بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ
Today I’d like to talk about how COVID-19 has changed our connection to Allah.
Whenever a calamity takes place, the Quran talks about the two responses that people normally have. The first response of many people is, “Ya, Allah! Why me? Why is this happening to me?” And so they use that calamity to turn away from Allah. The other response, which is the believers response is that they take this calamity to be a means of returning to Allah. “Ya, Allah! How can we come closer to you? Ya Allah, how can we understand the wisdom behind what is happening? Ya Allah, we know that there is something in this for us. Ya Allah help us to appreciate it. Even if we don’t understand it, ya Allah, help us to appreciate it, help us to understand. Help us to get over it. Allah help us to see the good in this.” Because Allah, he is Al-Hakeem, the All Wise.
I remember this from Ramadan. I asked people in our own community how their Ramadan was going. They usually would start by asking me, and my usual answer was that it was completely different. It was a completely different Ramadan.
And the response from most community members was they felt like it was a peaceful Ramadan, and many people appreciated having that direct responsibility for their prayers, for their fasts, and so on. That, yes, there was that communal feeling that was missing a lot of times – there’s only so much that you could really do on Zoom. But many people appreciated that this different kind of Ramadan placed a lot more burden on the individual and that deeper connection, perhaps, with Allah, because the focus was less on invitations and Iftar parties and the focus was more on that connection, that individual and familial connection with Allah.
We’re in a very interesting time where the normal distractions that we’re used to are gone. There’s no more new TV shows – TV shows have been all delayed, sports have been canceled, movie theatres closed. When in recent history has most of humanity woken up to daily deaths statistics? How often can you think of in past history where people are waking up every morning, looking at how many people have died today?
So we’re even remembering death as a community more. So how can we understand this and how can we deal with the stress obviously that this brings in our families?
There’s a story of a psychologist. He said that hr overheard his parents talking about the rent and how they weren’t going to be able to pay it that month. And, you know, as adults do with children, we like to whisper, make sure the children don’t hear, but sometimes the children end up hearing. This actually caused the psychologist a great deal of stress, thinking he might lose his home, and the things that he loved and for the rest of his life, this memory would sit with him. He would always be afraid of not having enough, just because of that one memory, that one conversation that his parents were whispering that he had overheard, and in our culture, a lot of times we hide things from kids, but actually this psychologist, he says that it’s better to tell children in times of distress, that they will be okay. That they will be cared for.
In his case, his parents were able to get the money together, but that memory is still stuck with him. So for our kids, we should explain to them, in child-friendly language, what is going on with COVID-19. We should not hide it. We should explain why school has changed, why people are wearing masks, why we have to be careful and explain it in a balanced way.
So don’t hide everything, but don’t try to scare them either. Our job, as their elders, as their seniors, as their parents, is to reassure them that even if times are difficult, that they do have people who will take care of them. And Allah tests us in different ways. Allah tells us in the Quran:
وَلَنَبْلُوَنَّكُم بِشَيْءٍ مِّنَ الْخَوْفِ وَالْجُوعِ وَنَقْصٍ مِّنَ الْأَمْوَالِ وَالْأَنفُسِ وَالثَّمَرَاتِ ۗ وَبَشِّرِ الصَّابِرِينَ
Walanabluwannakum bishayin mina alkhawfi waaljooAAi wanaqsin mina alamwali waalanfusi waalththamarati wabashshiri alssabireena
Allah says that he will test us in all kinds of ways, through hunger, through loss of wealth, through loss of life, through sickness, through becoming busy through lots of free time, with old age with death, Allah tests us through these different means.
(Surah Baqarah, Quran 2:155 )
So how do we as Muslims understand tests?
There’s a popular form of religion in this country called the Prosperity Gospel. It is the belief that – “if I am wealthy, if I have material wealth, if I have power, then that is because God is on my side. I am chosen by God to be wealthy and to be powerful. And that if I am poor, then I must do my best to get God back on my side”. This belief that the poor are poor because they are not pleasing to God. And the belief that if you worked hard to get where you am, then only you are the one who should get the credit for where you are – this is a type of belief that exists in this country.
There are people who believe that the President, even if they don’t like him, that he is doing God’s work and that he is there because God wants him to have power and to have wealth. But the Quran criticizes this kind of belief. This belief is not just a modern belief, but it is something as old as time. It is something that even existed in the time of the Quraysh, even before them. Allah says, when talking about the different nations of A‘ad, Thamud and Fir’aun (Pharaoh),
فَأَمَّا الْإِنسَانُ إِذَا مَا ابْتَلَاهُ رَبُّهُ فَأَكْرَمَهُ وَنَعَّمَهُ فَيَقُولُ رَبِّي أَكْرَمَنِ
Faamma alinsanu itha ma ibtalahu rabbuhu faakramahu wanaAAAAamahu fayaqoolu rabbee akramani
And as for man, when his Lord tries him and [thus] is generous to him and favors him, he says, “My Lord has honored me.”
وَأَمَّا إِذَا مَا ابْتَلَاهُ فَقَدَرَ عَلَيْهِ رِزْقَهُ فَيَقُولُ رَبِّي أَهَانَنِ
Waamma itha ma ibtalahu faqadara AAalayhi rizqahu fayaqoolu rabbee ahanani
But when He tries him and restricts his provision, he says, “My Lord has humiliated me.”
(Surah Fajr, Quran 89:15-16)
He says that, when Allah tests mankind and is generous towards them and gives them blessing after blessing after blessing repeatedly, they say, “My Lord has honored me”.
On the other hand, when Allah tests them in a different way by restricting their provision, then they say, “My Lord has humiliated to me”.
So what did we learn from this?
We learned that there was a test in both cases. There was a test when the blessings were being given. That was a test. And when the blessings, the wealth, was restricted, that was also a test. So in Islam, we believe that everything is from Allah. Allah is Al-Hakeem, All-Wise, so whatever happens to us, it happens for a reason and Allah has something good in it for us, even if we don’t realize it. Even if we don’t realize it in the short term. Maybe we didn’t get that promotion, or we lost our job. Not because Allah is not on our side, but because He is on our side. We didn’t get the car we really want to, we don’t have a great Quran reciting voice, we haven’t had children, not because Allah is not on our side, but because He is on our side and in Islam, we believe that Allah tests us in different ways.
So, what should we do? What is the response of the believer? What is our response as believers? When we are tested, there’s a beautiful Hadith of the Prophet (pbuh) said:
عجَبًا لِأَمر المُؤمِن إِنَّ أمرَه كُلَّه له خير، وليس ذلك لِأَحَد إِلَّا لِلمُؤمِن: إِنْ أَصَابَته سَرَّاء شكر فكان خيرا له، وإِنْ أَصَابته ضّرَّاء صَبَر فَكَان خيرا له
عجَبًا لِأَمر المُؤمِن – “How wonderful, how astonishing is the affair of the believer!!”
إِنَّ أمرَه كُلَّه له خير – That everything for him is good.
وليس ذلك لِأَحَد إِلَّا لِلمُؤمِن – that is not for anyone, but the believer
إِنْ أَصَابَته سَرَّاء شكر – that if something, if a calamity befalls him something, afflicts him something bad happens to him.
شكر Then they are patient
فكان خيرا له and it is good for them.
إِنْ أَصَابَته سَرَّاء – If something good happens to them and then they are grateful, that is better for them and that is better to them.
وإِنْ أَصَابته ضّرَّاء if something bad happens to them, Sabr – they are patient in that is better for them.
So in both circumstances, if something good happens, then we are grateful to Allah that it is our correct response. And if something bad happens, then we have sabr. And so those are the two things that we can live by, which is gratitude and patience. It sounds very simple, but those are the responses that Allah has taught us. They are actually very deep because the understanding of gratitude and patience is more than just that one word.
There’s so much more to it because gratitude is not something that you just do once, but gratitude is in fact, a lifestyle. The Prophet (pbuh) said,
من لم يشكر الناس لم يشكر الله
The one who is not grateful to people, is not grateful to Allah.
He also said that when we are blessed, when we are grateful, Allah will actually increase us. Gratitude is a lifestyle. It’s not something we just say once in a while, but it’s something that we practice with the people around us. It’s something that we practice with Allah, it’s something that we can get better at – getting better at being grateful.
Some people keep a gratitude journal. There’s so many studies that have been done. What does it mean to have a gratitude journal? It means that you take the time out of your day to be grateful. And people who do that, they are happier. They’re more productive. They get more out of life. I asked parents of our children. I asked our own parents of children in our community. That what’s something you really want your child to have. And the most powerful thing that they told me was we want our children to be grateful. We want our children to be grateful for what they have. We want our children to be grateful for the many blessings that Allah has given them that they don’t realize.
And that reminded me of the Hadith of the Prophet (pbuh).
“Look towards those that have less than you for you’re more likely to be grateful to Allah. Don’t look at those who have more than you, because you are more likely to be ungrateful.”
We have this nature within us that we look at others and we compare ourselves to others. And so we have to fight that and we have to fight the whispers of Shaytan, like, “Why hasn’t Allah given you this? Why did Allah give it to that person? What’s so great about that person that Allah has given it to them, and hasn’t given it to you?” We have to fight that whisper of Shaytan. We have to be grateful for what we have.
We have to look at those many people have much less than us, in order for us to be more grateful as the Prophet (pbuh) advised us. And so that’s one half of the equation. Gratitude when Allah blesses us.
The other half of the equation is Sabr when a calamity befalls. And so what is Sabr? Sabr is not patience.
A lot of people translate it as patience and colloquially in spoken language, the way we use Sabr is like, “Oh, you’re at the doctor’s office, you need Sabr. Don’t ask don’t, don’t skip in the line. You need to have Sabr right?” You’re at the restaurant and your food is late, and people say have some Sabr. That is a very small use of Sabr. The real Sabr is perseverance. Allah talks about Sabr in the Quran. He says,
إِنَّمَا يُوَفَّى الصَّابِرُونَ أَجْرَهُم بِغَيْرِ حِسَابٍ
innama yuwaffa alssabiroona ajrahum bighayri hisabin
Indeed, the patient will be given their reward without account.
(Surah Az-Zumar, Quran 39:10)
Those who are patient, those who have Sabr, those who persevere – not those that are patient, but those who persevere – their reward is limitless. There’s no counting. The reward is so huge that there’s no counting that’s going to take place. It is so huge. It’s so enormous to persevere.
Sabr is knowing and having that belief and knowing that something that might harm you in the short term might be better for you in the long-term. Sabr is a burden. Sabr is perseverance. When you feel tired of COVID-19, you need to have Sabr, that’s when you need to persevere. Sabr to take on the burden of the religious obligation of containing the spread of a plague, as the Prophet (pbuh) commanded us.
Sabr will help us through that. Sabr is telling us to keep going. We can’t burn out now. Just in the county next door, their hospitals are full. They have to send ambulances for eight hours with one patient all the way to Seattle and back because their hospitals are full and they don’t have enough staffing. It’s right next door. We have to persist in our struggle against this virus. We cannot let up and don’t listen to the whispers of those who say that it isn’t real, that it doesn’t matter, that this is all a conspiracy. Do you want to be the cause of someone’s elderly parent passing away? What will you say to them? What will you say to Allah?
So this is one of the most important qualities of the people of Jannah. Allah says in the Quran – ادْخُلُوا الْجَنَّةَ بِمَا كُنتُمْ تَعْمَلُونَ – “Enter Paradise for what you used to do.” According to how much patience you had. So your level in paradise is determined by the amount of perseverance that you had. And it’s not easy, much easier said than done.
Look at the story of Yusuf. He went through trial after trial, betrayed by his brothers, sent to prison, sold into slavery, picked up by strangers, forgotten after helping so many people forgotten by them. So tragedy after tragedy in the life of Yusuf, of not seeing his parents for decades after being parted from them from when he was a very young boy. That took Sabr, didn’t it? Look at Ibrahim and the fire. He had to persevere when his people showed him the fire and his belief in Allah was so severe, was so strong. Look at Ismail, when Ibrahim brought him the task of slaughtering. He said, “do what your Lord has commanded you”. Look at Ayyub, who lived a life of blessing, and then in an immediate fashion, lost his family, lost his wealth, lost his health, lost his children.
Look at the Prophet (pbuh) who lost all of his children, except for Fatima. All his closest companions were tortured, even killed. His uncle Hamza, mutilated. And so he cannot tell people, “Make Dua, pray more, and your calamity will be lifted”. But actually, what we learned from our tradition, is that Allah tests those who he loves, and by persevering, and by learning and being closer to Allah, we are better prepared. Some people might say, “I don’t want Allah to love me because then he will test to me”.
But in fact, being amongst those who Allah loves, it helps us to endure. It helps us to go further.
So when we are hit by calamity and tragedy, does that mean this patience, the Sabr, means that we have no emotions? That we don’t cry? Does Sabr mean that we are not hurt? No – Sabr means we maintain the pleasure of Allah. Look at the example of the Prophet (pbuh) when his son Ibrahim passed away. He had tears in his eyes, he was crying. He was grieving over the loss of his son. He was grieving, and one of the companions asked him, “Are you displeased with the decree of Allah, Oh, Prophet?” And the Prophet (pbuh) said, “Certainly the eyes tear up. Certainly the heart is in pain but I will only say what pleases Allah. I will watch my tongue. I will watch my actions, but my heart is allowed to hurt. My eyes are allowed to cry. I am allowed to feel that emotion during calamity, during tragedy”.
So let’s not see patience and Sabr and perseverance as an end, but see it as a beginning. Let’s start to complain less, less complaining for the sake of complaining. Obviously, if you have a legitimate complaint to make, a complaint that will lead to some kind of action, a complaint that you are using to be proactive, then complain. But complaining for the sake of complaining, let’s start to do that less and appreciate our blessings and try to be grateful for what we do have.
And being more grateful will lead us to be happier. It’ll help us to see life in a new light, to have the light of the believer within us. And we will be able to be leaders in our family, in our work and our community, amongst our neighbors, amongst our co-workers. They will wonder what it is that makes you so great. And so that has to be led through gratitude and perseverance.
ادْفَعْ بِالَّتِي هِيَ أَحْسَنُ فَإِذَا الَّذِي بَيْنَكَ وَبَيْنَهُ عَدَاوَةٌ كَأَنَّهُ وَلِيٌّ حَمِيمٌ
Wala tastawee alhasanatu wala alssayyiatu idfaAA biallatee hiya ahsanu faitha allathee baynaka wabaynahu AAadawatun kaannahu waliyyun hameemun
And not equal are the good deed and the bad. Repel [evil] by that [deed] which is better; and thereupon the one whom between you and him is enmity [will become] as though he was a devoted friend.
وَمَا يُلَقَّاهَا إِلَّا الَّذِينَ صَبَرُوا وَمَا يُلَقَّاهَا إِلَّا ذُو حَظٍّ عَظِيمٍ
Wama yulaqqaha illa allatheena sabaroo wama yulaqqaha illa thoo haththin AAatheemin
But none is granted it except those who are patient, and none is granted it except one having a great portion [of good].
(Surah Fussilat, Quran 41:34-35)
When someone displays to you enmity, then push back with that which is better. Then the one between whom, between you and them, there is enmity, they will become like a good friend. That is something that is not met by anyone, but those that are patient. That is something that comes through perseverance. We wonder what do we do in the face of animosity, what do we do in the face of others showing animosity towards us and enmity towards us. What should we do?
We might see it from family members. We might see it from those who work with us. We might see it from those who are in our own community, but then persevere, be patient and persevere and keep going and take proactive actions, proactive measures, and push back with that which is better, and you will see how things change.
I remember this Islamophobic group. It protested at a masjid in the UK. And the Muslims came out and offered tea and cookies, and this racist and Islamophobic group calmed down. They actually calmed down and they actually sat down and had tea and they came to some common understanding.
So, what was that? That was this verse.
So this world, my brothers and sisters, is a world of tests, but the great thing is that Allah is with the patient. Allah is with those that are patient. Now, isn’t it amazing that Allah uses the plural that we are meant to be patient together? Islam is amazing because there’s this idea of communal obligation.
There’s this idea of – that if someone in the community passes away, it is incumbent upon the entire community to uphold the rights of funeral. That, if no one does it, that every single person in the community is sinful. If it is the day of Eid and no Eid prayer is done amongst the community, the entire community is sinful. If there is a community and there is no masjid amongst that community, then the entire community is sinful until that is established because it is a communal obligation. Even when Allah talks about prayer, he says – اَقِمِ الصَّلٰوةَ- establish the prayer together. He says – وَآتُواْ الزَّكَاةَ – give zakah together. He says – كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ الصِّيَامُ – the fasting is prescribed upon you all. Wa-atimmul hajj – make Hajj together, and he is with those who have patience.
Allah uses the plural over and over in Surah Al-Asr. He talks about those that are truly successful in this life.
إِنَّ الْإِنسَانَ لَفِي خُسْرٍ
Inna alinsana lafee khusrin
Indeed, mankind is in loss,
إِلَّا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ وَتَوَاصَوْا بِالْحَقِّ وَتَوَاصَوْا بِالصَّبْرِ
Illa allatheena amanoo waAAamiloo alssalihati watawasaw bialhaqqi watawasaw bialssabri
Except for those who have believed and done righteous deeds and advised each other to truth and advised each other to patience.
(Surah Al-Asr, Quran 103:1-3)
All of mankind is in loss except for those who believe and do good deeds and they advise each other. There’s a duality in meaning here, they advise each other in truth, meaning they truthfully advise. They don’t advise each other, beating around the bush, but they truthfully and sincerely advise each other. And they also advise each other towards the truth.
And secondly, they advise each other with patience. So they are patiently advising each other, and they are not only patiently advising each other, but they are advising each other to have patience. There’s a duality of meaning there. Not only should I patiently advise you and you should patiently advise me but I should advise you to have patience and you should advise me to have patience. And not just patience because, remember Sabr is more than patience. It is perseverance to keep going.
Sabr is knowing that something which requires belief, that requires Imaan, that requires trust in Allah. It might harm you in the short term to take that stance of belief, but in the long term, it is better for us.
So we ask Allah that He helps us to be amongst the Sabirin, amongst those who persevere, amongst those who are patient, like the prophets before us. We ask Allah to help us to follow the way of the prophets. We ask Allah to help us to follow the way of the Quran, the way of His book that He has taught us. We ask Allah that He makes the Quran a light for us, a guiding light for us in our daily life, for us in our families and our community. We ask Allah that He forgives us for our mistakes that He forgives us for our sins, for our shortcomings, we ask Allah that He helps us to do righteous deeds, that He helps us to do good deeds, that He accepts our good deeds from us.
رَبَّنَا تَقَبَّلْ مِنَّآ إِنَّكَ أَنْتَ السَّمِیعُ العَلِیمُ
وَتُبْ عَلَیْنَآ إِنَّكَ أَنتَ التَّوَّابُالرَّحِیمُ
رَبَّنَآ ءَاتِنَا فِى ٱلدُّنْيَا حَسَنَةً وَفِى ٱلْءَاخِرَةِ حَسَنَةً وَقِنَا عَذَابَ ٱلنَّارِ
Ya Allah if anyone has any need Allah fulfilled that need. Anyone has lost their job, Ya Allah give them a better job. Ya Allah if anyone is sick cure them, give them complete and quick Shifa. O Allah of those that are oppressed alleviate their oppression, those that are suffering alleviate their suffering or those that are in the receiving end of racism, Ya Allah, eradicate that racism. Ya Allah alleviate that suffering. Ya Allah help us to fight against this racism and not just to be not racist, but also to be anti-racist. Ya Allah help us to be as Muslims those who stand up for justice. Allah help us to be amongst those who follow the way of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
عِبَادَ اللّهِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يَأْمُرُ بِالْعَدْلِ وَالْإِحْسَانِ وَإِيتَاءِ ذِي الْقُرْبَىٰ وَيَنْهَىٰ عَنِ الْفَحْشَاءِ وَالْمُنكَرِ وَالْبَغْيِ يَعِظُكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَذَكَّرُونَ
اُذْكُرُوا اللَّهَ الْعَظِيمَ يَذْكُرْكُمْ واشْكُرُوهُ يَزِدْكُمْ واسْتَغْفِرُوهُ يَغْفِرْ لكُمْ واتّقُوهُ يَجْعَلْ لَكُمْ مِنْ أَمْرِكُمْ مَخْرَجًا
جَزَاكَ ٱللَّٰهُ خَيْرًا
السَّلاَمُ عَلَيْكُمْ وَرَحْمَةُ اللهِ وَبَرَكَاتُهُ