends mostly on the other people; but whether infected people die depends more on one’s own belief in God and one’s own previous health.

The good news is that 26% of Americans polled say their sense of faith or spirituality has grown stronger as a result of the outbreak. Only 1% say their sense of faith or spirituality has weakened.

All of us are being tested personally as individuals; and as organic members of a nation, a society and even the whole of humanity.

We are tested as individuals as the Qur’an states: “Indeed We shall put you to test; some with fear and hunger, and some with loss of wealth, lives, and offspring. And (Muhammad) convey good tidings to those who are patient, who say, when inflicted by hardship, “Indeed we are of God and to Him shall we return;” upon them is the blessings of Allah and His mercy.” (2:155)

And the Hebrew Bible states: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4)

And we are tested as nation, community or a society as God states: “So that I may test them, whether they will follow My law or not” (Torah Exodus 16:4) and “Remember the entire path along which the Lord your God led you these forty years in the desert, He sent hardships to test you.” (Torah Deuteronomy 8:2).

“Or do you think that you will enter Paradise before Allah tests those of you who fought and (also) tests those who are patient [sufferers]? (Qur’an 3:142).

On the other hand super religious leaders in Israel have been pushing their followers to oppose anti-COVID-19 measures.

Many members of the ultra-Orthodox community were slow to begin heeding social distancing regulations and initially resisted the shutdown of their schools and synagogues. Several prominent ultra-Orthodox rabbis opposed government efforts to close ultra-Orthodox schools as the pandemic began to spread across Israel in March and the fight goes on ten months later.

Roni Numa, the government official who oversees the pandemic response in the ultra-Orthodox community, said in a press briefing on 18 January 2021 that more enforcement was needed to close Haredi schools for another 10 days, and emphasised that most ultra-Orthodox schools are closed, but about 15 percent remain open.

Numa said that 30% of infections in Israel were coming from the ultra-Orthodox community, but  it appears the very high rate of infection was decreasing. The ultra-Orthodox community constitutes around 10% of the general population. Some 20% of virus tests are coming back positive in ultra-Orthodox areas compared to around 5% in the general population.

Meanwhile in Iran, media outlets controlled by the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei try to justify the government’s refusal to purchase COVID-19 vaccines. For instance, on 14 January, Asr-e Iran daily quoted a letter signed by ‘2,500 physicians’ as explaining irreparable consequences of US and British vaccines. And Iranian officials have made strange comments.

For instance, Ali Asghar Annabestani, member of the Parliament (Majlis) Social Affairs Commission, said, “American and British vaccines will make its users sterile and they are carcinogenic.”

And there’s a difference of opinion amongst Islamic scholars about taking pork gelatine and making it undergo a major chemical transformation. Is that still considered to be religiously impure. The majority consensus from past debates over pork gelatine use in vaccines is that it is permissible under Islamic law, as “greater harm” would occur if the vaccines weren’t used, said Dr Harunor Rashid, an associate professor at the University of Sydney.

There’s a similar assessment by a broad consensus of religious leaders in the Orthodox Jewish community as well. “According to the Jewish law, the prohibition on eating pork or using pork is only forbidden when it’s a natural way of eating it,” said Rabbi David Stav, chairman of Tzohar, a rabbinical organisation in Israel. If “it’s injected into the body, not (eaten) through the mouth,” then there is “no prohibition and no problem, especially when we are concerned about sicknesses,” he said.

Yet there have been dissenting opinions on the issue — some with serious health consequences for Indonesia, which has the world’s largest Muslim population. In 2018, the Indonesian Ulema Council, the Muslim clerical body that issues certifications that a product is halal, or permissible under Islamic law, decreed that the measles and rubella vaccines were “haram,” or unlawful, because of the gelatine. Religious and community leaders began to urge parents to not allow their children to be vaccinated.

“Measles cases subsequently spiked, giving Indonesia the third-highest rate of measles in the world,” said Rachel Howard, director of a health care market research group Research Partnership.

“A decree was later issued by the Muslim clerical body saying it was permissible to receive the vaccine, but cultural taboos still led to continued low vaccination rates,” Howard said.