The human condition is relatable. What one person feels is usually not isolated from another. In this piece, I have tried to summarise some common patterns I have observed in the psyche of people both on and offline in recent days and weeks. In particular, I have summarised these observations, notably anxieties, against the backdrop of some Qur’an verses and Islamic reminders that I hope will help reframe certain more toxic and disadvantageous perceptions that seem to be prevailing amongst communities of believers and non-believers alike.
There are certain anxieties that mankind seem to fall prey to and these are commonplace whether in the scenario of a global pandemic as we are collectively currently facing or indeed any other crisis in which it feels as though your world comes crashing down upon you. Any situation where your normative reality’s existence (and identity) is threatened by an experience can sometimes provide a window for anxieties to drift in. Whatever the crisis, it seems as if the most widely practiced human response is an initially toxic knee jerk reaction. Patience is not the first port of call nor is it practiced in the every day rigmarole of life. Thus, when crisis hits. We fall apart.
The human psyche needs a vaccination and it is not just against the coronavirus. We need a spiritual overhaul. And what better time to introspect on the nature and strain of vaccine you require than during this time of social distancing and isolation?
Zachariah [Qur’an 19:10-11] was told to self isolate and praise God morning and evening for three days, in order to be given the good news of being blessed with a son, Yahya (John).
Mariam [Qur’an 19:26] was instructed to tell people that she had been told to self isolate and take solitude from people during the time when she was made to bear the birth of Isa (Jesus), may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon them.
Musa [Qur’an 19:52] was called to the mountains to receive revelation, “secret communion” with Allah.
Taking isolation brings with it an abundance of khair (good blessings) and the Qur’an is replete with such examples. The above were noted just in my short reading of Surah Maryam this morning.
We all have patterns of behaviour that we need to identify and treat. There are various strains of viruses within each of us. It is incumbent upon us to identify our spiritual weaknesses and use this time of isolation to treat ourselves.
“Allah will not change the condition of mankind until he first changes that which is within himself.” [Qur’an 13:11]
Here are some common anxieties amongst people amidst the coronavirus pandemic:
1) Anxiety based on loss of plans
“But they plan, and Allah plans. And Allah is the best of planners.” [Qur’an 8:30]
“And the disbelievers planned, but Allah planned. And Allah is the best of planners.” [Qur’an 3:54]
“The condition of the one who relies on Allah is like the condition of the one who is given a dirham by a King, then it gets stolen from him; so the King says to him: “I have many times as much as that, so don’t worry. When you come to me, I will give you from my treasures much more than that.” Thus if (this person) knows the truthfulness of the king’s statement, and trusts him, and knows that his treasures are full of that, then what he missed will not make him sad.” – Madarij us-Salikin, Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah(rahimahu Allahu)
The reality is that you are not missing anything that was meant for you at this time. Whether that is a wedding, travel plans or anything else you had planned. When you fully submit to His will and His plan, your own will and plan will never feel like it diverged from “the plan” because you will always be satisfied with the outcome that He wrote. Allah does not stop being Ar Rahman and Al Latif and Al Shifa during a time of crisis. Do you realise that when you are sick, even still Allah is Al Shifa? Can you comprehend this truth? Allah’s names and attributes are not part-time qualities. We need to stop humanising God and until we stop doing this, anxieties will always get the better of us.
We should be utilising this time to get to know Allah better, by reciting His names and attributes, in particular, those that we wish to receive most. We should be using this time to contemplate His beautiful names and attributes and visualising and counting all the areas of our lives in which we can tangibly bear witness to them. If we cannot see them it is not because those blessings are not there. It is just that they are veiled from us. The more that we polish our hearts and remember Him, the more the fog lifts and I can bear witness to that as much as I bear witness that there is no god but Allah [One] and that Muhammad is His Last Messenger.
2) Anxiety based on fear for vulnerable loved ones
“And will provide for him from where he does not expect. And whoever relies on Allah – then He is sufficient for him. Indeed, Allah will accomplish His purpose. Allah has already set for everything a [decreed] extent.” [Qur’an 65:3]
The Israelites were once persecuted by the tyranny of Firaun (Pharoah) and Allah parted the seas to save them. Shortly after being delivered from that crisis, they entered another – they were stranded in the desert with no food or water and they began to complain to Musa (AS) that their crises never end. Musa (AS) reminded them (1) to give thanks to Allah that they had just been delivered from a crisis and oppression where Firaun was burying their newborn baby boys! (2) He reminded them to have patience for Allah to deliver them through this crisis also, (3) he reminded them above all to have tawwakul-Allah (meaning trust in God). He asked them why their faith and trust was not higher immediately after deliverance but instead it was lower! They had only just been delivered from one crisis and yet instead of seeing the positive in this conclusion, they still defaulted to a negative psyche.
The Holy Qur’an is replete with crisis management examples. It is incumbent upon us to open and start reading the stories that Allah has written to warn us and give us hope by the examples of others. The guidance of the Divine is right there yet we seek so much else before we “resort” to this endeavour finally. These secular lists of what to do when you’re in self isolation and bored will not get you anywhere in life. Yet instead of offering lost atheists, agnostics and polytheists some reminders of the last message to mankind, instead, it is we who start to forget the message we received and barter it away for paltry loss making secular causes! Muslims will be questioned for their hand in the loss of mankind and yet speaking about our faith has become as taboo as speaking about atheism once was a mere century ago. It as if there has been a silent but deadly spiritual coronavirus that has slowly but surely been chipping away the foundations of our beautiful truth. Allah exists and thus our worries are in safer hands with Him than with our own selves.
Worrying never helps. Worrying about family and friends won’t assist you. Worrying in general is of absolutely no benefit to you. Let go and let God. Do your personal best for yourself and for others and then leave the outcome of your affairs and others’ to Allah. You cannot control anything. Fi AmanAllah – meaning, I leave you in the custody of Allah. And who can possibly be a better custodian for your loved ones than Allah? Do your best in tandem with relying on Allah and accepting His decree, whatever the outcome.
And as for the hadith of tying your camel, this is not one that is graded sahih. It is a Tirmidhi collected hadith that has Hasan grading (meaning fair). Now, I am not a scholar with anywhere near sufficient knowledge on making an assessment on the reliability of hadith but this hadith does not challenge Tawwakul in any case. One can make efforts to safeguard oneself with the education and wisdom that one is equipped with but one must ultimately remember that no one can escape God’s decree or encompass His better knowledge and wisdom. Thus, the default position of a Muslim is to strive to please Allah in aligning their choices with His guidance rather than striving to please their own selves and we should think positively about Allah and the outcome of our affairs. What seems pleasing to you may not be good for you and what seems unfair to you may very well contain great good for you.
“But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah Knows, while you know not.” [Qur’an 2:216]
So do whatever good you can by self-isolating but realise also that if something is written for you or for someone else, no amount of hiding can save you from your destiny and for a believer, nothing that is written for you can cause you harm anyway. There is khair in your every affair and this is true only for a true believer.
If you have not internalised this reality then I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news but your belief is not on stable ground. If anxieties still sweep over and consume you then you have much work to do, still. The good news is that you have time. And the choice is yours – continue your remembrance of fears and feed them, water them and grow them. Or read Qur’an, talk to God with visceral and sincere intent, feed and water and nourish the ground upon which your faith grows and watch your tawwakul blossom and bloom.
It’s your choice: fear or faith?
“That is only Satan who frightens [you] of his supporters. So fear them not, but fear Me, if you are [indeed] believers.” [Qur’an 3:175]
3) Anxiety based on fear for lack of food/sustenance
“And [Allah] will provide for him from where he does not expect. And whoever relies on Allah – then He is sufficient for him. Indeed, Allah will accomplish His purpose. Allah has already set for everything a [decreed] extent.” [Qur’an 65:3]
“So her Lord accepted her with good acceptance and caused her to grow in a good manner and put her in the care of Zachariah. Every time Zachariah entered upon her in the prayer chamber, he found her with provision. He said, ‘O Mary, from where is this [coming] to you?’ She said, ‘It is from Allah. Indeed, Allah provides for whom He wills without account.’” [Qur’an 3:37]
Lately there has been a lot of aggravation and anxiety as regards grocery shopping. In the past two weeks, supermarkets have struggled to manage the surge in demand as people have looted, stockpiled and hoarded more than their needs. This is a tragic reality of humanity. At the time of revelation, the first Muslims, during the very first Ramadan had and made do with very little food. As we are approaching Ramadan, we should be conscious about the level of our food and drink requirements and we should remain faithful to Allah that our needs will be fulfilled.
Keep positive and let the shelves of your mind-set remain as empty of negative thoughts as the shelves that you pass by feeling frustrated for their being empty. The next time you walk past an empty shelf in a supermarket, reimagine it as being a shelf that is free from negativity. Reframe your perspective to thinking more positively each time a negative thought enters your mind. When you think well of Allah, He truly provides a way out from where you could not possibly have imagined.
Consider such negative thinking and worrying akin to the coronavirus. When one negative thought enters, it multiplies until it chokes your spirit much like the coronavirus stifles the body’s respiratory system.
4) Anxiety based on fear of lack of good deeds
The word insaan comes from the root Arabic word nisyah that means to forget. The human being is the forgetful one.
“[Gabriel said], “And we [angels] descend not except by the order of your Lord. To Him belongs that before us and that behind us and what is in between. And never is your Lord forgetful. Lord of the heavens and the earth and whatever is between them – so worship Him and have patience for His worship. Do you know of any similarity to Him?” [Qur’an 19:64-64]
“That Day, the people will depart separated [into categories] to be shown [the result of] their deeds. So whoever does an atom’s weight of good will see it.”[Qur’an 99:6-7]
Use your fear of Allah to propel you to good whilst time remains on your side. Do not feel ashamed of a lack of deeds. Perhaps you have forgotten much of the good you have shared as a part of your existence with others. Perhaps you have forgotten but Allah has not forgotten.
We should use the fear and shame we feel to inspire us to better use the time we have to repent, to give thanks and to praise Him.
Make sure also that your fear is one that is borne first out of love for Allah. A fear of disappointing a loved one is far more sincere than a fear that is soaked purely in self-disappointment and self-loathing.
The most oft mentioned name of Allah is Ar Rahman. He repeatedly asks only that you repent with sincerity and He is ever ready to receive and accept from you. You only have to ask.
5) Anxiety based on confusion with a new reality and a lack of purpose or structure to life
People in far off places know this reality better than us here in the West.
Earlier this week, the UK government announced lockdown, which caused businesses and workers to feel quite frazzled about the uncertainty of their livelihoods.
It’s almost like on the one hand we feel as if we need to keep our wooden spoons stirring the haleem on the cooker and on the other hand it feels like we are being pulled to remind ourselves that if life may be coming to an end then it really does not matter about what is cooking on the stove and whether it burns or not because we will not have a chance to eat it.
So it is best to use this time to sit and reflect, remember our Maker and repent for what little time may be remaining. Of course Allah knows best what time the hour will arrive and whether it is upon us or not but I think for us living in the West, this is probably the most real that sort of reality has come into being. I have often heard the advice – pray this namaaz as if it is your last prayer but it is hard to truly imagine this and be sincere in the endeavour until one is experiencing some form of crisis that renders one more sincere. As it stands today, the world is in crisis.
For the first time I am questioning the purpose of what I do day to day coming to the office. We are still Alhamdulillah helping people with the knowledge that we are instructed to work, earn a living in Qur’an as well and to give of our wealth when He increases it, so it’s kind of a bizarre new reality to contemplate really.
Are we coming or are we going?
Certainly for the first time in my life, I feel as if I am on my return. Even as I sit typing this without any symptoms of coronavirus, safe in my abode, I am finally able to contemplate a new truth, a new reality.
“Every soul will taste death…” [Qur’an 3:185]
Ibn Umar reported, the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Be in this world as if you were a stranger or a traveller along a path.”
Ibn Umar would say, “If you make it to the evening, do not wait for the morning. If you make it to the morning, do not wait for the evening. Take from your health for your sickness, and from your life for your death.”
Source: Sahih Al Bukhari 6053, Grade Sahih.
The concept of Time
In this time of global crisis, I have been reflecting even more on Surah Al Asr; a surah that has defined my worldview for the better part of three years.
Do you know what Asr means; beyond the fact that it is also the name of the 3rd of the 5 daily prayers?
Asr means time, but a specific portion of time. The time when the light of day is ending and the nightfall is approaching by the falling sun.
In surah Al Asr, Allah calls mankind “in LOSS”, by Al Asr:
“By Al Asr, mankind is in complete and utter loss. Except for those who have (1) believed, (2) done [some] righteous good deeds, and (3) advised one another to truth and (4) to patience / steadfastness.”
The entire purpose of Qur’an and our existence can be summed up by this one sentence – those three verses of Surah Al Asr.
We need to wake up. We are running out of time. Al Asr is the era in which we are living. Time was at its end as soon as Qur’an was revealed to mankind and it’s already been more than 1400 years since the time of last and final revelation. Al Asr – meaning the falling of the sun – has been upon us for more than 1400 years. The end of days is fast approaching and only Allah knows best the hour.
The fact that Allah is currently challenging us with a respiratory virus is so profound when you think about it. The expiry of our breath is the only thing that separates us between this and the next life.
How poignant it is that a virus that attacks the body’s respiratory system and chokes human life is currently ravaging the world? As human beings are implored to stay at home, self isolate, God is sending a message to us that this planet is breathing better without our consumption of it.
The canals of Venice have cleaned up to the extent that water is now clear and fish have returned to its waters. Global pollution levels have reduced significantly in the past month. What does this tell us? The world breathes better without us. Another truth of Allah is in perfect exhibition – mankind is truly a loss maker. Arrogant, ignorant, defiant.
Will you bend your knees or will you wait until it’s too late and the hour of Asr has passed you by? When Allah Himself will force you upon your knees.
“Then We will save those who feared Allah and leave the wrongdoers within it [Hellfire], on their knees.” [Qur’an 19:72]
If we do not drastically change our worldview and the way in which we inhabit this planet, we will be the ones who pay the ultimate price, not only in this world but also in the eternal world to come.
And whilst this life is temporary, the hereafter is eternal. It is high time we socialised ourselves to the reality of death and the shelf life of mankind.