We are living in strange times, and while everyday life as we know it grinds to a halt and we find ourselves dazed and confused, it is important to take a moment.
We cannot choose the times we live in, but we can choose our response to whatever challenges these times bring. Blind panic is not the way of the believer. Instead, we are expected to be savvy, smart and suss things out – pause, reflect and find the strength within to make the necessary adjustments. This by no means guarantees an easy road. The first time for anything is always wobbly – think of the first time you tried riding a bicycle – and you get the picture. This adjustment will involve all kinds of emotions: shock, denial, frustration and even depression. But this is not one of our personal crises that we can take our time over.
Unfortunately, this pandemic is time-sensitive and affects others beyond ourselves. It is important then, for us to acknowledge the shock, recognise the frustration and understand that we will be continuously vacillating between these feelings for a while to come. Brene Brown sums it up well: "This pandemic experience is a massive experiment in collective vulnerability. We can be our worst selves when we’re afraid, or our very best, bravest selves. In the context of fear and vulnerability, there is often very little in between because when we are uncertain and afraid our default is self-protection. We don't have to be scary when we're scared. Let’s choose awkward, brave, and kind. And let’s choose each other."
It goes without saying that physical distancing is the most sensible thing we can do. Though human beings are social animals, it is our hearts that connect with each other and physical distancing does not stop us from connecting with loved ones. Now we have time to call our grandparents if we’re lucky enough to have them, or parents or other family elders, and catch up with those we often neglect, not out of lack of care, but sheer busyness. It’s a good time to hunt down old family recipes and for elders to share stories from their childhood.
While it is sad to have to close mosques, places of learning and cancel Jumma, this is not a reflection of lack of tawakkul (trust in Allah). Do not engage with anyone who uses I’ve got more imaan/tawakkul than you in these times. It’s just not worth the effort. Protection and preservation of life are crucial principles of Shariah. Tawakkul does not preclude taking precautions and adopting worldly means of protection.
We can all agree that no one had greater tawakkul than Allah’s beloved, Muhammed (S) and yet he went to battle armed. We’ve all heard the famous hadith where Muhammad (S) teaches us to ‘tie our camel and trust in Allah’. In this world of cause and effect, we are expected to do what is in our power and ask the All-Powerful for help. There are numerous supplications doing the rounds and it is easy to be overwhelmed by it all. Choose one or two that resonate: the dua of Yunus (A) when he went through the ultimate isolation in the belly of the whale, Ayatul Kursi. Spend some time seeking these out, saving them and then recite them daily – along with our handwashing and physical distancing, this is how we ‘tie our camels’.
It’s easy to get sucked into the whirlpool of social media, which, if one is already anxious, will only fuel that fire. The same goes for children in our care. Manage screen time no matter how frustrated you may feel and how grumpy your tween or teen may be. It is for our mental wellbeing.
We live in a culture that finds death uncomfortable but that has also been numbed by the neverending scenes of death and destruction on our screens. Now, suddenly, everyone is being forced to consider death and death tolls and it all feels very real. Death is real. It has always been so. It is an accepted part of life on Earth. As Muslims, we understand that our souls occupy these earthly forms for a fixed period and we have been encouraged to remember death regularly. Not as a morbid practice, but as a means of attaching value to the time we do have on this planet. There’s a lovely meme doing the rounds – when you can’t go out, go in – that I think sums up the value of this time we’ve been given. To reflect, reassess, revalue all sorts of things. To rekindle our connection to Creator. Make a list of all the things you’ve always promised yourself you’d do if you had the time. From the practical: sorting through toys and clothes, to deeper decisions involving character development, reciting more Qur’an and making choices that align with our souls.
A final thought, for now, is Alhamdulillah ‘ala kulli ‘haal – all praise and gratitude is to Allah, in all conditions. In the midst of chaos and fear, we must remember shukr. We can, if we take a moment, find some things to be grateful for, even when our head feels a mess (along with life as we know it). There are numerous studies proving the positive effects of practising gratitude. As believers, we understand its spiritual value, so let us thank Allah: for the time with loved ones, the cleaner air and the fact that Allah is in charge.