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 سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى 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 سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى 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 سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى 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 صلى الله عليه وسلم 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 صلى الله عليه وسلم 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]