With uncertainty all around us, the entire world has come to a standstill. Countries across the globe, barring a few, are either under a complete or a partial lockdown. From trade and commerce to politics and education, and even to the closure of places of worship, every aspect of human life has been affected. With social distancing at play, the accepted ‘normal’ has been relegated to the realm of ‘abnormalities’, and what was hitherto considered ‘abnormal’ has found a place in our day to day lives. Besides infecting more than two million people and claiming nearly two hundred thousand lives globally, the novel coronavirus has invariably had an agonizing impact on the entire humanity. The outbreak of this pandemic has turned out to be, what Marcel Mauss has termed, a ‘total social fact’, which means any phenomenon that has implications throughout the society, viz. economic, legal, political and religious spheres. This state of affairs has given rise to anxieties in each of us and has befuddled us— both at an individual and a collective level— as to what our response to this crisis should be.
The situations of life are changing rapidly for everyone. However, the Muslim community has unfortunately been thrust into a peculiar dilemma. On one hand, Muslims are being subjected to unparalleled Islamophobia or are made to suffer the wrath of tyrannical regimes, and on the other hand, their faith is being ridiculed for not saving them from this disease. Muslims find themselves perplexed, their own selves begging the question as to what they should make of this pandemic and the challenges it has brought along.
There have been differences in our approaches to comprehend this issue and therefore our reactions and responses to the same have also varied. Some people among us have insinuated that it is a divine punishment that God has sent to humble us and a warning for us to mend our ways. While others have argued that it has been sent by God to punish a particular section of the disbelievers for their excesses against the Muslims. Which of it is true? We do not know for sure. Allah knows it and He knows the best.
In a hadith related by Imam Bukhari, Prophet Muhammad (Peace be Upon Him) is recorded to have said about the phenomena of plague, that “It is a punishment that Allah sends upon whoever he wills, but Allah has made it a mercy for the believers. Any servant who resides in a land afflicted by plague, remaining patient and hoping for reward from Allah, knowing that nothing will befall him but what Allah has decreed, he will be given the reward of a martyr.” ( Sahih Al Bukhari 5402 )
Therefore, as this Hadith puts it, this pandemic could be a punishment for some but it’s not for us to decide who is on the receiving end. As we can’t be sure about its punishment aspect, we can be sure of one thing; with certain qualifications, it is, in reality, a blessing for the believers. With the aforementioned mindset, a believer is guaranteed the death of a martyr even if he succumbs to this plague within the four walls of his house.
Furthermore, to take it absolutely as punishment for Muslims is also problematic. This attitude is misplaced primarily because we find in history that occurrences of plagues have taken the lives of some of our noblest and pious predecessors. For example, the first major plague that occurred in Muslim history was during the era of the second Caliph of Islam, ‘Umar ibn al-Khaṭṭāb (R.A). This plague is reported to have claimed more than 25,000 lives, including the likes of Abū ‘Ubaydah ibn al-Jarāḥ (R.A.) and Mu’adh ibn Jabal (R.A.). Most of these men were the noblest people of Muslim Ummah and therefore to call this plague a punishment for them would be utterly preposterous. It was indeed a blessing for them, for it elevated them to the ranks of martyrs.
This brings our attention to another response that has emerged from our societies. Unfortunately, some of us have claimed that this virus cannot affect the believing Muslims and thus have either ridiculed or outrightly violated all the preventive and precautionary measures prescribed by the medical professionals and relevant authorities to contain the same. As pointed above, had faith been a determinant of being immune to any kind of disease, we wouldn’t find examples of some of our noblest companions succumbing to various diseases or even plagues at times. Islam does not teach us to have an irrational trust in our creator. Instead, it teaches us to do our bit that is within our material limits and thereafter put our trust in the Creator and hope that things unfold well. As we are directed in the famous Prophetic narration, “Tie the camel first and then trust Allah.” So, it becomes imperative for all Muslims to follow the guidelines of the medical professionals and take all the necessary precautions, while at the same time pray to God for safety and protection— for the material things are only a means, and the real protection is bestowed by the fountainhead of all protection, al-Mawlā, the Creator himself.
Furthermore, one of the important maqaasid (purposes) of Islamic shariah is “preventing harm precedes earning rewards”. So, it’s not a disservice to Islam if we stay back and pray our salawaat (prayers) at home instead of the masjid. It does ache the heart, and rightly so, for being deprived of the ambience of our masaajid, but it in no way means that we are missing out on rewards. Protecting ourselves, our fellow believers, and humanity at large is one of the noblest services in the eyes of Islam.
Moreover, acting rightly is inasmuch necessary as having the right kind of mindset. As Islam posits an organic understanding of Society, it necessitates all the ‘abled’ ones of the society to take care of the ‘disabled’ ones, especially in times of any crisis. It’s not a hidden fact that a particular section of our society, irrespective of their faith, has been worst-hit— the daily wagers, vendors, small merchants etc. Islam obligates us to, while taking care of our own families, lend a helping hand to them so that they are also able to support their families. It’s this essential collectivising nature of Islamic faith that is the need of the hour.
This is, in essence, how Islam teaches us to make sense of situations like these. So, while we stay in our homes locked up, let not the anxieties and despair get the better of us. Let’s not waste away on time and let indolence take hold of us. This time is instead a time of contemplation. Like the example of our Beloved Prophet, let’s contemplate over our existence, over the happenings of the world, as He (Peace be Upon Him) did in the Cave of Hira. The world has been robbed of its harmony— Capitalism and other ‘isms’ of its ilk have devastatingly impacted the world. The nation-state, the so-called “only legitimate representative of the aspirations of the people”, stands entirely denuded of all its superficial benevolence. Today, we live in a world which has an abundance of weapons to decimate the entire Humanity but nothing to save and preserve it. It’s a world full of misplaced priorities and aspirations. This crisis, as it lies in front of us, with all its challenges and lessons, has reassured us of the fact that this world needs a serious re-thinking and a re-making. So, let’s unite to work, pray, and hope to come out of this test stronger and to refashion this world in an even stronger manner. Let’s restore Humanity.
P.S: As you tie your camel and put your trust in the all-encompassing wisdom and mercy of your Lord, remember, as they say, and as our faith reminds us time and again, this too shall pass.
To help us strengthen the tradition of quality reading and writing, we need allies like YOU. Subscribe to us.
Faizan Akbar is a Political Science student at Aligarh Muslim University.