The gravity of the challenge that the world is facing today cannot be overstated. The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has affected people and nations across the world medically, financially, socially, politically, spiritually, and psychologically, beyond anything ever recorded since the dawn of time.
This article will cover how the pandemic is affecting Muslims around the world, what Islam teaches about this kind of calamity, and how to deal with it especially when social distancing defies the spirit of the sacred month of Ramadan.
Though Muslims are not unique when compared to the rest of humanity with regards to the numbers of people who have suffered or died as a result of the virus, Muslims stand unique in terms of the value we place on certain spiritual rituals that we have now been deprived of as a result of social distancing rules put in place to prevent spread of this virus.
The mandatory Friday sermons are banned in almost all mosques across the world. So is Umrah and possibly Hajj (the annual pilgrimage). So is Taraweeh, I’tikaf, and collective iftars (joint meal to break the fasting).
The new rules also deprive faithful Muslims with living parents from one of the most sacred and blessed acts that he or she could engage in on daily bases: visiting and expressing love and reverence to their parents through a kiss of the hand and forehead, whether they live under the same roof or not. This, needless to say, is critical for protection of the elderly’s well-being.
Moreover, the new rules mandate that we quarantine suspected or infected loved ones in rooms away from rest of the family, or in Intensive Care Units where they are, in some cases, left to die alone with no one to read them their last rites (bearing witness to The Oneness of God). And when they die as a result of the virus, more often the bodies of the deceased are denied the Islamic ritual of being purified with water, given Islamic ablution, and of having the Janazah prayer conducted upon the body before burial.
Is There a Reason for this Affliction?
Allah is the Absolute Sovereign Authority who can choose to punish or bless his servants (mankind) as he pleases. In different periods of human history, Allah’s wrath did befall upon communities and nations for the purpose of permanent destruction. But, for any human-being -save the Prophets and Messengers who delivered God’s revelations to us- to claim either this virus or another is Allah’s punishment directed at this particular group or that is nothing but a testament of their ignorance or pride, as that is within God’s exclusive domain of knowledge.
وَمَا يَعۡلَمُ جُنُوۡدَ رَبِّكَ اِلَّا هُوَ ؕ
“…And none knows the armies of your Lord except Him” [Al-Muddaththir; 31]
In Islam nothing happens at random. In the grand scale of things and within a Divine reality that we as human-beings cannot entirely witness, everything happens for the right Divine reason and at the most appropriate time.
Calamities could afflict people as a divine punishment or in order to test their faith so that others would know them for what they are. God, The Knower of All Things, does not need verification.
وَلَنَبْلُوَنَّكُم بِشَيْءٍ مِّنَ الْخَوْفِ وَالْجُوعِ وَنَقْصٍ مِّنَ الْأَمْوَالِ وَالْأَنفُسِ وَالثَّمَرَاتِ ۗ وَبَشِّرِ الصَّابِرِينَ
“And we will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient” [Al-Baqarah; 155]
كُلُّ نَفْسٍ ذَائِقَةُ الْمَوْتِ ۗ وَنَبْلُوكُم بِالشَّرِّ وَالْخَيْرِ فِتْنَةً ۖ وَإِلَيْنَا تُرْجَعُونَ
“Every soul will test death. And We test you with evil and with goodness by way of trial” [Al-Anbiya; 35]
However, the faithful is blessed on both occasions. The Prophet is reported to have said:
“Amazing is the affair of the faithful for every aspect of it is good….If he is blessed with what brings joy to the heart, he praises God in gratitude and it is good for him. If he is challenged with what distresses the heart, he practices patience and it is good for him” [Sahih Muslim]
According to the Qur’an and Sunnah, calamities can afflict Muslims and non-Muslims alike, righteous people as well as dreadfully vile characters. Allah may afflict calamity on people as impetus to abandon their heedlessness and rush back to their Lord. He may afflict them to expose their hidden qualities or true characters. In other words, their sincerity or hypocrisy. He may afflict others to cleanse all their sins to receive them on the Day of Judgement as pure as the day they came out of their mothers’ wombs. And yet, He has also afflicted the Prophets and Messengers who are immune from committing sins in order to elevate their status among themselves.
Contrary to common perception, when the Prophet Muhammad was asked who among people does Allah afflict with individual calamities the most, he answered:
“The Prophets, then those nearest to them, then those nearest to them. A man is tried according to his religion; if he is firm in his religion, then his trials are more severe, and if he is frail in his religion, then he is tried according to the strength of his religion. The servant shall continue to be tried until he is left walking upon the earth without any sins.” [Al-Tirmidhi]
Can We Gain Anything Out of This?
This sort of phenomenon is most certainly a test to our faith. Would we be among those who maintain their sense of optimism, reinforce their faith under distress, and reflect upon what fills their conscience and hearts, their attitude toward the purpose of their lives, and how their daily choices are in line with that purpose? Or will we be among those who simply look for any form of entertainment that will keep us busy until the pandemic passes?
It is only through reflection that we stand to gain the most valuable experience out of this calamity. So, let us ponder over how insignificant all of the worldly things that preoccupy our minds turn out to be when faced with the threat of death.
Harun Al-Rashid -who ruled the Islamic empire during its zenith- was once asked by his spiritual advisor:
“If you got lost in a desert and you were about to die of thirst, how much would you have paid for a cup of water?” Harun answered: “One half of the empire.” The spiritual advisor flowed up with another question: “What if God blocked that water in your bladder, how much would you pay to be able to urinate?” Harun answered: “The other half of the empire.” The spiritual advisor then said: “So this whole worldly empire that preoccupies your mind is worth nothing more than a half glass of water.”
The global lockdown will, in one way or another, impact most of us if not all. It may worsen one’s health, financial status, concern for others, tolerance levels, and possible one’s entire outlook in life. Under such condition, there are three things that one must remember:
First: Follow the law and public health instructions to keep yourself and your loved ones safe.
Second: Don’t overreact. A sure way to failure is to try to attempt solving all of one’s problems at the same time. Prioritize according to importance and be patient with the process.
Third: Never let your anxiety, fear, or despair overload your conviction and hope for God’s divine relief. Whether it coincides with yours or not, don’t lose the faith that God has a plan for you, and His plan is always the best. Praise and Glorify God and always seek His redemption.
Beware of irrational over protection. The Howard Hughes Syndrome is named after a man who was the wealthiest and most famous person of his time. At the latter part of his life, he developed paranoiac fear of germs or viruses in order to preserve his life. As a result, his life became more miserable than any death.
Fourth: Never forget that regardless of your hardship, there are others who have been suffering worse misfortunes and calamities than you. Imagine the misery experienced by those who have been dying from cholera, starvation while being bombarded for more than five years. Imagine the victims of Myanmar’s ethnic-cleansing, the brutal Syrian civil war, those imprisoned in China’s concentration camps, or under the tyranny of the last apartheid regime in the world-Israel. Imagine those in the notorious dungeons of Egypt and even those who are being tortured with silk ropes in a hellish Five-Star hotel.
After that empathic tour, let us find solace in this verse:
قُل لَّن يُصِيبَنَا إِلَّا مَا كَتَبَ اللَّهُ لَنَا هُوَ مَوْلَانَا ۚ وَعَلَى اللَّهِ فَلْيَتَوَكَّلِ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ
“Say, never will we be afflicted except that which Allah has decreed for us; He is our Protector, and upon Allah let the faithful entrust their affairs.” [Al-Anbiya; 51]
Also, in this short and profoundly compelling verse:
فَإِنَّ مَعَ الْعُسْرِ يُسْرًا
إِنَّ مَعَ الْعُسْرِ يُسْرًا
“For indeed with hardship comes ease. Indeed with hardship comes ease.” [Al-Sharh;5-6]
Mindful of the human tendency for hasty or superficial understanding, The Most Compassionate repeated the same verse back-to-back to remind the forgetful ones (you and I) that it is within the hardship that we must find the ease.
This may be the best Ramadan for all of us. This may be the Ramadan that we collectively discover what Prophet repeated three times while pointing to his heart:
“Piety is in here. Piety is in here. Piety is in here” [Al-Tirmidhi]
For when this pandemic passes, will we still be yearning for what we are yearning for now?