A spiritual experience

This pandemic has a lot to offer in terms of making us conscious about our souls and spirits

Covid-19 and Islamic tradition are linked in the same manner as past pandemics discussed in Islamic literature. There are sayings attributed to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), for example, telling people not to travel to and from the epicentre of an epidemic.

How is Covid-19 influencing reality and shaping the worldview in my surroundings at private and public levels? What guidance is available from the Quran and hadith?

I believe there are two ways of looking at the impacts of Covid-19 on our spirituality. On a personal level, there is a lot of opportunities. One has more time for prayers, reading the Quran and other Islamic texts, engaging with parents and siblings and for meditation.

At the public level, the virus is preventing people from attending congregations like the Friday prayers. The rituals highlighting equality and fraternity of the faithful are thus discontinued.

In the month of Ramazan, Muslims fast to please Allah and gain His blessings. Congregational prayers in the holy month are better attended. In most mosques the whole of the Quran is recited during taraweeh.

This makes for attainment of great spiritual depth.

From this perspective, Muslims will be dearly missing the traditional Ramazan practices. However, taraweeh prayers can be arranged at homes in the same manner as regular daily prayers are offered these days. Not having enough huffaz (those who have memorised the Quran) in every home will be an issue, but at a spiritual level a Muslim does believe in the hadith, “Actions are (judged) according to intentions, and every man shall have that which he intended (Sahih-al-Bukhari, 1; Sahih Muslim, 1907).” Hence, Muslims should be content if they offer the same prayers at home with a sincere intention.

Interestingly, Islamic tradition provides a great amount of flexibility in worship activities at home, as dhikr (remembrance), daily prayers, and taraweeh are conducted at homes.

Social distancing also stops Muslims from offering the pilgrimage (hajj) to Mecca, but there is also an understanding that the beloved God is the Most Forgiving and Merciful, (At-Taubah, 99). He knows us as He is qareeb (near) to us (Al-Baqarah, 186). He is aware of the current situation as He is All-Knowing.

Thus, in the month of Ramazan, it will be fetching to see how the Momineen (truly faithful) put themselves in a true Abd (one who worships) form while begging and pledging from Allah (SWT). In the month divided into three phases (ashras) of mercy, forgiveness, and liberation from hellfire, it will be interesting to see how on one hand, Muslims will be struggling physically and ascending spiritually to gain as many blessings as they can. While on the other hand, God will be so Forgiving and Merciful to provide us salvation in Ramazan. I believe therefore that it is a great opportunity for us to please God and ask Him to help us get rid of the virus.

Let us hope that we get out of it soon and become a better version of ourselves, become more empathetic towards the least privileged, and do not take our health, family, gathering and fun for granted.

Regarding potential gains for Muslims at a personal and spiritual level, I borrow from Dr Abdul Hakim Murad, an Islamic scholar at Cambridge Muslim College, who recently published a video on the pandemic and how it affects Muslims. He said it was sad that it took a deadly virus to pay attention to the realities surrounding us. For years, he said, the pursuit of money and luxurious lifestyles had been causing great harm to the nature.

He recalled that Hazrat Ayesha (with who Allah wa please) had related: “I asked the Messenger of Allah about plagues and he said, “They are a punishment which Allah sends upon whomsoever He wills, but Allah has made it a mercy to the believers. Anyone who remains in a town which is plagued with an epidemic, remaining patient and anticipating Allah’s reward, while firmly believing that nothing will befall him other than what Allah has preordained for him, will receive the reward of a martyr (Sahih-al-Bukhari, 3474).”

So, one learns from this hadith that this plague is a reminder to us to ponder over our actions.

Dr Murad also talked about the transient nature of the world and how Muslim beliefs require one to be prepared for the Hereafter. Death is a reality and bound to occur sooner or later. An excessive attachment to worldly desires is thus meaningless. A true Muslim should therefore not panic on account of the virus. The Quran says, “Indeed with hardship, [will be] ease (Ash-Sharh, 6).”

Pandemics have occurred in the past. We need to be patient about them. Eventually, all of them passed. We also need to explore our souls and that can only happen once we take a break from a highly engaging lifestyle.

An excessive attachment with the world and too much reliance on science can lead to frustration and disillusionment when we are unable to provide a vaccine against a microorganism when needed.

Thus, this virus is also a great reminder that in our pursuit of latest research and development, we must not reach a stage where we start worshipping the knowledge or development itself.

Another lesson to learn is that we cannot fight nature and prevail. We need instead to understand the complexity of the world. To this end we should read divine scriptures and from them derive meanings relevant to our contemporary context. We need to attain an equilibrium between the spiritual and the material.

In the Islamic tradition, unpredictability about the future also enhanes faith as a believer lives in the present and is grateful to God.

This pandemic has allowed a lot of people to spend more time with their families where they have so many duties. These duties might have been ignored in the pre-Covid-19 world. Many are amazed today that a simple life at home can be so meaningful and fulfilling.

A lot of people have become more empathetic of others as a result.

A lot of people have also started giving more charity which increases empathy and adds spiritual meanings to their lives. This has resulted in a better realisation and understanding of the least privileged. This consciousness of one another is crucial to coexistence and forming a more harmonious society.

Following the lockdowns there is less pollution, less transportation, less noise and cleaner air. This makes it easier for one connect with the transcendental.

The pandemic has a lot to offer thus in terms of making us conscious about our souls. Let us hope that we get out of the difficult phase soon and become a better version of ourselves and never again take our health, family, gathering, and fun for granted.

To conclude, let me quote this prayer attributed to the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him): “O Allah, I seek refuge in You from leprosy, madness, communicable disease and evil diseases.” (Sunan Abi Dawud, 1554).

The writer studied social sciences at the IBA Karachi. He is a candidate of Masters in Theological Studies at the Harvard Divinity School

A spiritual experience: This pandemic has a lot to offer in terms of making us conscious about our souls and spirits