We are in the midst of a global pandemic. Coronavirus is in almost every country in the world. People are far more 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 lockdown, 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, it could be years before we find one. 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. One of the biggest barriers to Divine guidance and mercy is the delusion of self-sufficiency, which is ultimately based on ego and arrogance. This should teach us an important lesson – humility.
“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
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 scientific textbooks and images. 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
Life and Death
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. Nobody likes to think about death. However, some of us have started thinking about our own demise.
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, cops and robbers or mummies and daddies. 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
So what is our purpose?
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 – no matter what. 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.
Is this all our fault?
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.
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.
“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
We must realise that we are caretakers 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 innocent people must cease, unfair economic policies must be scrapped, the ill-treatment of animals must come to an end, excessiveness and greed must terminate.
“Do not spread corruption in the land after it has been set in order.” The Qur’an, Chapter 7, Verse 56
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
Trust the Experts
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 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 (may the peace of God be with him) 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 (may the peace of God be with him) 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
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 (may the peace of God be with him) 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.
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 (may the peace of God be with him) 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.”
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.
The choice for us is to accept the fact that God is the only deity worthy of worship and the Prophet Muhammad (may the peace of God be with him) 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