Don't React but Do Respond: the believer's stance facing the Covid-19 pandemic

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

والصلاة والسلام على رسول لله

I pray you are all well, and with hearts firmly in the awareness of Allah ﷻ , i.e., in a state of taqwa.

The current global situation (and the media's tendency to conflate the circumstances, with what can sometimes be mindless and purposeless repetition), can indeed dampen spirits and cast gloom. These are certainly worrisome times, and certainly we are witnessing events unfold on a global scale that is scary for many. But we should not be scared, for we were sent a prophet ﷺ, who prophesized many an event and circumstance, in order to help us prepare.

So how then should we prepare?

First, we need knowledge – sound knowledge we can rely on. We will continue our work at Irfa’a Foundation as much as possible, to continue to contribute to making sound knowledge available – and we ask you to join and help us, or be a support and part of any else engaged in the same mission.

I pray this short article will inform you of something of sound knowledge in how to respond.

So to begin;

Please remind yourself that all your life you will be faced with a variety of occurrences and events. It is important you are a person who does not react, but rather one who responds.

What is the difference between reaction and response?

The main difference is that a response is the answer of a person who is in taqwa of Allah – is in a state of being mindful of the One Divine, while a reaction is the answer of a person who is preoccupied with himself and the immediate surroundings.

So how best to respond?

We begin by composing our thoughts and bringing our heart back to a strong state of belief. We strive here not just to be a Muslim (a practitioner or Islam – whose actions are on the limbs) but to be a Mu’min (one whose Islam has seeped into every vestige of his/her being – whose limb-actions are a manifestation of a heart-state).

The most important thing to do when we are faced with difficulty is to remember how much blessing we are in!

Yes, paradoxical as it may seem, it is true. Remind yourselves of all Allah’s ﷻ blessing upon you. This will save you in more ways than you know (and more than I can explain in this piece which I am trying to keep succinct).

Indeed, we are more blessed than we know. And in times of difficulty we must remember to narrate those blessings and remind each other of the goodness we are in, and of how, through countless other worries and trials and tribulations, God has brought us safely through. Not only that, but often resulting in a state of higher Iman and taqwa.

In Surah al-Duha, that champion of chapters commemorating how Allah ﷻ completed his favour upon our beloved messenger ﷺ, our Lord teaches us that we should remember how we have been blessed, and how through numerous and often seemingly insurmountable troubles and untenable situations, our Lord has elevated us and granted us success.

وأمَّا بِنِعمَةِ رَبِّكَ فَحَدِّث
So then, about the blessings of your Lord, speak!
Quran (93:11)

In the last verse of the Sura, after God reminds his beloved chosen one ﷺ of how He ﷻ changed his state from being a poor, destitute orphan without knowing which way to turn, to a rich and beloved community member and well guided, God commands to speak about these blessings!

So then, take this golden advice from your Maker ﷻ, remind each other and your own selves of how God has saved you, guided, elevated you, protected you, fed you, clothed you, granted you numerous and countless blessings from the time He ﷻ fashioned you till now, and how His ﷻ looking after and protection upon you are assured – indeed this is His ﷻ promise to those who believe in Him and honour Him. And the One Divine does not break His word.

So, our first response as believers is that we do not react to the news. But rather, we stay composed and remind ourselves and each other – of how many difficulties Allah ﷻ has brought us safely through.

Rather than calling your family or friends to go on about how worrisome the news is, and spread fear and anxiety, call them to remind them to be steadfast, to keep their hope in Allah strong and to remind them about all the other troubles faced in the past and how well Allah ﷻ took you through them.

This is the state of heart of a ‘mutaqqi’!

A mutaqqi is one who has attained the state of ‘taqwa’ or being always conscious of God’s presence in all things. Of being constantly mindful of the Divine presence and Divine action in all things and all states.

At the level of creation (what is) and commandment (what happens), there is no reality but the One Divine. There is only Allah ﷻ. Nothing happens out of the realm of the control and ability of the One Divine. This is our belief. It is the strength of Islamic monotheism. We must remind ourselves of this and be at peace, knowing full well that Allah ﷻ will never abandon the one He loves.

So first, cherish a great good opinion of Allah ﷻ.

Next, cherish a good opinion of yourself – you are a beautiful creation of Allah ﷻ - and The One Divine does not create in vain, so know that you are precious to your Maker, and remind yourself and each other that Allah ﷻ is All Goodness. Therefore, even if we do not understand the whys and wherefores, know that there is good in every situation you find yourself in and trust in that and be strong.

This is the immediate response – the response of the heart.

The next response – is the response of the limbs.

As much as we are composed in our internal selves, we must take action in our external reality. This is the attitude and aptitude of the believer.

So then, what do we do? Well, the immediate thing is to look in the seerah (example of the messenger of God, ﷺ and that of his time/generation) to see if there is a precedent we can follow or adopt. And indeed, another cause to thank and glorify our Lord ﷻ, there almost always is!

We must also pray for these incredible people who surrounded our beloved, the messenger of God ﷺ, and of course – abundantly pray for him ﷺ. How much we have to thank them for their beautiful and majestic conduct that 14 centuries later still remains as such an invaluable means of support to us. May God’s pleasure be upon them all!

In the seerah; the incident that comes most obviously to mind, is the Amwas plague of 638/39 CE. A great plague began during the caliphate of our master Umar ؓ (if interested more information can be found in Bukhari and Muslim and other texts – here I will summarize).

The plague stretched through present day Syria and Iraq. At this time Abu Ubaydah ؓ was the governor of Damascus. Sayyiduna Umar embarked on a visit to Damascus to examine the situation himself. Shortly after leaving Medina though, a delegation from Damascus came to meet him (including Abu Ubaydah ؓ) and warned him the situation was dire, with thousands dying.

Not knowing whether to proceed or to return, he called for a meeting with his advisors, and then upon hearing of the following hadith that is narrated by our lady Aisha ؓ, he decided to return to Medina.

Narrated 'Aisha ؓ; I asked Allah's Apostle ﷺ about the plague. He told me that it was a Punishment sent by Allah on whom he wished, and Allah made it a source of mercy for the believers, for if one in the time of an epidemic plague stays in his country patiently hoping for Allah's Reward and believing that nothing will befall him except what Allah has written for him, he will get the reward of a martyr." [Sahih Al- Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 56]

Now, when Sayyiduna Umar decided to return to Medina, Sayyiduna Abu Ubaydah ؓ was disappointed, and it is said that he chided the caliph for running away from Allah’s decree.

The reply of the caliph is important to highlight – Umar ؓ replied “I am going from Allah’s decree to Allah’s decree”. Remember this response – they are words of a mutaqqi.

What does the above mean? – it means that Sayyiduna Umar, like all those personally taught and trained by the beloved messenger of God ﷺ had a deep transformative understanding of who The One Divine is. It is what we should all have – a complete understanding of God, God’s work, and man’s purpose and journey here on earth.

He knew that there is nothing that exists outside the decree of the One Divine. In other words, he understood that, any decision we take, ultimately is a decision that is already decreed.

Therefore, while we in our limited capacity, must weigh circumstances and decide as best as we can, know that, in God’s unlimited capacity and unlimited knowledge, everything is already known and one cannot move out of the fold of Divine power. In other words, we must always do our best, but it is God who controls all outcomes.

Thus, while we will take external actions – in this case the principal of reducing disease transmission is highlighted – it is important this is done with a heart that is in a state of complete taqwa and ridha (satisfaction with the decree of God) as demonstrated by Sayyiduna Umar in this difficult situation.

An important anecdote – Sayyiduna Abu Ubaydah ؓ returned to Damascus to continue to fulfill his role as governor. And indeed it was Divine will that he die there of the plague. And we pray that he received the reward of martyrdom, as per the wise words of the messenger ﷺ from the hadith quoted above.

Having said all that, we thank Allah that Covid-19 is not as deadly as the plague.

Nevertheless, it is important to take precaution and in face of a such a contagious disease, to limit travel is a wise measure. We are blessed to be living in a time, when governments are for the most part, taking precautionary steps such as curtailing travel in order to limit contagion. And there are other practical steps we should take besides - you will find much local information on this and it is better than what I can say from another country.

We as Muslims are bound by our religion to be good citizens – so please obey the law in whichever country/state you are a citizen of. That is our duty, and no Muslim should ever put themselves above the law of the land.

Another foundational point - please note that while the hadith states diseases can be a punishment or a mercy, it is very important we do not put ourselves in such an arrogant place as to think we can decide whether it is a punishment or a mercy for others. We can only try to determine this for ourselves.

Of other people, beware of speaking, lest you say something you have no right to say and put yourself in a position where Allah ﷻ is displeased with you.

Only Allah ﷻ has the position and authority to know whether it is a punishment or a mercy with respect to each and every person. Only Al-Haqq (The Truth) knows the true state of the affair in all the dimensions of creation and commandment and we are not able nor qualified to speak on this.

We must be humble in front of our Lord, and pray that whatever trial we face in this dunya is a mercy on us and not a punishment. And in cases like this, I reiterate that we do not look to other people, but only look to ourselves. And we take ourselves to account as to how we respond.

The question is asked often – how do we know whether Allah ﷻ is punishing us or sending us a mercy?

The answer is simple – you will know by how you find yourself responding.

So observe your response and the question is answered for you – thus, you will learn something about your true state. Learning this, is one of the reasons you have been sent to earth and are put through these events (I will elaborate on this later if Allah ﷻwills).

If your response is ‘why is God doing this to me, what did I do to deserve this’ or similar complaints etc., then know that it is a punishment upon you and you should immediately make isthighfar, seek Allah’s forgiveness.

If on the other hand your response is one of satisfaction with Allah’s decree such as ‘I am being tested, I need to be patient’, or ‘I should give more sadaqa or make more salawat’ etc., then know that Allah ﷻ has put you through this experience as a means of elevating your rank in closeness to His own Divine presence. And that has already been accomplished.

For indeed you could not have responded this way except Allah ﷻ has blessed you by elevating your rank. Such a beautiful response is testimony to your graduation – it is your certificate of accomplishment! And though you cannot see it, the angels see it as a beautiful crown upon your head.

So, look to yourself and how you find your response. And may we be of those fortunate ones, for whom it is the latter.

The above I hope will be of assistance to you.

Now, I leave with you with a reminder that this is your dunya existence. Your dunya life is only a means of testing – it is a plain of refinement for your soul. A necessary passing stage every human being must go through.

This is the sunnah (the way) of the One Divine ﷻ that was written upon Bani Adam (the human kind). It’s purpose is to show you who you are, and expose to you what you are made of.

‘Dunya imtihan’ – Dunya is a place of discernment.

Once you truly understand this, you will be fit to return home. Now you have attained a higher truth and understood what your ruh (spirit) is, what your nafs (self) is and how all this ties in together. Something that only the dunya – a place of discernment – can cause you to understand with truth and completion.

Now truth attained, you can go back home. And now, in your second and eternal heavenly existence – your life there will be in a complete truth – that was not possible before passing through this dunya stage.

Thus, dunya’s purpose is refinement of the soul. Elevation of the character, purification of the heart.

And we achieve these aims simply by how we respond to what will befall us in dunya.

We will be tested either by ease or by hardship. We will be tested either by happiness or by sorrow. We will be tested either by the day or by the night. That is all dunya is – this cycle of days that follow nights…

Remember that ease that befalls us is a plain of testing, and hardship that befalls us is a plain of testing (and indeed it is said, more people fail the test of ease than they do the test of the righteous people would often thank Allah for difficulty and be worried when there was only ease!).

The important thing is how do we respond to both. We respond by sabr and shukr, by patience and by gratitude. Patient when hardship afflicts us. Grateful when ease is upon us.

This way one’s life is a constant ascension back to the Divine presence. Both patience and gratitude are dhikr – remembrance of Allah ﷻ.

And indeed when we are in remembrance of Allah ﷻ, The One Divine also responds to us.

‘Remember Me and I will remember you’ says the famous hadith qudsi. And what is the Divine response to our dhikr? - The least that can be said is that we attain the ‘ridha’ of the One Divine ﷻ . Meaning God has satisfaction with us. What more can one ask for than that?! For whom of us can imagine what that Divine happiness with us is translated to.

I hope these thoughts are helpful to you in these times. I myself am unable to return to Canada presently due to the current situation, and shall be making changes in my plans. We pray to be in a state of gratitude and satisfaction with this turn of affairs.

As this means Saturday class cannot resume for a while longer, may Allah ﷻ bless us to use other means to stay connected. While I remain in Sri Lanka, we continue to work on building the Irfa’a center – so I ask for your du’a for this immense venture. And indeed this is a blessing as building the center does require my physical presence.

Also, I am very happy to share that the first four Qabas volumes are now published and accessible (via Amazon). While the present situation means we have delayed our intended formal book launch, I invite you all to please read the books in the meantime. Indeed the Allah ﷻ has blessed us to have them published in the holy month of Rajab, and at a time when I hope they will be of the most benefit to you.

Please stay firmly upon your dhikr and du’a and salawat ala al-Nabi ﷺ.

When Sayyiduna Musa and Sayyiduna Haroon were in Egypt confronting Pharoah during their mission, and they were most exhausted, that is when Allah ﷻreminded them not to tire from their dhikr.

So now when times may get harder and you will find yourself more exhausted…this is the time to have strong determination and stick to your dhikr. May Allah ﷻ elevate you all!

اذْهب أنتَ وَ أخُوكَ بِئاياتِي ولاَ تَنَيَا فِي ذِكْرِى
‘Go, you and your brother, with my signs, and do not let yourself leave my dhikr/remembrance’
Quran 20:42.

By this continuous presence with the One Divine, we are assured we will succeed in attaining the purpose for our time in dunya.

Allah ﷻ bless and protect you all.

Dr. Farah Zahir

18th Rajab 1441.

Nedimala, Sri Lanka.


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