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We are in the midst of a global pandemic. Coronavirus is in almost every country of the world. People are 30 times more likely to die once infected with the disease than if they were infected with the flu. Fear and anxiety have dominated our day to day lives. Countries are on lock down, schools are closed and social lives are dismantled. Many will inevitably lose their loved ones. Many will die before they can say goodbye. Even in these unprecedented times, the coronavirus can be the means for an intellectual and spiritual awakening. What follows are some key points for you to consider.
We are Dependent on God
“O humanity! It is you who stand in need of God, but God alone is the Self-Sufficient, Praiseworthy.” The Qur’an, Chapter 35, Verse 15
If we do not acknowledge our own reality we will not be aware of the insights and truths that this pandemic can give us. Coronavirus has exposed that we are not self-sufficient. We are limited and needy. Our very existence and our ability to function is dependent on almost an infinite number of things; things that we cannot control and have no power over. This should make us mindful that we cannot sustain ourselves; when we were born we couldn’t feed, clothe or clean ourselves, we were dependent on our parents. We also need a public health system, hospitals, doctors, nurses, farms, farmers, animals, plants, family, parents, friends, an economic system, banks, an ideal environment, oxygen, water, food, buildings, construction companies, builders, and much more. The list is endless.
All of these things are ultimately dependent on God. Since God created us and all of the things mentioned above, our very existence is solely dependent on Him. We are not self-sufficient, even if some of us are deluded in thinking that we are.
“Most certainly, one exceeds all bounds, once they think they are self-sufficient.”
The Qur’an, Chapter 96, Verses 6 and 7
The whole world has been turned upside down over a single strand of RNA. This small virus, that we cannot see with the naked eye, has affected nearly every country in the world. There is currently no cure. Economies are on the verge of collapsing and health systems are overwhelmed. People are fearful and anxious. Populations have been asked to stay at home. No amount of money and power in the world can reverse what has happened. This should teach us an important lesson, especially for those who are arrogant: we must be humble.
“Indeed, We have sent messengers before you, O Prophet, to other people who We put through suffering and adversity for their denial, so perhaps they would be humbled.” The Qur’an, Chapter 6, Verse 42
“And give good news O Prophet to the humble.” The Qur’an, Chapter 22, Verse 34
One of the biggest barriers to Divine guidance and mercy is the delusion of self-sufficiency, which is ultimately based on ego and arrogance. The Qur’an makes this point clear:
“There is the one who is miserly, and is self-satisfied, who denies goodness—We shall smooth his way towards hardship and his wealth will not help him as he falls. Our part is to provide guidance.” The Qur’an, Chapter 92, Verses 8 to 12
Coronavirus and God’s Signs
Many of us have never directly observed a virus. Even though it is visible with a microscope, many of us rely on the scientific textbooks and images, and what the experts tell us. However we do observe and feel the effects of the virus. This is enough for anyone to conclude the virus exists. Applying this to God, not only do we have an innate awareness of His existence, we can observe and feel the effects of His reality.
We live in this amazing universe. We hope, love, seek justice and believe in the ultimate value of human life. We reason, infer, deduce, and discover. We live in a vast universe with billions of stars, galaxies and planets. The universe contains sentient beings that can have a unique stream of consciousness. The universe has laws and a precise arrangement that, if different, would have prevented the emergence of conscious life. We live on a planet with over 6,000 languages and over eight million species. We feel—deep down inside—the wrongness of evil, and the rightness of good.
These are all signs for God’s existence and greatness.
“Indeed, in the creation of the heavens and the earth; the alternation of the day and night; the ships that sail the sea for the benefit of humanity; the rain sent down by God from the skies, reviving the earth after its death; the scattering of all kinds of creatures throughout; the shifting of the winds; and the clouds drifting between the heavens and the earth—in all of this are surely signs for people of understanding.” The Qur’an, Chapter 2, Verses 164
Death and Questioning Our Lives
Coronavirus will be responsible for many deaths. We have seen the global deaths increase at an alarming rate day by day. This has evoked fear and anxiety. It has also made us think about death much more.
Human beings do not enjoy thinking about death. It creates the realisation within us that all of the attachments we have built in this world will cease to be. Significantly, it awakens us to the brutal fact that we will no longer exist on this planet. We have to face the reality of an inevitable personal apocalypse. There is a profound benefit in reflecting on death. Pondering our finite nature helps diminish our egos and our selfish desires no longer seem that important. Our ephemeral attachments to the material world are put into perspective and our lives are questioned—all of which offer great benefit. Contemplating death provokes thought and gives us a window of opportunity to reflect on the nature of our existence.
“Every soul will taste death. And you will receive full reward on the Day of Judgment. Whoever is spare from the Fire and is admitted into Paradise will indeed triumph, whereas the life of this world is no more than the delusion of enjoyment.” The Qur’an, Chapter 3, Verse 185
In viewing life through the lens of death, we can enter an emotional and intellectual space where we can assess our situation on this planet. How did we come to be? What should we be doing here? Where are we going? Death can be the driving force behind these critical questions, because the moment we recognise that this life is short, that one day we will breathe our last, it puts everything into perspective.
We are purpose driven creatures. From brushing our teeth to buying a car, we do these things for a particular purpose, yet some of us do not believe we have a purpose for our own existence. Naturally, this seems absurd and counter-intuitive. Having an ultimate purpose for our lives implies that there is a reason for our existence—in other words, some kind of intention and objective. Without an ultimate purpose we have no reason to exist, and we lack a profound meaning for our lives. Denying purpose for the basis of our existence while attributing some made-up purpose to our lives is, by definition, self-delusion. It is no different in saying, “Let’s pretend to have purpose.” This is no different from children who pretend to be doctors and nurses, cowboys and Indians, or mothers and fathers. However, we must all grow up and face the truth that life is not just a game.
Islam’s view on the purpose of our lives is intuitive and empowering. It elevates our existence from products of matter and time to conscious beings who choose to have a relationship with and worship the One who created us.
“Our Lord! You have not created all of this without purpose.” The Qur’an, Chapter 3, Verse 191
Coronavirus has made us think of, and want to preserve, the things we need, love and revere. People have been calling and checking in on loved ones, others have hoarded food, many have ignored public health guidance just to enjoy another drink, and a good portion of us have been ensuring we have what we need to sustain ourselves and our loved ones. Many of these things are the things we worship. Even people who do not believe in God, including those who reject the fact that He is entitled to worship, manifest signs of adoration, reverence and devotion for things. If you do not worship God, you’ll still end up worshipping something. The object that you love and revere the most, including whatever you attribute ultimate power to and believe you are ultimately dependent on, is essentially your object of worship. For many people, this can include an ideology, a leader, a family member, and even your own self. In other words, many people idolise these things. Polytheism or idolatry is not just about praying to or bowing down in front of an object.
In this regard, the Qur’an presents us with a profound lesson:
“God sets forth the parable of a slave owned by several quarrelsome masters, and a slave owned by only one master. Are they equal in condition? Praise be to God! In fact, most of them do not know.” The Qur’an, Chapter 39, Verse 29
God is essentially telling us that if we do not worship God, we end up worshipping something else. These things enslave us and they become our masters. The Qur’anic analogy is teaching us that without God, we have many ‘masters’ and they all want something from us. They are all ‘at odds with each other’, and we end up in a state of misery, confusion and unhappiness. However, God, who knows everything, including our own selves, and who has more mercy than anyone else, is telling us that He is our master, and that only by worshipping Him alone will we truly free ourselves from the shackles of the things we have taken as replacements for Him.
Just like our need to eat, drink and breathe, worship is an innate tendency. From this perspective, we are natural-born worshippers, because that is who we are and it is our Divinely given purpose. We are worshippers by definition, because God defined and made us that way.
“I did not create the Jinn [spirit world] and humans except to worship Me.” The Qur’an, Chapter 51, Verse 56
God is rooted in our innermost nature, and when God commands us to worship Him it is actually a mercy and act of love. It is as if every human being has a hole in his or her heart. This hole is not physical, it is spiritual, and it needs to be filled to achieve spiritual tranquillity. We attempt to fill this hole with a new job, a holiday, a new house, a new car, a hobby, travel or taking up a popular self-help course. However, every time we fill our hearts with these things, a new hole appears. We are never truly satisfied, and after a while we seek something else to fill the spiritual void. Yet, once we fill our hearts with the love of God, the hole remains permanently closed. Thus, we feel at peace and experience a tranquillity that can never be put into words, and a serenity that is undisturbed by calamity.
So why is God worthy of our worship? Below are two of many answers:
God is worthy of worship by virtue of who He is
The best place to start is to understand who God is. God, by definition, is the One who is entitled to our worship; it is a necessary fact of His own existence. The Qur’an repeatedly highlights this fact about God,
“It is truly I. I am God! There is no God worthy of worship except Me. So worship Me alone, and establish prayer for My remembrance.” The Qur’an, Chapter, 20, Verse 14
God is a maximally perfect Being. He possesses all the perfect names and attributes to the highest degree possible. For example, in Islamic theology, God is described as the The-Loving, and this means that His love is the most perfect and greatest love possible. It is because of these names and attributes that God must be worshipped. We always praise people for their abilities, kindness, knowledge and wisdom. However, God’s power, kindness, knowledge and wisdom are to the highest degree possible with no deficiency or flaw. Therefore, He is worthy of the most extensive form of praise, and praising God is a form of worship. In this light, God is worthy of worship by virtue of who He is.
God is also the only One entitled to our supplications and prayers. He knows best what is good for us, and He wants what is good for us. Such a Being with these attributes must be prayed to, and be asked assistance of. God is worthy of our worship because there is something about God that makes Him so. He is the Being with the most perfect names and attributes.
An important point regarding worshipping God is that it is His right, even if we are not recipients of any type of comfort. If we were to live a life full of suffering, God must still be worshipped. Worshipping God is not dependent on some kind of reciprocal relationship; He gives us life, and we worship Him in return. God showers us with many blessings; however, He is worshipped because of who He is and not necessarily how He decides—via His boundless wisdom—to distribute His bounty. Since God is the only Being whose right is our worship, then all of our acts of worship should be directed to Him alone.
We praise people due to their sporting skill, eloquence, strength or any other attribute. We do so even though they do not benefit us in any direct way. Similarly, God deserves extensive praise by virtue of His perfect names and attributes, and not as a result of how He decided to manifest them in our lives. If we can praise people who have limited and flawed attributes, what does it mean on how we must praise God whose names and attributes have no deficiency or flaw?
“All praise and gratitude is for God—Lord of everything that exists.” The Qur’an, Chapter 1, Verse 1
God has created and also sustains everything
“He is the One who created everything in the Earth for you.” The Qur’an, Chapter 2, Verse 29
There is something in your life that you receive freely, yet you do not earn it and do not own it. There is no good reason to believe that you deserve it either. This thing is this moment, and the next moment, and all of the moments of your existence. You do not earn these moments, so what can you possibly do to earn another instant in your life? This is exactly why in popular culture we call it a gift: the gift of life. If you knew that you had 10 hours left to live and in order to live another 3 days you had to give away all of your wealth, you would immediately do so. That’s why we all consider it to be so precious. You do not own these moments because you do not have the capacity to bring anything into existence; you cannot even create a fly. You do not deserve another moment of your existence because it is not yours; you do not have the ability to produce life, even for a second. Therefore, nothing that you do can be deserving of something that you can never acquire by yourself.
In light of these basic truths, you must always be in a state of gratitude, because you always receive something that you neither earn, nor own, nor deserve. These moments of our existence are from God alone, therefore we must be thankful to God, and acknowledge that all gratitude belongs to Him alone. Gratitude is a key aspect of worship.
This pandemic should be a reminder of all the blessings we should be grateful for but we take for granted. Everything we use in our daily lives, and all of the essential things that we require to survive, are due to God. It follows then that His is all gratitude. Since God created everything that exists, He is the owner and master of everything, including us and the things that matter to us. Hence, we must be in a sense of awe and gratitude to Him. Since God is our Master, we must be His servants. To deny this is not only rejecting reality, but it is the height of ingratitude, arrogance and thanklessness.
“O humanity! Remember God’s favours upon you. Is there any creator other than God who provides for you from the heaven and the Earth? There is no God worthy of worship except Him. How can you then be deluded from the truth?” The Qur’an, Chapter 35, Verse 3
Stop the Corruption and Injustice
This pandemic is not a random accident. Our individual and collective actions are responsible for what happens on our planet. This should make us self-reflect and ponder of what we have done, and not done, that may have caused this pandemic. Given our dependency to God and our interconnectedness to other things, including our environment and other people, we should realise that it is our corruption and injustice that has contributed to this pandemic.
“Corruption has spread on land and sea as a result of what people’s hands have done, so that God may cause them to taste the consequences of some of their deeds and perhaps they might return to the right path.” The Qur’an, Chapter 30, Verse 41
The condition of our planet is such that it is on the verge of being destroyed; the levels of pollution are corrupting and destabilising our home. Injustice and war abound. Millions of our fellow human beings have become refugees, millions have been killed during ongoing conflicts, and millions do not have enough to eat. We are collectively responsible for not doing enough to stop this evil, and many of us are directly responsible for causing it. We need to take responsibility and understand that this pandemic is a signal, a Divine sign, to stop the injustice and corruption on the earth.
“And when he turns away [from you], he hastens about the land to do corruption therein, and to destroy crops and cattle; and God loves not corruption.” The Qur’an, Chapter 2, Verse 205
We must realise that we are vicegerents of the earth. This means that we are responsible to maintain the balance, ensure order and not be wasteful. Unjust wars must stop, the murder of innoncent people must cease, unfair economic policies must be scrapped, the ill-treatment of animals must come to an end, excessiveness and greed must terminate.
“He is the One Who has placed you as vicegerents on earth.” The Qur’an, Chapter 6, Verse 165
“Do not spread corruption in the land after it has been set in order.” The Qur’an, Chapter 7, Verse 56
“Eat and drink, but do not waste. Surely He does not like the wasteful.” The Qur’an, Chapter 7, Verse 31
“And He has raised the heavens and has set a balance, that you may not upset the balance.” The Qur’an, Chapter 55, Verses 7 and 8
We are confronted with some choices. To follow God’s guidance which will reset the balance and order, or continue the corruption. The least we can do is to at least stop the misery and degradation.
“Indeed, God will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.” The Qur’an, Chapter 13, Verse 11
“And whoever is mindful of God, He will make a way out for him, an provide for them from sources they could never imagine” The Qur’an, Chapter 65, Verses 2 and 3l
Trust the Experts, Trust the Prophet
This global pandemic has kept us glued to our screens waiting for the next update and guidance from the experts; the virologists, epidemiologists and other people of authority. We trust what they have to say, and follow their instructions. However, many of us, the majority in fact, have no way of assessing the truth of their statements. We do not have the academic background nor the expertise. Given our limitations as human beings, we simply cannot know everything. Relying on other people’s testimony is an inevitable and essential part of living.
Since we can trust some people’s testimony, what about the testimony of a man who is even more trustworthy? It would make sense to trust someone more trustworthy than the people we currently trust.
The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ claimed prophethood over 1,400 years ago with the following simple, yet profound message: There is none worthy of worship but God, and the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ is the final messenger of God.
To test the truth of his message and claim to prophethood, we can only see three main possibilities about his claim:
- He was a liar
- He was deluded
- He was speaking the truth
Was he a liar?
A brief dip into the rigorously-recorded history of Prophet Muhammad’s ﷺ life reveals considerable information that shows the integrity of his character. He was not a liar and to assert as much is indefensible. The reasons for this abound—for instance, he was known even by the enemies of his message as the “Trustworthy”.
The Prophet Muhammad’s ﷺ message undermined the economic and power structures of society. 7th century Meccan society was based on trade and commerce. The leaders of Meccan society would attract these traders with the 360 idols they had in the Ka’bah—the cube-shaped structure built by Abraham as a house of worship. The Prophet’s ﷺ message was simple, yet it powerfully challenged and criticised 7th century Arabian polytheism. Why would he do this if he was a liar? People who lie do so to either avoid some pain or gain some benefit. How do the actions of Muhammad fit that? The pagans actually took their religion very seriously, since they connected it to their ancestors and were proud to follow them. Yet, Muhammad told them that they and their ancestors (including his own) were misguided and ignorant.
The leaders of that society initially mocked him, thinking the Prophet ﷺ would not have an impact. However, as his message was gradually taking root with high-profile conversions, the leadership started to abuse the Prophet ﷺ, both physically and psychologically. Proof of the Prophet’s ﷺ reliability and credibility is substantiated by the fact that a liar usually lies for some worldly gain. However he was persecuted for his beliefs, boycotted and exiled from his beloved city—Mecca. He was starved of food and stoned by children to the point where blood drenched his legs. His wife passed away and his beloved companions were tortured and persecuted. Muhammad ﷺ suffered tremendously for his message and rejected outright the riches and power he was offered to stop promulgating his message. He was uncompromising in his call to God’s oneness and worship. Rather than desiring worldly increase during his lifetime or self-worship in the future, Muhammad ﷺ had nothing to gain from staying firm on his message – something which he had to suffer greatly for.
Was he deluded?
“Your fellow man is neither misguided nor astray; nor does he speak of his own whims.” The Qur’an, Chapter 53, Verses 2 and 3
To claim that the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was deluded is to argue that he was misled to believe that he was the messenger of God. If someone is deluded, they have a strong conviction in a belief despite any evidence to the contrary. Another way of looking at the issue of delusion is that when someone is deluded, they speak falsehood whilst believing it to be true. The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ had many experiences during his life that, if he were deluded, he would have used as evidence to support his delusion. One example is the passing away of his son, Ibrahim. The boy died at an early age and the day he died there was a solar eclipse. Many Arabs thought that God made the eclipse happen because His prophet’s son passed away. If the Prophet ﷺ were deluded, he would have used such an opportunity to reinforce his claim. However, he did not and rejected the people’s assertions. The Prophet ﷺ replied to them in the following way: “The sun and the moon do not eclipse because of the death of someone from the people but they are two signs amongst the signs of God. When you see them, stand up and pray.”
The Prophet Muhammad’s ﷺ message began and continued with a clear and open call to single out for worship the One Creator alone, and he also drew people’s attention to their own illogical position in worshipping the idols they created with their very own hands, which could neither help nor harm them. The fact that Muhammad was able to affect such massive and long-lasting change to very deep seated practices amongst his people shows that claims of him being delusional or mad are very hard to sustain.
In fact, Islam continues until today to massively improve and affect peoples lives. Interestingly, even non-Muslim historians consider Muhammad to be one of the most influential people of all time. This is because the impact of his teachings is not limited only to a personal spiritual sphere, but can be applied to a broad spectrum of human existence, including economics, family life, legal systems, dietary rules and hygiene.
How and from where did an illiterate man living in the desert get such knowledge and insight? In fact, one might go as far as to say that if Muhammad’s ﷺ teachings were a product of delusion, on what basis could we call anyone sane? Take for example, how he managed to successfully affect a total ban on alcohol. This is a truly formidable task. The Arabs of the time were heavy drinkers and even wrote epic poems in praise of wine.
All of this begs the question: from where did Muhammad get such deep and profound insight, wisdom and understanding of human nature? How was he able to bring about such long lasting and profound changes to not only his people, but indeed the world? One final possibility remains. It is the only one that really can explain the extraordinary phenomenon that was the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ.
He was speaking the truth
“Muhammad is the messenger of God.” The Qur’an, Chapter 48, Verse 29
If he really was a Messenger of God who received inspiration and guidance from the Creator, that explains both his complete honesty, truthfulness and uncompromising dedication to conveying the message of monotheism, as well as his deep insight into human nature and the ability to positively guide and direct his people, and indeed people from all races and cultures until today. It explains the depth of social, psychological, theological, legal, historical and epistemological insights within his teachings.
Considering what has been discussed so far, the most reasonable conclusion is that the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was speaking the truth. To reject this, would be equivalent to rejecting the experts that we’ve been listening to attentively during this pandemic.
Coronavirus Can Lead you to Paradise
God created us to worship Him, and part of worshipping Him is to be tested, and part of this test is to experience trials and suffering, like this global pandemic. Passing the test, by responding in a way that is pleasing to God, facilitates our permanent abode of eternal bliss in paradise. The Qur’an explains that God created death and life:
“He is the One Who created life and death in order to test which of you is best in deeds. And He is the Almighty, All-Forgiving.” The Qur’an, Chapter 67, Verse 2
The world is supposed to be an arena of trials and tribulations in order to test our conduct and for us to cultivate virtue. For example, how can we cultivate patience if we do not experience things that test our patience? How can we become courageous if there are no dangers to be confronted? How can we be compassionate if no one is in need of it? Life being a test answers these questions. We need them to ensure our moral and spiritual growth. We are not here to party; that is the purpose of paradise. During this difficult time we must be patient, be courageous and show compassion for those infected with the virus by helping them in any way we can.
So why is life a test? Since God is perfectly good, He wants every single one of us to believe and as a result to experience eternal bliss with Him in paradise. God makes it clear that He prefers belief for us all:
“… nor does He approve of disbelief from His servants.” The Qur’an, Chapter 39, Verse 7
This clearly shows that God does not want anyone to go to hell. However, if He were to enforce that and send everyone to paradise, then a gross violation of justice would take place; God would be treating Moses and the Pharaoh and Hitler and Jesus as the same. A mechanism is needed to ensure that people who enter paradise do so based on merit. This explains why life is a test. Life is just a mechanism to see who among us are truly deserving of eternal happiness. As such, life is filled with obstacles, which act as tests of our conduct.
In this regard, Islam is extremely empowering because it sees suffering, evil, harm, pain and problems as a test. The empowering Islamic view is that tests are seen as signs of God’s love. The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said, “When God loves a servant, He tests him.” The reason God tests those whom He loves is because it is an avenue to achieve the eternal bliss of paradise—and entering paradise is a result of Divine love and mercy. God points this out clearly in the Qur’an:
“Do you think you will be admitted into Paradise without being tested like those before you? They were afflicted with suffering and adversity and were violently shaken that even the Messenger and the believers with him cried out. ‘When will God’s help come?’ Indeed, God’s help is always near.” The Qur’an, Chapter 2, Verse 214
The beauty of Islam is that God, who knows us better than we know ourselves, has already empowered us and tells us that we have what it takes to overcome these trials:
“God does not require of any soul more than it can afford.” The Qur’an, Chapter 2, Verse 286
However, if we cannot overcome these trials after having tried our best, God’s mercy and justice will ensure that we are recompensed in some way, either in this life or the eternal life that awaits us.
The Coronavirus can help achieve paradise, if we pass this specific test by believing and being patient, we will get the reward of a martyr. The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ concerning plagues said:
“It is a punishment that God sends upon whoever he wills, but God 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 God, knowing that nothing will befall him but what God has decreed, he will be given the reward of a martyr.”
Conclusion: A Viral Awakening
“We will certainly make them taste some of the minor torment in this life before the major torment of the Hereafter, so perhaps they will return to the Right Path. And who does more wrong than the one who is reminded of God’s revelations then turns away from them?” The Qur’an, Chapter 32, Verses 21 and 22
This global pandemic should create a viral awakening. It is time to return to the path of God. We must be humble, accept God’s signs and realise we are ultimately dependent on Him. This trial that we are facing should make us aware of the impermanence of life and that our purpose is to worship God. If we trust the experts guiding us during this pandemic we should trust and accept God’s messenger. This God-given test can be a sign of Divine love or our own arrogance. If we are patient, hoping for God’s reward, act compassionately and do the right thing we will pass the test and be eligible for paradise—a place that if the person who suffered the most on earth would be dipped for a moment, he would exclaim, as the Prophet ﷺ informed us, “I have never suffered.”
The choice for us is to accept the fact that God is the only deity worthy of worship and the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ is His final messenger, pass the test and be eligible for eternal bliss, or reject the truth and by virtue of that go to hell—because we have chosen to reject God’s guidance and mercy. Now is the time to believe and put our trust in Him:
“Say, ‘Nothing will ever befall us except what God has destined for us. So in God let the believers put their trust.’” The Qur’an, Chapter 9, Verse 51
May God guide, protect and have mercy on you all.