On Wednesday the WHO declared the COVID-19, known as the coronavirus, outbreak as a pandemic. A pandemic describes a disease that is spreading between people in multiple countries around the world at the same time. The description is reserved for an infectious disease where we see significant and ongoing person-to-person spread in multiple countries. Pandemics are more likely if a virus is brand new, able to infect people easily and can spread from person to person in an efficient and sustained way. This new coronavirus appears to tick all of those boxes.
The rapid and global spread of the virus has led to various responses from governments, institutions, communities, and individuals across the world. Italy has placed the entire country under quarantine, Trump has suspended travel from Europe to the US. Local universities in California such as University of Irvine , University of California- Riverside, California State University – Long Beach, and University of Southern California have cancelled in person classes for the time being and transferred all their classes to remote learning for the Spring Quarter. They even told on-campus students to go back home.
The NBA has postponed the remainder of the season for the time being. International travel has been affected, the stock market is crashing, oil prices are dipping and there’s definitely a huge global impact. The situation is changing rapidly and people’s responses are changing with it.
Locally, there seems to be two attitudes towards the spread of the virus. One is an attitude of panic and people are going to grocery stores and buying up all the available toilet paper, water, and other essentials. Others, and this is true for segments of our own community, have taken a very relaxed and even defiant approach refusing to make any adjustments to their normal routine invoking important concepts such as tawakkul and the qadr of Allah.
The whole world is talking about the spread of this virus. Alḥamdulillah our way of life, Islam, is a total, complete, and comprehensive way of life based on submission, obedience, devotion, and servitude to Allah ﷻ. It provides guidance for every single aspect of our lives through revelation in the form of the Quran and Sunnah of the Prophet ﷺ. In light of this divine guidance how should we respond to this pandemic and understand it? What should our attitude towards it be? What precautions should we be taking?
It is important for us to build a framework of how to understand pandemics and plagues from a religious and spiritual perspective. In doing so it is important to keep three important points in mind.
Illness, whatever form it takes, is a natural part of the human experience
We as human beings at some point or another are going to get sick. That sickness can be mild and it can be severe, it can be non-contagious and it can be contagious. The reality is that we are going to get sick, and this illness is a test and trial from Allah ﷻ.
This is a reality that Allah ﷻ reminds us of in several places throughout the Quran. For example, Allah ﷻ says in Surah al-Baqarah, “We shall certainly test you with fear and hunger, and loss of property, lives, and crops. But [Prophet], give good news to those who are steadfast, those who say, when afflicted with a calamity, ‘We belong to God and to Him we shall return.’
These will be given blessings and mercy from their Lord, and it is they who are rightly guided.” (2:155-157) All types of illnesses and diseases are a test from Allah ﷻ; they are a test of our īmān, resilience, patience, steadfastness, reliance, and submission to Allah ﷻ.
And the beautiful thing about this test is that in reality it is a blessing in disguise. It is a means of having our sins forgiven, being spiritually cleansed, and getting closer to Allah ﷻ.
The Prophet ﷺ told us, “No fatigue, illness, anxiety, sorrow, harm or sadness afflicts any Muslim, even to the extent of a thorn pricking him, without Allah wiping out his sins by it.”
مَا يُصِيبُ المُسْلِمَ مِنْ نَصَبٍ،وَلاَ وَصَبٍ، وَلاَ هَمِّ، وَلاَ حُزْنٍ، وَلاَ أَذًى، وَلاَ غَمِّ، حَتَّىالشَّوْكَةِ يُشَاكُهَا؛ إِلاَّ كَفَّرَ الله بِهَا مِنْ خَطَايَاهُ
Jābir narrates that the Messenger of Allah ﷻ went to visit Umm al-Sā’ib and said, “O Umm al-Sā’ib why are you trembling?” She replied, “It is because of my fever, may Allah not bless it.”
He ﷺ said, “Do not curse fever because it removes the sins of man just as the bellows remove the filth of iron.”
The Messenger of Allah ﷺ also said, “There is no Muslim who is harmed by an illness except that Allah removes sins from him just like a tree sheds its leaves.”
قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم ” مَا مِنْ مُسْلِمٍ يُصِيبُهُ أَذًى مِنْ مَرَضٍ فَمَا سِوَاهُ إِلاَّ حَطَّ اللَّهُ بِهِ سَيِّئَاتِهِ كَمَا تَحُطُّ الشَّجَرَةُ وَرَقَهَا
What is happening across the globe is part of the Divine decree of Allah ﷻ
When something like this happens, it is natural to feel a sense of fear or panic. We as human beings are wired to be concerned about the unknown. A very powerful way of quieting this anxiety and fear is by being content with the decree of Allah ﷻ. Having faith in the decree of Allah ﷻ and His pre-knowledge is one of the most fundamental aspects of faith; it is an integral part of īmān.
Every single thing that happens in this world, both the good and the bad based on our limited perception, happens according to the Divine will, decree, plan, and wisdom of Allah ﷻ. Allah ﷻ tells us, “Misfortunes can only happen with God’s permission––He will guide the heart of anyone who believes in Him: God knows all things.” (64:11) It is our responsibility as believers to be content with the will and decree of Allah ﷻ. The attitude we are supposed to have when afflicted with these difficulties is to recognize that they are from Allah. As mentioned in the verse from Surah al-Baqarah above, “those who say, when afflicted with a calamity, ‘We belong to God and to Him we shall return.’”
Part of being content with Allah’s decree is to internalize the reality that everything that happens in this world has some deep divine wisdom behind it. Sometimes we may recognize what that wisdom is, and oftentimes we will not.
For example, this incident helps us recognize the ultimate might, power, glory, and magnificence of Allah ﷻ. It makes us realize the He truly is in charge of the affairs of this world and that He is the King of all kings. A microscopic virus, something that can’t be seen with the naked eye, had brought the entire modern world to its knees. It creates a sense of humility within ourselves as human beings. Despite all of our inventions, technological, scientific, and medical advancements, we are not in control.
Tawakkul and taking necessary precautions – Contagious diseases are real.
We acknowledge that viruses and contagions can be passed from person to person, from various surfaces to people whether it’s through direct or indirect contact.
This reality is confirmed by several narrations of the Prophet ﷺ as well. The Prophet ﷺ said regarding the plague, “If you hear that it (plague) has broken out in a land, do not go to it; but if it breaks out in a land where you are present, do not go out escaping from it.”
إِذَا سَمِعْتُمْ بِهِ بِأَرْضٍ فَلاَ تَقْدَمُوا عَلَيْهِ . وَإِذَا وَقَعَ بِأَرْضٍ وَأَنْتُمْ بِهَا فَلاَ تَخْرُجُوا فِرَارًا مِنْهُ
Similarly the Prophet ﷺ said, “A sick person should not enter upon a healthy person.”
لاَ يُورِد مُمْرِضٌ عَلَى مُصِحٍّ
The Prophet ﷺ also said, “Flee from a leper just as you flee from a lion.”
وَفِرَّ مِنَ الْمَجْذُومِ كَمَا تَفِرُّ مِنَ الأَسَدِ
However, there is also a hadith where the Prophet ﷺ told us, “There is no contagion (of disease).” This has been understood by the majority of scholars to be referring to a theological reality that Allah ﷻ is the One who causes the illness; not the contagion itself. Meaning, germs and other microscopic organisms don’t intrinsically or necessarily make another person sick. It is to make us recognize that there are material means and causes that we can observe and then there is the Cause of all causes, which is Allah ﷻ. However, this is the system that Allah ﷻ has instituted in this world for how illnesses are normally transferred from one person to another.
According to the guidance of the Quran and Sunnah we are taught to take the necessary precaution for protecting ourselves from harm. Taking these necessary precautions is not against the concept of tawakkul; rather, it is an integral part of relying upon Allah ﷻ. An essential part of tawakkul is to do everything that we are capable of doing; plan, prepare, take precautions, work, struggle, and put forth our best effort and then to leave the result up to Allah. Whatever the outcome is we accept it and are content because we recognize it is from God. We use all the material means we have available to us, take all the precautions, and then leave the outcome up to Allah.
As the Prophet ﷺ said, “Tie your she-camel and then rely on God.”
We should try our best to follow the guidelines and advice of our local public health officials and medical experts. And if after following these guidelines we still get sick, then realize that is the will and decree of Allah ﷻ.
The Prophet ﷺ told us, “And know that what has passed you by [and you have failed to attain] was not going to befall you, and what has befallen you was not going to pass you by.”
وَاعْلَمْ أَنَّ مَا أَخْطَأَك لَمْ يَكُنْ لِيُصِيبَك، وَمَا أَصَابَك لَمْ يَكُنْ لِيُخْطِئَك
If you are congregating in the masjid it is recommended to take the following precautions:
o Wash hands – We should wash our hands before coming to the masjid with soap and hot water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer before entering the masjid.
o Use a tissue for coughs and sneezes – Cough and sneeze into a tissue and then discard immediately in the trash.
o Avoid physical contact – Limit direct contact through shaking hands, hugging, and kissing.
o Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
o Essential individuals only – Those who are excused from Jumuʿah should not come such as those who are sick, women, and minor children. Similarly, those with compromised immune systems should avoid coming to the masjid for congregational prayer.
o Don’t come if you’re sick – If you have a fever or are showing symptoms of the virus, stay home and contact a physician.
o Recite your daily adhkār and supplications of protection – There are several supplications and adkhār narrated from the Prophet ﷺ that serve as protection and cure from illnesses, hardships, and difficulties. For the sake of brevity I will highlight three:
- The Prophet ﷺ said, “If anyone says, ‘In the name of Allah, when Whose name is mentioned nothing on Earth or in Heaven can cause harm, and He is the Hearer, the Knower’ three times they will not suffer sudden affliction till the morning, and if anyone says this in the morning, they will not suffer sudden affliction till the evening.”
“ مَنْ قَالَ بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الَّذِي لاَ يَضُرُّ مَعَ اسْمِهِ شَىْءٌ فِي الأَرْضِ وَلاَ فِي السَّمَاءِ وَهُوَ السَّمِيعُ الْعَلِيمُ ثَلاَثَ مَرَّاتٍ لَمْ تُصِبْهُ فَجْأَةُ بَلاَءٍ حَتَّى يُصْبِحَ وَمَنْ قَالَهَا حِينَ يُصْبِحُ ثَلاَثَ مَرَّاتٍ لَمْ تُصِبْهُ فَجْأَةُ بَلاَءٍ حَتَّى يُمْسِيَ ”
- The Prophet ﷺ used to seek refuge from the trouble of affliction, meeting with wretchedness, an evil decree, and the gloating of enemies.
عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ قَالَ: كَانَ النَّبِيُّ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَتَعَوَّذُ مِنْ جَهْدِ الْبَلاَءِ، وَدَرَكِ الشَّقَاءِ، وَسُوءِ الْقَضَاءِ، وَشَمَاتَةِ الأعداء.
- Ibn ʿUmar narrates that the Prophet ﷺ would not leave the following supplication in the morning and evening: “O Allah, I ask you for well-being in this world and the Next. O Allah, I ask you for forgiveness and well-being in my deen and in this world and in my family and my property. O Allah, veil my faults and calm my fears. O Allah, give me protection in front of me and behind me, on my right and my left and above me. I seek refuge by Your might from being overwhelmed from under me.”
لَمْ يَكُنْ رَسُولُ اللهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَدَعُ هَؤُلاَءِ الْكَلِمَاتِ إِذَا أَصْبَحَ وَإِذَا أَمْسَى: اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَسْأَلُكَ الْعَافِيَةَ فِي الدُّنْيَا وَالْآخِرَةِ. اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَسْأَلُكَ الْعَفْوَ وَالْعَافِيَةَ فِي دِينِي وَدُنْيَايَ، وَأَهْلِي وَمَالِي. اللَّهُمَّ اسْتُرْ عَوْرَاتِي، وَآمِنْ رَوْعَاتِي. اللَّهُمَّ احْفَظْنِي مِنْ بَيْنِ يَدَيَّ وَمِنْ خَلْفِي، وَعَنْ يَمِينِي وَعَنْ شِمَالِي، وَمِنْ فَوْقِي، وَأَعُوذُ بِعَظَمَتِكَ مِنْ أَنْ أُغْتَالَ مِنْ تَحْتِي.
Finally, I would like to remind myself and everyone that global incidents like this are wake up calls from Allah ﷻ. They are signs that we need to turn back to him in forgiveness, repentance, and supplication. May Allah ﷻ protect all of us, forgive our shortcomings, grant us comprehensive well-being, cure those of us who are ill, and bring a quick resolution to this pandemic.
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