In a February 8, 2020 article, Saudi-born liberal and director of MEMRI's Reform Project Mansour Al-Hadj came out against extremist Muslim clerics who treat various natural disasters, such as the Coronavirus outbreak, as punishment visited by Allah upon the unbelievers. Noting that, despite their patent absurdity, such conspiracy theories are popular in Muslim communities, he called upon Muslims worldwide to denounce them and to replace this hateful approach, which distorts the religion, with a humane and compassionate understanding of the faith.
The following are translated excerpts from his article, which was posted on the website of the U.S.-based Arabic-language television channel Al-Hurra:
MEMRI Reform Project Mansour Al-Hadj (Source: Aafaq.org)
"In the aftermath of every natural disaster and epidemic outbreak around the world, radical Muslim clerics and their followers rush to describe it as a divine punishment visited by Allah upon the unbelievers… Despite the absurdity of such claims, which present God as temperamental and unjust, they gain wide currency among Muslims. I was therefore unsurprised when extremist Syrian cleric 'Abd Al-Razzaq Al-Mahdi stated, in a recent Friday sermon,  that Coronavirus was Allah's revenge upon the atheists, communists and Buddhists of China for their oppression of the Muslims in Turkestan. Even more dangerous and appalling than the statement itself was the fact that nobody among the hundreds of worshippers at the mosque dared to object or to challenge his absurd claim. A fatwa Al-Mahdi posted on Telegram, in which he permitted Muslims to celebrate the epidemic in China and beseeched Allah to annihilate the Chinese, likewise went unchallenged.
"The theory of divine punishment would make more sense if Muslim nations were spared disasters and epidemics; however, they are not. This is why, when the victims are Muslims, the clerics describe the same disasters as trials or tests of the Muslims' faith – a religious concept that few devout Muslims dare to question.
"In my opinion, two factors contributed to shaping the belief that epidemics and natural disasters are divine punishments for disobeying Allah or else tests of the Muslims' faith. First, stories that appear in the Quran and Hadith about nations that were annihilated by plagues and disasters because they disobeyed God or disbelieved in His prophets. Second, a sense of powerlessness coupled with a belief in a global conspiracy against Islam and Muslims.
"The clerics who promote these theories remain popular in Muslim communities despite the fact that Muslim nations receive international aid when afflicted by wars and natural disasters.
"It is incumbent on Muslims to stand up against these extremists who are distorting the image of Islam with their hate-filled sermons and fatwas, which present Islam as a religion of hate whose followers enjoy witnessing the suffering of others instead of helping them. These radical clerics will never stop spreading hate and promoting intolerance unless people denounce them, reject their ideology and challenge their arguments. Only then will they think twice before speaking.
"In contrast to these preachers of hatred, we find rational and compassionate individuals on social media who are actively trying to correct the distorted concepts that are being spread by the extremists. An example is Dr. Ammar Al-Ba'dani, a Yemeni physician based in China, who tweeted on January 28, 2020: 'Some reporters and intellectuals have made a grave mistake in their selective interpretation of events, posting that [Coronavirus] is a punishment for China, while they consider other disasters as tests of the believers' [faith]. Others have been publishing prayers, which they claim will protect [the believers] against diseases even if they take no precautions [against contracting them]. These people are distorting Islam.’
"Iraqi Twitter user Sajid Al-Rayes tweeted: 'We Muslims don't gloat [over people's misfortunes], but rather pray for all of mankind to be blessed. Islam is a humane religion and our Prophet is Allah's mercy to the world. We pray for the people of China and for all the nations in the world, that Allah protect us [all] from diseases.' User Sameh Asker disagreed with those who considered Coronavirus Allah's revenge on China for its killing of Muslims, tweeting: 'Firstly, viruses don't recognize religion and Muslims can be infected as well. Secondly, Allah would not punish an innocent person for a crime he/she didn't commit[?] What did these infected people do? Thirdly, Saudi Arabia was infected with Coronavirus five years ago and more than 500 people died. Does that mean that Allah was angry at the Saudis?' In response to Asker's Tweet, Omani user Yahya Busaidi expressed his frustration that some Muslims still believe in extremist ideas, tweeting: 'Even applying the logic that ties everything to religion, there are more than 120 Million Muslims in China, according to some sources. Does that mean that [Coronavirus] is a divine punishment for them, as well as a divine punishment for innocent [non-Muslim] people?'
"Amid the widespread sermons and fatwas on social media that support the myth that Coronavirus is a divine punishment, these posts stand out like shining stars, guiding those who are openminded, humane and compassionate in their fight against the forces of hatred and backwardness."
 Alhurra.com, February 8, 2020.
 T.me/almahdyllhadith/875, January 31, 2020.
 Ftawa2ahteatei/29597, January 23, 2020.
 Twitter.com/ammaralbaadani, January 28, 2020.
 Twitter.com/sajid_Al_Rayes, January 31, 2020.
 Twitter.com/sameh_asker, January 25, 2020.
 Twitter.com/Yahya_Busaidi, January 25, 2020.