COVID19 – Islamic Reflections: Holding on to hope in a time of fear

Imam Qari Asim 

Senior Editor, Imams Online

Chair of Mosque & Imams National Advisory Board 

Senior Imam, Makkah Mosque

 

With the recent outbreak of the coronavirus, we are all witnessing an unprecedented time filled with unprecedented challenges. Life situations are changing rapidly. Our response demonstrates who we are, what we believe and what kind of society we are becoming.

Terrible times reveal our true values, priorities, resilience and character as individuals and as a society.

It is certainly difficult for anyone not to feel a sense of fear, anxiety and helplessness during the coronavirus pandemic. But as Muslims we are called to put our trust in our Lord, and not to fall into despair or hopelessness.

Our faith, Islam, reminds us that tests and tribulations are part of our lives. There has not been a period in history where people have lived without challenges or trials. This reality is confirmed many times in the Qur’ān and the traditions of the Prophet (peace be upon him).

In fact, epidemics are mentioned at least twice in the Qur’an: Surahs Al-Baqarah (The Cow), Al-A’rāf (The Heights)

Plagues, wars, and natural disasters will remain a part of life on earth. Understanding this reality instils peace in our minds and hearts.

The second chapter of the Qur’an mentions five tests and trials that we will go through as human-beings during our life time.

We can see that during the coronavirus pandemic almost all of us are experiencing either some or all of the challenges that have been mentioned in this particular verse of the Qur’an.

This Quranic passage does not only mentally prepare us to face certain challenges in our lives but also inspires us to
react in a positive, compassionate and constructive way when faced with challenges.

The Glorious Qur’an says:

“And certainly, We shall test you with something of fear, hunger, loss of properties and lives and fruits. Give glad tidings to those who shall remain patient during these tribulations.” (Q 2:155)

 

1. The first challenge that the Qur’an highlights is experiencing fear. The inbuilt fear in us is natural. We are fearful about our lives, the lives of our loved one, about our health and well-being, our income, our jobs, our houses. The list is truly endless.

But we have a choice- either we can live constantly in fear, which will have drastic consequences on our health and well-being and our relationships or we can balance our fear with hope. Catastrophic thinking paralyzes us and stops us from making constructive solutions because it increases anxiety and the flight or fight response, leaving an individual to make decisions based on intense emotional fear rather than objective facts. Islam, obviously encourages us to choose hope over fear or flight.

2. The second test that this Quranic verse mentions is Hunger. Many of us never thought that we will end up in a situation where we will have to seriously consider whether we will have enough food to last us till the end of the week. But this pandemic has forced us to think about shortage of food in our lives. Many in our neighbourhoods
are already on the poverty line and the virus will potentially give rise to fresh vulnerable groups.

It is especially useful in times like this to follow the advice of the Prophet (peace be upon him):

“Look to those who are lower than you (i.e., those who possess less than you) and do not look to those higher than you; this will make you appreciate the bounties of Allah upon you.” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim]

It is very encouraging to see that many Muslims are distributing food parcels to many vulnerable people in our communities. I have also been on the streets in Leeds, with volunteers from Peace Matters charity, giving food to the homeless and other vulnerable individuals.

Those vulnerable individuals are truly experiencing high levels of anxiety, shortage of food due to social distancing
measures in place, and are most grateful for the gifts they receive.

3. The third test that the Qur’an mentions is Loss of Wealth. Many of us are already experiencing some loss in our wealth- some of us have already lost their jobs, others of us can’t pay rent or a monthly instalment on our cars.

There’s no doubt slacking of businesses, slow economy, financial crisis and recession will financially impact us all, and test us. Let’s not let our financial loss contribute to our spiritual loss.

During this extremely difficult time, when there is financial uncertainty, to give charity to those in need is remarkable. This is the essence of Islam. A person asked Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ): What (sort of) deeds in Islam are good?”; He replied: “To feed (people) and greet those whom you know and those whom you don’t know” . [Bukhari and Muslim].

4. The fourth tribulation that the Qur’anic passage mentions is Loss of Lives. The loss of life is the most difficult of all trials. Coping with loss of one life can be very traumatic. Yet we are talking about hundreds and thousands of lives being lost due to this pandemic. The outbreak of coronavirus has compounded grief as many can’t even be present to bury their loved ones due to social distancing measures being in place.

5. Finally, the Quranic verse talks about Loss of “fruits”, amenities and luxuries. We can all see how our lifestyles have been profoundly affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Even on a good day, many working class white communities living on Estates or those belonging to ethnic minority communities face heightened barriers to food security and economic stability due to a variety of longstanding issues ranging from employment discrimination to caregiving responsibilities to long-term effects of the wage gap. The loss of amenities and luxuries will be hard felt by such vulnerable groups.

At a time of enormous fear and loss, there is a temptation to turn inward and become anxious, to focus on our own needs and interests. But the Qur’an says that this must not be our primary response. In tough times we need to trust God, be patient, rediscover our inner strength and say: “Indeed, we belong to Allah, and it is to Him that we are destined to return.” [Q 2:156]

Those who are patient with tribulations have been promised a reward without measure in the next world. This does not mean that we should adhere to a passive quietism; rather, it means we must strive for an inner world of submission and resignation even as we struggle to restore balance to the outer world. Taking the necessary means, adopting precautionary measures and then relying upon Allāh is something that conforms with the Islamic concept of patience, and is the sunnah of the Prophet (peace be upon him)

The Prophet (peace be upon him) also taught us how to protect ourselves by maintaining our adhkar from the Sunnah. One such dua that he taught us was:

ِسْمِ اللَّهِ الَّذِي لَا يَضُرُّ مَعَ اسْمِهِ شَيْءٌ فِي الْأَرْضِ وَلَا فِي السَّمَاءِ وَهُوَ السَّمِيعُ الْعَلِيمُ

“In the name of Allāh with Whose name nothing can harm on earth or in heaven, and He is the All-Hearing, All-Knowing”

The tribulations compel us to acknowledge the manifestation of God in everything and our dependence upon our Creator; they help us to see that we need to offer our servitude to none other than God alone.

Those who are consciously aware of God’s sovereignty at all times in all matters cannot be manipulated by the circumstances or catastrophes. Because they know, in truth, all is from God—not just the sweetness of blessings, but also the bitter cup of tribulation. Ultimately, it is our response to the world that determines our state with our Lord.

We in our time face challenges which could pull us apart – whether those be the threat of pandemic, or the growing contrasts in wealth and health our society, or whatever. But we must remain strong. Our faith gives us hope in the midst of fear, calls us to protect human life and dignity, to care for the weak and vulnerable and to pursue the common good in hard-hitting times.

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