As the lockdown eases – a euphemism for being alert – I reflect on what I’ve learnt over the past twelve weeks. I was ambitious about self-purification. I thought isolation would be an ideal time for this spiritual exercise. Alas, I realised it’s not easy at all, there is no shortcut to becoming ‘pure’, it’s a lifelong venture.
Yesterday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson described our three months of lockdown as ‘economic hibernation’ and put smiles on people’s faces by telling them he is easing the lockdown restrictions from the 4th of July. His measures include reducing the 2 metre social distancing to 1 metre, allowing two families to meet each other and further opening of the High street. “It’s about time” many of us would retort because most of us were on the verge of cracking. Before the lockdown, we already had more than 9 million people in the UK feeling lonely and isolated; perhaps it’s doubled now. A survey carried out recently suggested that almost 40% of people in the US are depressed. Many more may die from what’s termed “deaths of despair” including substance abuse or suicide as a result of the consequences of this pandemic, it’s hitting us both socially and economically.
Did you know that a Grizzly bear can go into hibernation for six months, drop its energy consumption to 5% and still give birth to a baby bear?
So, it’s good news that finally things will start to return to normal. Now begins a new challenge, how do we navigate this newfound freedom, yet the cloud of Coronavirus hangs over our heads as Chris Whitty (Chief Medical Officer) keeps reminding us about. So, as we surge out into the shopping centres wearing those N95 masks, we still need to be cautious. However, for others, the lockdown might have been a holiday they could have never afforded. An opportunity to be with loved ones, family and friends.
For me, it was a time of renewal, I imagined I will find a mysterious master (perhaps online), a healer and a teacher who would instantly fix me. Make me a better person: more caring, gentle, forgiving, less judgemental, less belligerent and less suspicious of others. For three months, I frantically searched for that mysterious figure but alas I have to say there is no one out there. It came down to understanding that self-purification is a long-term commitment.
What is Self-purification?
The Majestic Quran teaches the idea of ‘Tazkiyya’ this is self-improvement done by weeding out horrible habits, arrogant attitudes and bad behaviour. Allah says “Successful indeed is the one who purifies himself, and remembers the Name of his Lord, and performs the prayer regularly. You, humans, prefer the worldly life, yet the Hereafter is far better and everlasting. This fact is mentioned in the previous Scriptures of Abraham and Moses” (Ala’: 14-19).
It’s an empowering idea that sees human life as one that can flourish, thrive and be joyous. It’s the belief that I can always be getting better, I can make my character strong and build strong relationships with others. I don’t need to remain grumpy, miserable and cut off from the rest.
Did I achieve my aim?
In one story told by the great troubadour of love, the mediaeval poet Melvana Rumi, he tells the story of a wise man with a long white beard, in the marketplace holding a lantern in broad daylight and apparently searching for something. An inquisitive soul asked him “Sir, what are you searching for with this lamp burning in broad daylight?” He replied, “I’m looking for a human”. The man said, “What, there’s people all around, can’t you see?” The white-bearded sage replied, “I can’t see any, do you see that man weighing the grains, he isn’t holding his scales right; look at that punter his nicking someone’s apples”.
A lesson that I have learned from this lockdown is that there is no ‘Harry Potter’ style wizardry where you wave a wand and you’re transformed. I believe we all must work hard, continuously and consistently to transform ourselves, it can happen if only we want to do so. So, did I do my self-purification? Did I flourish during the lockdown? Did I build stronger relationships with others? Being an eternal optimist and full of hope in humanity, I would answer yes. Others who know me may say otherwise.
Steps to Self-purification you can make
By being self-reflective, carrying out a self-assessment and wanting transformation, you might begin the journey of self-purification. This can be achieved in many ways:
- You can choose to fast
- You can choose to not talk excessively
- You can make a commitment to do something daily for the sake of Allah
- You can choose to remember Allah daily through Dhikr
- You can choose to contemplate on His creation and grow closer to God through spirituality.
I have learnt that my progress on this journey of self-improvement and self-purification is not linear, sometimes I move a step forward and other times I may move two steps backwards. But that is okay as long as you keep trying. Now that the Prime Minister has allowed us to come out of our bubble, let’s come out with a new resolution, be good to yourself, be good to your family, be good to your neighbours and look after your community.
“Contented person! Return to Your Lord cheerfully and loved; now join the company of My servants and come in into My Garden” (Al-Fajr: 27-30).