What are we learning about ourselves during this pandemic?

The Coronavirus pandemic has led to a break with our normal schedules and work routines and has given us the opportunity for introspection, quality time to search our heart, mind and attitude, and above all our commitment to Allah. I have come across an alien within me, a foreigner, someone I don’t know, that’s how it feels, that is how little I know about myself. No wonder Ali the fourth Khalifa and beloved cousin of the Prophet (peace be upon him) said “whoever knows himself, knows his Lord.” How sad we know ourselves so little, we live, enjoy life’s luxuries and die without really knowing ourselves.

I used to meet lots of people in my daily work, dozens of people but now only one or two, but I’m getting a lot of time to meet myself. It’s an incredible journey into self-discovery. In my weekly Thought for Friday, I have been sharing my thoughts and feelings with you. For example, I wrote about the five-point strategy to safeguarding Moral and Spiritual health; how can I grow in the Covid-19 pandemic? How to make my home a mosque? The day of reckoning!

Today I want to reflect on the experience of my friends and mine. This will help us to discover, is there a specific message that Allah is giving? What can that be? I hope I’m not patronising or preaching at you but presenting you with my thoughts and others experiences at this weird and strange time. In my conversations with friends and family members this is what I have gathered:

I was a real workaholic, I rested little and worked a lot and had no sense of work-life balance. I was so busy that I really didn’t know what is important and what is trivial. So, I believe I am being taught how to bring balance into my life, so I can build better relationships with friends and family.

Another friend said, “the lockdown, the isolation at home is a wonderful opportunity for me to connect with Allah and do my prayers most sincerely, more mindfully. It seems that Allah’s telling me to come back.”

A friend who is a keen globetrotter, tells me that “my diary was full for May and June, I had many appointments and plans of meetings, going to conferences and important decisions to make, but they are all cancelled.” He said, “the failure of my plans is proof of Allah, who can cancel my plans whenever He wants.”

One of my Imam colleagues who is deeply spiritual told me “I just wonder how hopeful we are, have we relied on our Lord and Creator? Are we able to overcome our fears of being infected by the virus and possibly dying?

A very devout sister said “for me, the pandemic has been a reminder of the unlimited gifts and favours that Allah, the Bestower has given me and I feel ashamed that I am unable to thank Him. So, I want to change to be more thankful for everything he has given me; my life, health, beautiful children and grandchildren and above all my faith.

When I walk past the shops in Aspley, the area in Nottingham where I live, out of the 25 shops only 4 of them are open, these are shops that sell food and essential items. The rest are closed because they are classed as non-essential. In our capitalist society, our lives are now dominated by non-essential, trivial objects and things. I believe the pandemic is a reminder that you must keep a balance between material and spiritual realities, learn to differentiate between the important and the trivial.

Another wonderful friend of mine who is physically disabled said “I was already living a frugal, simple life, but the lockdown taught me I can give up even more. But that can only happen if I become more imaginative and willing to learn and that’s difficult. The willingness to learn, many of us think, we know everything and want to stay in our old ways. I decided to use this free time to learn new skills and to master my favourite subject, Tajweed.

One thing we notice, there’s a lot of fear, it’s a powerful emotion and it’s contagious like the Coronavirus. It has made us all remember death. In the UK, where we have a first-class National Health Service, we feel safe, our doctors can save us when we are confronted by illness. However, in this pandemic, we hear daily the death toll recited by the Prime Minister that makes us realise that death is real, it’s close by and so I am thinking more about death.

When I asked a young scholar about his lockdown experience, he told me “the Quran teaches “indeed, every hardship is followed by ease, indeed every hardship is followed by ease” (Inshirah: 5). Which is an idiom for ‘gain after strain,’ or ‘the storm before the calm ’or ‘no gain without strain’. This experience teaches me to be humble and to realise my vulnerability. I know Allah will bring a lot of good out of this difficult time.

My takeaway from this survey of people’s experiences of the pandemic is:

  • Create a work-life balance
  • Know yourself better
  • Learn something new
  • Worship devoutly
  • Connect with Allah
  • Be thankful and appreciative
  • Beware of fear
  • Be hopeful
  • Remember death