Imagine you are invited to a formal gathering at a famous celebrity’s house, a powerful political leader’s mansion, or a dignitary from a royal family – maybe even the King, himself has summoned you to his palace. You have been chosen as one of the guests of honor. There will be special attendees there like renowned movie stars, artists, foreign ambassadors, and/or high-profile government figures. Your jaw drops as you fumble with the envelope and pull out the fancy invitation you now hold in your sweaty palm. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and best of all, you are allowed to bring friends. You have an “OMA (Oh my Allah)” moment! Your mind races. What will I wear? How should I greet my host? Who will I see there? Who should I invite?
Hardly able to contain your excitement, you run to your closet and flip nervously through the clothing hangers. Nothing is worthy of such an auspicious occasion, so you decide to go to the nearest designer store or boutique to buy new, fancy formal wear, including shiny matching shoes and accessories. You really want to make an impression and fit in with the other distinguished guests. You may decide to have your hair cut and beard shaped up nicely or get your hair done up and/or buy an elegant hijab to go with your new outfit. Everything must be perfect for this momentous opportunity. Anyone you invite must be just as meticulous with his/her appearance. You give them a rundown of what you expect before the big day, and most of all, you remind them that they must be there – ready and on time.
Once you arrive, you are on your best behavior, so as not to offend your host. Stepping on the red carpet, you sigh in disbelief as you reflect on just how lucky you are to be standing in the midst of such company. The venue is flawless, and you have VIP access. “What did I do to deserve this?” You think as you bask in the surreal, yet peaceful ambience. Your host taps you lightly on your shoulder and whispers, “You are welcome here anytime.”
Then, you wake up.
And you find yourself back at home, locked down, in quarantine perhaps, while reading this article. Only, this is not a dream. You had been invited by the most glorious of hosts, the King of Kings, Himself, the Lord of the Worlds. His house is the masjid. The difference is that now your invitation has been revoked. The beautiful mansion, so full of dreams and promises, has been closed to the public. A renovation is about to happen, and thus, you must wait. Yet this renovation is not of the building; it is a transformation of your soul.
The problem is you had gotten used to visiting. You had been welcomed as a VIP on numerous occasions. You became lackadaisical in your preparation, no longer paying attention to your appearance or behavior. It became a routine. The more you visited this magnificent atmosphere, the more you began to take it for granted. “I can come and go as I please!” You thought to yourself. Sometimes, you did not even bother to greet the host; you preferred to engage in idle conversations with the other guests or you went because of some perceived obligation or for business purposes. Other days, you failed to show up at all. Even the workers who were responsible for the upkeep of the venue began to neglect their duties, no longer serving the Host, but rather their own interests. Despite all of this, the Host did not complain or ask why; He was patient. He knew eventually it would get to this point, that the renovation would have to take place and that would be the day when you finally stopped to reflect.
What brought about this change is something that no one expected. An invisible menace brought the nations of the entire world, even the ones who refused to submit, to their knees. The coronavirus, or Covid-19 disease, that we do not know much about, began affecting people on the other side of the world, in Wuhan, China, and then spread to other countries rapidly. At first, we were too busy to notice what was happening. As more and more people were affected, we started to play the blame game. Some of us were even happy about the irony of the situation; perhaps, the ones who had been oppressing Muslims would finally taste some of their own medicine, Divine Justice. However, as fate would have it, this virus became a global pandemic with no known cure, affecting almost every nation on the globe, including our own.
We had only a few chances to take advantage of our invitation to Allah’s House to seek His blessing, forgiveness, and to be spared from this tragedy. But, alas, one by one, the masajids began to close. Even the most sacred House, the Ka’aba, and its sanctuary, the Haram, has been barred from visitors, as well as the mosque of the Prophet in Madinah, peace be upon him. Now, when we need to seek refuge the most, we cannot visit the one place that promised security, the peaceful palace belonging to our Gracious Host. We never imagined that eventually our open invitation would no longer be a valid pass. There was not supposed to be an expiration date. We have gotten too used to the commodity of having a place to worship, when for others, both in our past and present it was and is a luxury. Even in modern times, having a place to pray freely is an unattainable goal for some. While there are huge abandoned structures built with hundreds of thousands of dollars fundraised by privileged communities, disadvantaged Muslims fill simple huts and prostrate on dirt floors.
There is a hadith in Sahih Bukhari and Muslim in which the Prophet stated that one of seven who will be shaded on the day on which there is no shade except His shade (the Day of Resurrection), is a man whose heart is attached to the mosque when he leaves it until he returns to it. We reached a time when people’s hearts are no longer attached to the mosque. Alhamdulillah, our Most Merciful and Gracious Host, is giving us the opportunity to find that attachment again.
Today, as we are left with the uncertainty of our unanswered questions and wondering when our invitation will come again; when will we be able to attend Jummah again to rejuvenate our faith every week, when will we taste the sweetness of praying side by side without fear in our congregational daily prayers, will we be able to break fast together or sway in unison while we listen to the sweet sound of the Qur’an recited at Tarawih prayer during the month of Ramadan? As we yearn to return to the security of our Creator’s House, let us prepare for our reunion. Let us reenter our places of worship in humility, submission, and with complete respect in both our appearance and our conscience. Picture yourself when you are able to once again step on the red carpet. Will you fall on your face and kiss the floor? Will you prostrate in gratefulness to the Lord of the House? Will you forget? Will we forget?
While we wait for the invitation, let us renovate our minds and souls to acknowledge the reality, now that we have tasted it, that nothing is permanent, not our lives, not our comfort, not our privilege, not even our visits to the masjid. All we have is our faith.