I was praying before a work meeting where we were supposed to discuss how to react to the global pandemic, when it hit me how the verses I was reciting gave a powerful perspective, means to find peace and answers to the fears and uncertainties we were witnessing.
To give you some context, in the Muslim prayers, we recite the direct Words of Allah (Arabic for ‘The One God’) from the Qur’an. Because I was refreshing my memoization of Chapter 67 of the Qur’an the night before, this was the chapter that came to mind in prayer. As I was reciting it, I was awestruck by how relevant the Words are to what we’re living. So in this article, I’ll share with you just a few thoughts on how Surat Al Mulk (‘The Sovereignty’ Chapter 67 of the Qur’an) gives a powerful perspective and answers to many of our fears and uncertainties in this time of global pandemic.
A Shift in Mindset: We’re not in Control, Align with The One in Control
تَبَارَكَ الَّذِي بِيَدِهِ الْمُلْكُ وَهُوَ عَلَى كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِير
“Exalted (Blessed) is He who holds all control (of the universe) in His Hand; and He has power over all things” (Qur’an 67: 1)
The first word of this verse in Arabic does not just mean blessed or exalted. The word is “Tabaraka”, a superlative from Barakah that contains all meanings of exaltation, greatness, abundance, and permanence of virtues and excellences. When this superlative form of Barakah is describing God, it means He is Unlimitedly Superior over everything else in His creation, He has complete control and the entire dominion of the universe is in His grip.
Why is this even relevant?
On March 29, The Director-General of the World Health Organisation tweeted one word commenting on the events, and that was “Humility”. He explained in a later conference that this pandemic made us realize how vulnerable we all really are. We are not in control, so we have to be humble. Even the world’s greatest powers are humbled. Which world leader, king or CEO can come out and comfortably say, “don’t worry, I have everything under my control”? None.
And this is one of the primary Barakah Culture mindsets we promote through our work: being Allah-centric versus being Self/Ego-centric. This is important now more than ever as we’ve realized how the self (ours and others’) is limited and how incapable it is to deal with inevitable matters beyond our human capacity. If matters were strictly in the hands of the limited worldly means, we can certainly panic. But when we are directed to the Unlimited, we experience peace and tranquility knowing that He is Capable over all things.
Before this pandemic, many of us were centering our lives around gods we create and serve with our time and utmost attention, like our work and our passions. But all these things are now forcibly submitting to new rules beyond them. They can’t be gods and we can’t be gods. We’re being directed to the Greater Power, The One in control.
It’s interesting how before this pandemic also, it was hard to make the case for prayer at work. People couldn’t and/or were looked down upon for requesting or making time for prayer. But now that people are confined in their homes, not their offices, many have found more time to pray, and that has given them peace. One professional from England told me that she used to rush her prayer due to work, but now that she is at home, she’s found more time to pray mindfully, and that has given her more peace than she’s ever experienced.
When we insist on keeping faith out of work and out of our life, we deprive people of a great power that gives them peace, focus, and a feeling of vastness and abundance due to connecting with The Vast, The Unlimited. And when we align our will, mindsets and actions with The Will of the One in control, it can certainly lift up much of the fear and burden we experience, especially in times of uncertainty.
“And it is Allah’s Will to lighten your burdens, for humankind was created weak.” (Qur’an 4: 28)
Message: Be Allah-Centric, not self-centric. The whole world from the East to the West is in His Hand. When we align with The One in control, the Capable Owner, not the helpless creatures, this will give peace and alleviate much of our panic, stress and anxiety.
Dealing with the Fear of Death
الَّذِي خَلَقَ الْمَوْتَ وَالْحَيَاةَ لِيَبْلُوَكُمْ أَيُّكُمْ أَحْسَنُ عَمَلًا وَهُوَ الْعَزِيزُ الْغَفُورُ
“[He] who created death and life to test you [as to] which of you is best in deed – and He is the Exalted in Might, the Most Forgiving -” (Qur’an 67: 2)
Allah highlights in this verse that He created death before He created life. The time, date, scenario of our death has been decreed by the Creator before He breathed life into our bodies. In a powerful hadith, narrated Abdullah bin Mas`ud, that “The Messenger of God Muhammad, the true and truly inspired, narrated to us:
Verily the creation of each one of you is brought together in his mother’s womb for 40 days in the form of a nutfah (a drop), then he becomes an alaqah (clot of blood) for a like period, then a mudghah (morsel of flesh) for a like period. Then an angel is sent to him (by Allah) and the angel is allowed (ordered) to write four things; his rizq (sustenance), his (date of) death, his actions, and whether he will be a wretched one or a blessed one and then the soul is breathed into him.” [Sahih Al Bukhari]
This is an important reminder: The Coronavirus will not create anyone’s death beyond the decree of the Creator Himself. It will not speed up or delay our death; our death date has already been decided before our souls were breathed into us. This necessitates that we don’t panic over the Coronavirus itself. Yes, it is a strong reminder of the closeness of death, but this essentially is meant to turn us towards Allah knowing that He is the One who creates death and life.
One of the most beautiful observations about the Messenger of God Muhammad [saw] is that throughout his life, we find him repeating a main oath and that is والذي نفسي بيده “By Him in Whose Hand my soul is”. He was always conscious of God, present with Him, aware of His control, at peace with the fact that His soul is in the Hands of His Creator and He’ll take it back any second if He wills. Even one of the supplications that the Prophet taught to recite before sleeping reiterates this meaning. He [saw] said:
“When any of you goes to bed, he should shake off (or dust off) his bedsheet because he does not know what might have fallen on it after he had left it. Then he should recite: With Your Name, my Lord , I place my side (upon the bed) and with Your Grace I will raise it up. If You should take my soul then have mercy on it, and if You should return my soul then protect it as You protect Your righteous slaves.” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim]
So, when we are afraid and panicking over our and our loved ones’ life, what we can do is turn to the Creator of death and life. Remembering that He is The incomparably Merciful and Compassionate. He is the Source of mercy and compassion, they did not and do not exist beyond Him; they come from His Names & Attributes. And we ask Him “If you have decreed that this is the time for me/my parents/my children to return back to You, then descend upon us Your mercy and reassure our hearts, and make our meeting with You the best day we’ve ever lived. And if you know that it is best for us to remain alive and increase in good actions in this life, then, give us steadfastness and enable us to do what is best for us to do in this life and protect us the way You protect your closest slaves”.
In all cases, we acknowledge that this life is not the end. It is a phase. And the phase must end sooner or later, so we accept that in peace and get ready and look forward to the coming eternal period. This is living with an Akhirah/Hereafter-focus. In the Islamic tradition, we know that death is the beginning of eternal life. We work in this life in order to secure where we want to go in the next eternal life. And we know that when we die, we meet Allah, the Creator Whose Names include The Incomparably Merciful, The Source of Beauty, Light, Peace, Affection, Generosity, The Eternal, the Ever-Living King. Going back to Allah is not a source of panic, rather it’s the ultimate moment of peace and happiness.
As the Prophet [saw] taught: “None of you should die but hoping only good from Allah, the Exalted and Glorious.” [Sahih Muslim]
Message: When we remember that death is not created by Corona, but created by Allah, we don’t overly fear Corona, but we turn to Allah and we settle our affairs with Him. We only need to do as much good as we can do in this life, and surrender to Him, and He is The Most Generous and Most Forgiving towards those who surrender to Him.
Dealing with Panic over Safety & Security
أَمَّنْ هَذَا الَّذِي هُوَ جُنْدٌ لَكُمْ يَنْصُرُكُمْ مِنْ دُونِ الرَّحْمَنِ إِنِ الْكَافِرُونَ إِلَّا فِي غُرُورٍ
“Or who is it that could be an army for you to aid you other than the Most Merciful? The disbelievers are not but in delusion.” (Qur’an 67: 20)
The greatest countries of the world have spent fortunes on armies and weapons, but all of this is not helping them fight an enemy so small that it can’t be seen with the naked eye.
“Or who is it that could be an army for you to aid you other than the Most Merciful?”
There is no army, no guns and no tanks that can help anyone now if Allah decided to affect them with the disease. We’ve seen royalties, Princes, politicians and people who have all the power and means to protect themselves still get affected, and we’ve seen others with very humble resources remaining safe.
The Prophet explains “(There is) no ‘Adwa (no contagious disease that is conveyed without Allah’s permission).” [Sahih Al Bukhari]
This means that no disease will decide on its own who to infect beyond the permission and decree of Allah. There are people who’re perfectly healthy and/or taking all precautions and still getting affected, and there are people highly prone to disease remaining safe or getting cured against all odds.
The matter is beyond the calculated human control. These reminders are means for people to reflect, turn to Allah and overcome their self-centeredness.
On the authority of Abu Abbas Abdullah bin Abbas [ranhu] who said “One day I was behind the Prophet [saw][riding on the same mount] and he said,
“O young man, I shall teach you some words [of advice]: Be mindful of Allah and Allah will protect you. Be mindful of Allah and you will find Him in front of you. If you ask, then ask Allah [alone]; and if you seek help, then seek help from Allah [alone]. And know that if the nation were to gather together to benefit you with anything, they would not benefit you except with what Allah had already prescribed for you. And if they were to gather together to harm you with anything, they would not harm you except with what Allah had already prescribed against you. The pens have been lifted and the pages have dried.” [Tirmidhi]
Message: Humility and mindfulness of Allah. This is a reminder for us to reclaim our sense of humility instead of arrogance over our means and resources because we’ve seen how the strongest of means can stand helpless if Allah wills.
Dealing with Fear over Scarcity of Resources & Provision
أَمَّنْ هَذَا الَّذِي يَرْزُقُكُمْ إِنْ أَمْسَكَ رِزْقَهُ بَلْ لَجُّوا فِي عُتُوٍّ وَنُفُورٍ
“Or who can provide for you if He withholds His provision? Yet they persist in their insolence and their avoidance of the Truth.” (Qur’an 67: 21)
The fear over the scarcity of resources and provision has led some people to hoard goods and empty supermarkets’ shelves. But who can provide people with rain from the sky and crops from the earth if all supermarkets run out of provision?
“Or who can provide for you if He withholds His provision? Yet they persist in their insolence and their avoidance of the Truth.” (Qur’an 67: 21)
Unlike the basic human instinct now to accumulate things, the instruction from Allah in this time is to actually give, and give abundantly. This is the time to embrace the abundance-mindset. Interestingly, Prophet Muhammad [saw] was known to give abdundantly, so much so, that some people would simply embrace Islam due to seeing him give until he’s left almost with nothing.
One man came to the Prophet [saw] and he gave him until he was pleased, then this man returned to his people saying: “O my people! Embrace Islam because Muhammad gives like one who has no fear of poverty!” [Muslim]
This is the abundance mindset. The Prophet’s heart was not attached to any supermarket or any worldly provider, his heart was attached to the endless source, The One who provides from the heavens and the earth, and He is unboundedly and unlimitedly Vast and never affected by any circumstances. Allah’s Names include Al Wase’ (The Unlimitedly Vast) and Al Kareem, (The Incomparably Generous).
To bring the meaning closer, in a powerful hadith, the Prophet narrates that Allah Almighty says:
“O My servants, if the first of you and the last of you, and the humans of you and the jinn of you, were all to stand together in one place and ask of Me, and I were to give everyone what he requested, then that would not decrease what I Possess, except what is decreased of the ocean when a needle is dipped into it.” [Muslim]
This is why the Prophet said that giving is a sign of faith, because panic and withholding means one only sees worldly providers, and disregards the ultimate Unlimited Source of Provision.
And as the Messenger said, “[…] charity is a proof (of one’s faith), and patience is illumination, and the Qur’an is a proof either for you or against you. Every person starts his day as a vendor of his soul, either freeing it or causing its ruin.” [Muslim]
Giving specifically in times of need, fear and uncertainty is encouraged by Allah as a means of showing faith in Him. He urges people saying, “If only they had attempted the challenging path of goodness!” (90: 11), and then He described this path as one that includes:
“to feed at a time of hunger
an orphaned relative
or a poor person in distress,
And then being among those who believed and advised one another to patience and advised one another to compassion.
These are the people of the right.” (Qur’an 90: 14-18)
Message: ِAllah Almighty says: “Spend (on charity), O son of Adam, and I shall spend on you.” [Bukhari and Muslim]. Attach your heart to Allah and give. The worldly resources are not our sole providers, they’re just means, our sustenance comes from above unlimitedly through Allah. Allah can open and create means where you couldn’t imagine and couldn’t expect. So, this is the time to believe in Him and adopt the abundance mindset, and in doing so, you will see how much vastness will enter your heart and life accordingly. The Prophet [saw] said: “If you all depend on Allah with due reliance, He would certainly give you provision as He gives it to birds who go forth hungry in the morning and return with full belly at dusk”.
Remembering the Destination and Moving Steadfastly Towards It
أَفَمَنْ يَمْشِي مُكِبًّا عَلَى وَجْهِهِ أَهْدَى أَمَّنْ يَمْشِي سَوِيًّا عَلَى صِرَاطٍ مُسْتَقِيمٍ
“Who is better guided: someone who falls on his face, or someone who walks steadily on a straight path?” (Qur’an 67: 22)
Because of the fear and uncertainty of the situation, many people have found themselves panicking or feeling low and depressed. Yes if we look at the worldly situation -excluding from the picture Allah and the Hereafter- the situation will certainly seem gloomy. But the point is, this world is not the end. We’re not going to stay in this forever. This shall pass, like everything else.
Life is a journey; any journey has paths. And the straight path has a clear beginning and an end. In the Islamic theology, Allah reminds us that we come from Him and we’re journeying back to Him; this reminder in times of difficulty is important because it brings to our attention the destination and that whatever we’re in is just one stop, not the final point.
“We will certainly test you with a touch of fear and famine and loss of property, life, and crops. And give good news to those who patiently endure—who, when faced with a disaster, say, “Indeed we belong to Allah and indeed to Him we will [all] return” Those are the ones upon whom are blessings from their Lord and mercy. And it is those who are rightly guided.” (Qur’an 2: 155-157)
Additionally, the straight path is in the middle of two extremes. It’s neither inclining extremely to the right nor extremely to the left. So, in any situation, one neither reacts with extreme hopelessness nor extreme indifference and obliviousness. The straight path is about balance and moderation in feelings and actions while moving steadily towards the destination.
The emotional and spiritual impact of remembering the destination is that one feels a sense of relief from sadness. Not necessarily because the situation has ended, but because regardless of how bad it is, it’s not the end. Therefore, the person gets internally strengthened and comforted due to connecting their hearts and souls with their Creator Who’s in control, and remembering the vast relief that He has prepared in the destination to come.
“As for those who say, ‘Our Lord is Allah,’ and take the straight path towards Him, the angels come down to them and say, ‘Have no fear or grief, but rejoice in the good news of Paradise, which you have been promised. We [angels] are your allies in the worldly life and [are so] in the Hereafter. And you will have therein whatever your souls desire, and you will have therein whatever you request [or wish]” (Qur’an 41: 30-31)
Message: Look up and do not look down. Look up to Him and have hope in Him and keep moving towards the destination. Try not to spend too much time looking down just in this world and getting absorbed in sadness, stress and anxiety over matters beyond your control. Just do as much as you can and leave the rest to Him. All options can carry goodness in them, If we live, it’s a new chance to reclaim our purpose, do good and experience the relief of Allah that will come sooner or later, and if we return back to Him, who wouldn’t want to go back Home to the Most Merciful Himself?
Finding Mercy and Peace in the Trust & Submission
قُلْ هُوَ الرَّحْمَنُ آمَنَّا بِهِ وَعَلَيْهِ تَوَكَّلْنَا فَسَتَعْلَمُونَ مَنْ هُوَ فِي ضَلَالٍ مُبِينٍ
“Say, “He is the Most Merciful; we believe in Him and we put our trust in Him…” (Qur’an 67: 29)
The Name of Allah that He chose to use here is Ar-Rahman. Ar-Rahman is a superlative form of Merciful. It means the incomparably Merciful as He is the Only One capable of descending mercy upon all of the creations in the heavens and the earth simultaneously whether they acknowledge it or not. People’s limbs, hearts, eyes, bodies are automatically functioning by His mercy; their food and drink is created by His mercy and their entire existence is sustained by His Mercy.
This is a reminder of a specific earlier stage of man’s life; when he was in his mother’s womb. The name of the womb in Arabic is extracted from this specific Name of Allah, Ar-Rahman.
‘Abdur-Rahman bin ‘Awf’ said: ‘I heard the Messenger of Allah [saw] saying : “Allah, Most Blessed and Most High, said: ‘I am Allah, and I am Ar-Rahman. I created the Rahim(womb), and named it after My Name….'” [Jami’ at-Tirmidhi]
In the aforementioned verse, we are asked to say that we rely and put our trust in Ar-Rahman. If we reflect on this early stage of the womb: who was supporting the child in his mother’s womb? Who was feeding it and moving it around and taking care of it completely? It is Ar-Rahman. Even the mother, the most merciful upon her child, was not able to plan and do that on her own. It was a matter left to Allah to create all conditions of comfort for the child’s sustenance and survival in His mother’s womb, and He completely took care of that.
This is The One we believe in and trust now. And He is perfectly capable of taking care of us now like He’s taken care of us before.
Abu Hurairah [ranhu] reported that the Messenger of Allah [saw] said, “Allah has divided mercy into 100 parts; and He retained with Him 99 parts, and sent down to earth one part. Through this one part creatures deal with one another with compassion, so much so that an animal lifts its hoof over its young lest it should hurt it”. [Al-Bukhari and Muslim]
The mercy that all creations have been experiencing on earth from the beginning of time until the end is only a reflection of one part of Allah’s Mercy; and 99 double that is still with Him to show us.
Message: In remembering the vastness of His mercy, one can submit and trust in peace.
But does this mean we don’t take the means?
Of course we do, it’s a rewarded act of worship to take the means. And all the means that Allah has presented to us are part of His Mercy. The Prophet [saw] has instructed quarantine, not placing a patient with a healthy person, and regular hygiene as precautionary measures. Another interesting holistic perspective is what the Prophet taught in this hadith, for example, narrated ‘Uqbah bin ‘Amir [ranhu]:
“I asked the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ), “How can salvation be achieved?” He replied, “Control your tongue, keep to your house, and weep over your sins.” [At-Tirmidhi].
The advice here can’t be more relevant today:
- Keep to your house/Stay at home: This is the global request of doctors and decision makers, and it has been recommended by the Prophet 1400 years ago. Staying at home allows one to collect his thoughts and emotions, and protect himself and others from any potential harm.
- Hold your tongue: Neither flood others with every thought you have, nor open your soul to receiving every thought they present thus overwhelming and over-stressing yourself. Instead, make it a time of peace by unfollowing toxic/unfruitful content, and embrace the quietness and what it’s meant to bring internally.
- Regret your sins: the imposed confinement and quietness call for introspection and self-accountability. It opens room for reflection on one’s purpose in life and shortcomings and the way forward to mend one’s affairs and evolve to a better version of oneself.
This is in addition, of course, to physically taking the prescribed Prophetic natural remedies like honey and Nigella/black seed that have proven benefits, as well as, what the doctors prescribe. And spiritually maintaining wudu (ablution ) that is part and parcel of faith. The Prophet said: “Cleanliness is half of faith”, and ablution goes even beyond the advised washing of the hands as it includes regularly washing hands, face, nose, head, ears, arms and feet. This is besides establishing the five daily prayers and maintaining the daily morning and evening supplications that have a powerful impact on keeping the person grounded spiritually and physically.
We do all of that while connecting the heart to The Wise, All-Capable Healer Himself. We take the means physically and connect and trust in the Controller of means spiritually. This is a holistic approach that serves the body while attending to the needs of the soul, thus providing the much-needed balance, peace and tranquility.
You might say, “All of this is nonsense. We only need medicine, how would some words of prayer affect our physical bodies”. I’ll ask you a question: if someone cursed your mother or your child in front of you, will your body react? Of course, you’ll get angry, your face might turn red and your heartbeats might race. So, if the words of people can have a physical impact on us, wouldn’t the Words of the Creator of people have a greater impact on the hearts and bodies He created?
“How could He who created not know His own creation, when He is the Most Subtle, the All-Aware?” (Qur’an 67: 14)
Before this pandemic, we were hustling. We were rushing, we were not being present in the moment. But now we’re in lockdown. The whole world is in lockdown. Allah has limited our bodies so that our hearts can move.
This is the time to return home in the physical and spiritual sense. Return home with our bodies, and return to Allah with our souls, because our souls too need to connect with its home.
“Indeed we belong to Allah, and indeed to Him we will all return.”
“Those who have faith and whose hearts find peace in the remembrance of Allah- truly it is in the remembrance of Allah that hearts find peace” (Qur’an 13: 28)