Why we should not lose hope in Allah in the Pandemic! Is it a punishment or a test from Allah SWT?

The virus covid-19 is one of the deadliest pandemics in the world. It is affecting 219 countries and territories across the globe. According to World Health Organisation, as of 12 February 2021, there have been 107,252,265 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 2,355,339 deaths. Regardless of where it originated from, how it was originated, and whether it is true or false, people are being affected and are dying on daily basis. Although different types of vaccines have been found from various parts of the world including the UK to cure the disease, the virus is spreading all around the world rapidly and attacking people ruthlessly. It has brought the whole world to a complete standstill affecting the economies, social life, and education across the globe. It looks like an invisible invader that came to this world suddenly from nowhere and changed the lifestyle of the people around the globe into a totally new life pattern. While, undoubtedly, it has made life difficult and the people’s perception about it is largely divided as a result, as Muslims how should we look at it? What is our perspective towards it? Is there anything that we can learn from it?

As Muslims we believe that the worldly life is a test. The lifetime we spend here is temporary. It has been gifted by our Creator Allah, The Lord of the universe and The Sustainer of the world. He will test us in this world to give us opportunities to pass it successfully so that we can enjoy our blissful life eternally in Jannah. This is what we believe as life after death which will follow as soon as we die where everyone will witness their test results. One of the ways that Allah SWT will test us is illnesses and diseases. Allah SWT says in the Quran: “And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits but give good tidings to the patient” (2: 155) He further says: “And We test you with evil and with good as trial; and to Us you will be returned”. (21:35) In another place in the Qur'an He says: “You will surely be tested in your possessions and in yourselves”. (3:186).

The Prophet (saw) has said: “No calamity befalls a Muslim but that Allah expiates some of his sins because of it, even if it were the prick of a thorn.” (Bukhari, Muslim). In light of these Quranic verses and the saying of the Prophet (saw), we as Muslims will be in a better position to understand the current pandemic that sweeps nations and communities all around the world including Muslims.

It is worth noting that there were pandemics in the history of Muslims as well. During the time of Khalifa Umar (ra) in 638 and 639 CE a plague had spread in the Sham region which is currently Jordan, Palestine, Syria, and Lebanon and many people were affected by it. Sadly, some of the senior companions of the Prophet (saw) had died. Namely, Muad Ibn Jabal and Abu Ubaida al-Jarrah (ra) were among them. There were some other plagues too that had affected Kufa in 669 CE and Basarah in 683 CE and many more that had swept through different regions during different years throughout the Muslim history. One of them was in the year of 1783 CE in Alexandria in Egypt. It is very remarkable to note that it could not affect Morocco until 1798 because of the lockdown measures that were taken by Muslim rulers in Morocco at the time. It is not out of place to mention that their behaviour may have been influenced by the following saying of the Prophet (saw): “If you hear of an outbreak of plague in a land, do not enter it; and if the plague breaks out in a place while you are in it, do not leave that place.” (Sahih al-Bukhari)

This historical account of the plagues and the pandemics drives home the fact that illnesses and diseases of this nature can affect any group of people in the world irrespective of their religions and cultures in any time in the history and any region in the world. This point will profoundly help us to clearly understand the following hadith of the Prophet(saw) in which he says as an answer to a question posed by a companion: I asked the Messenger of Allāh ( صلى الله عليه وسلم ( about plagues and he said, “They are a punishment which Allāh sends upon whomsoever He wills, but Allāh has made it a mercy to the believers. Anyone who remains in a town which is plagued with an epidemic, remaining patient and anticipating Allāh’s reward, while firmly believing that nothing will befall him other than what Allāh has preordained for him, then he will receive a reward of a martyr.” (Sahih al-Bukhari) This powerful saying teaches us the following important points:

1. This hadith should not be used to judge people negatively as only Allah knows whom He punishes by it and whom He makes it as a mercy.

2. It is a profound reminder to everyone to question himself or herself inwardly to check himself or herself under which category he or she falls.

3. We should face it with enough patience without fear or panic as it is only with the Will of Allah that it can befall on anyone.

4. If we face it with steadfastness we will be rewarded even if it did not befall on us.

5. If we face it with strength of mind we will be rewarded even if it befell on us and have recovered.

6. If we face it with enough courage and bravery, we will get the reward of a martyr if it were to befall on us and die.

Therefore, a true believer in the face of calamities, test, and trials of the world is always in a win-win situation. Whatever it happens to him or her, he or she is on the winning side. Either he will get reward for being patient and steadfast and survived or will get Jannah if he will have to be afflicted and pass away. This point has been highlighted in the following hadith of the Prophet (saw):

“How wonderful is the situation of a believer! there is good for him in everything and this applies only to a believer. If prosperity befalls him and he expresses gratitude to Allāh, then it will be for his good; and if adversity befalls him and he endures it patiently, it will also be for his good.” (Sahih Muslim)

In this context, the current Covid-19 pandemic is a stark reminder to all of us to turn back to Allah SWT in repentance. It is a powerful wake up call for all of us as human beings to recognise Allah’s blessings in humility and gratitude that were taken for granted by us, especially our health which is one of the two things that the Prophet (saw) has said that people are wasting: “There are two blessings which many people waste: health and free time.” (Saḥih al-Bukhari) Being in a lockdown for more than a year now, our free movement has been contained and as a result, we now realize how important it is to use our “living time” as minutes and seconds in a fruitful and beneficial way before being afflicted with a test from Allah SWT. The Prophet SAW has said “Take benefit of five before five: Your youth before your old age, your health before your sickness, your wealth before your poverty, your free time before you are preoccupied, and your life before your death” (Al Hakim). Although we rely on Allah SWT as our Master and Sustainer and nothing will befall on us without His decree, it does not mean that we should not take any precautions to safeguard ourselves from the pandemic. We should take every possible way to protect us and others by following all the guidelines and instructions that are being given by the people in charge of tackling the disease. We supplicate to Allah SWT as our Master and the Lord of the universe to lift this calamity from our shoulders as human beings by showering His mercy upon all of us.

Dr. Rafeek Mousoon - Lecturer Islamic Studies