The first week of Ramadan is just wrapping up, and in light of Covid 19, this Ramadan has been interesting so far, to say the least. Things that we’re used to are somehow taken out of the equation. An unseen “enemy” in the form of a virus has led many of us to isolate ourselves at home. Congregational prayers in the Masjid, Ramadan bazaars and any form of gatherings are all put to a halt.
It is a unique time that we’re all living in where both the halal and haram are removed from us. Which if you think about it, that concept of what’s halal and haram being removed from us is aligned with the principles of fasting in the month of Ramadan. Where we are deprived of food and water during the day.
Make no mistake, this is a trying time for many, and an even tougher one for some, where their livelihood is stripped away from them and they have very little option to get themselves out of the situation. However, for a significant number of us, this plague or epidemic opens new opportunities for growth. Islam emphasizes a lot on the Ummah (community) and our duties towards it. The community will always be a big part of the Deen and should never be neglected, for we’re meant to serve and be part of the community in the healthiest way possible.
However, isolation also plays a part in the Deen, and perhaps it is something that we’ve forgotten or tend to overlook. As many rhetorics on spiritual growth are associated with religious classes, congregational prayers, and other religious gatherings in our community. Therefore, it’s easy for the narrative of isolation and spiritual growth to slip our minds.
Islam is filled with examples of how spiritual growth has happened during times of isolation. Rasulullah’s ﷺ time in the cave of Hira in meditation, prayers, and reflection led him to receive the first revelation from Jibril. The people of the cave, in Surah Al Kahf, fled to a cave to protect their faith as they were prosecuted by disbelievers. Yusuf عليه السلام had to learn a new level of Sabr (patience and resilience) when he was sent to prison for a crime he did not commit. Instead of coming out broken, Yusuf عليه السلام was steadfast and stronger in faith.
These examples should be a good sign for us to know that the current plague we are facing is an opportunity for our spiritual awakening or growth. A lot of people are talking about wanting things to go back to normal, and this reaction is understandable. It is where we’re most familiar with. Even someone like myself who is familiar with the concept of working from home had trouble adapting in the first month. Things I have taken for granted like being able to go out for a run, a cup of coffee, and meeting with friends for supper have all been removed from the equation. I felt the sudden crave to go back to what was “normal”.
However, if we stop and look back at what was normal before the Covid 19 break out, perhaps we have to ask ourselves is it worth keeping?
Normal before this was first world nations spending billions in military expansion, and even giving foreign military funding to other nations while neglecting things like education and healthcare.
Normal before COVID included corporations pushing governmental bills that’ll benefit their profit instead of the people’s welfare.
It was normal for corporations to look at their workforce as numbers instead of a community.
Is this the “normal” world we really want to go back to?
And let’s look at our lifestyle. I’ve heard people complaining about how much they hate their jobs before the lockdown period and now I hear them complaining about how much they want to go back to it.
Truth be told I too catch myself many times complaining about my situation and not realizing the abundance I am living with. It seems ingratitude is the normal practice with our community. So, I’m forced to ask myself, do I want things to go back to normal?
Living like madmen being addicted to the materialistic world we live in? Or, should I take this opportunity to change my frame of thinking and understand that the hardship we are experiencing now is a way to come out better?
It is true that I belong among those who are blessed. Food and water on the table and a roof over my head even in these hard times. But, I also know that there are many within my own circle who are just as equally blessed. It would be a shame for us to not take this plague as a sign for us to remove our hearts from the world so that once things are ready once again we can come out and build a better one.
Some people are telling me to calm down when I tell them that this pandemic could plague us for the next year or two. They are upset with me for ‘overreacting’. But, if you read a bit on pandemics and understand the patterns, you know that this is a very likely scenario.As I’m observing the reaction around they are mainly either denial or fear. I don’t think this plague is to be taken lightly, yet at the same time, I don’t think it’s an end of the world scenario either. It’s just that we would have to maneuver our way around a lot of things.
During this crisis, if our main panic and anxiety revolve around things like the economy, parties, travel, shopping, or eating out then this is the perfect time for us to reframe our paradigm of this world. Reframing to understand that this world is only temporary for all of us.
Whether you’re a theist or atheist, we all can’t deny death. As much as we hate the topic, but it is the one thing that is inevitable in all our lives. But, instead of looking at death as the enemy of life, I like to think of it as the companion of life. For, without death, we would live our lives mindlessly and never give a second thought about what meaning we want our life to have once it’s all done and dusted.
As a kid, I’ve always wanted to be a superhero. It seems to me that they’re always saving the world and making it a better place. So, even today, I try my best to emulate certain traits that I love from these characters. All the superheroes seem to have overlapping traits with one another. Such as being calm and collected in the face of danger. They also always find ways to overcome the obstacles ahead of them. Which is what I always aspire towards. Because of this aspiration I’ve always wanted to be a part of a league of “superheroes” in real life too. This is yet to happen to me.
But it took me a while to understand that before joining the Avengers, each of them had to work on themselves first. Ironman built his first suit while being stuck in a cave as a prisoner. Thor had to learn humility and gratitude while he was driven out of Asgard.
So, during this isolation period, I would be focusing on further cultivating the traits of resiliency, courage, and gratitude. These are traits practiced by many of the Prophets when faced with trials and tribulations. Nabi Nuh عليه السلام was resilient in the face of the flood of his nation. Prophet Musa عليه السلام was courageous when facing Firaun and Rasullah ﷺ was grateful even when his people rejected his message and drove him out of Mecca.
The main anchor point I’m latching myself to during this isolation period is that it’s temporary and I will get back out into the world again. And once I’m out I would want to be a better version of myself once that happens. So, spiritual growth is the number one priority because this is the foundation of everything else which we do in our lives. I remind myself that it’s not just skills that get people through things but it’s rather their spirits that allow them to be highly skilled in something.
Since the social element is out of the equation during Ramadan and I don’t have to maneuver around social engagements my nights are mainly reserved for prayers, food, reflection, and more prayers. This could be the first Ramadan in my life where every night of the entire night revolves around prayers. Instead of constantly trying to move around prayers with other social obligations.
So, how is this not amazing for our spiritual growth? I’m sure there’s a lot of us who had wished where we could just focus our Ramadan on our relationship with Allah alone. This Ramadan Allah has answered our prayers to be with him and him alone.
For those of us who have found our hearts too attached to this temporary world this Ramadan is the best time for us to purify our hearts from it. In this isolation, if we allow it this could be the best period of our lives to grow spiritually and inevitably become better individuals in that process.
by Ridzwan Razalee