By: Dr. Amilah binti Awang Abd Rahman
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused thousands of deaths worldwide. It has also caused panic and worry along with economic and political instability. The outbreak has brought with it what appears to be an indispensable halt to social and economic activities that affect all humanity. However, good still manifests in the midst of the crisis. The educational system needed serious adjustments to maintain relevance and meet new needs for a new generation.
The COVID-19 imposition has facilitated this upgrade. Independent learning, which previously received sluggish reception, has been rapidly embraced. Lecturers are forced to enhance online teaching skills and keep pace with disciplinary developments and student assessment methods. Consequently, online knowledge transfer has surged along with technological advancements for its dissemination. The career-minded lifeway that was previously conditioned by routine office hours away from home has become far more flexible. Although replete with new challenges, this COVID-19 ‘upending of things as they were’ has actually provided us with more family time and greater domestic flexibility. Working mothers especially have opportunity to focus on their primary care duties while executing official tasks.
Introspection generally allows us a certain level of confidence in believing that whatever happens remains within our control. In other words, we think we are free to actually become what we do or intend to do, so much so, that we are disturbed when something untoward upsets the calm of our expectations, especially the ongoing planning of events. Here is where the Muslim belief in Qadha’ and Qadr (God’s Decree) is generally thought of as unseen factors that limit our freedom and progress. Nonetheless, COVID-19 changes this perception. People now realize that life is not about routine but rather comprises a stream of events that await our reaction(s). If our situation becomes too concretely set, the routine can become a dulling numbness that marks the middling futility of a mundane existence. We then complain of boredom and kill time with unproductive activities. To the contrary, the acceptance of arbitrary events can sharpen human rejoindersand boost our critical and creative thought.
Believing in God’s decree carries far deeper meaning than any surrender to fatalism. When we gaze into the deepness of Islam’s true valuations, an informed observer embraces the dynamic enterprise with exceptional verve. In line with this, Alasdair MacIntyre criticized the reductionist approach to ethical theories by defining human virtue as follows:
Those dispositions that not only sustain practices and enable us to achieve the goods internal to practices, but which also sustain us in the relevant kind of quest for the good by enabling us to overcome the harms, dangers, temptations and distractions we encounter, and which furnish us with increasing self-knowledge and increasing knowledge of good (After Virtue, 220).
Abdullah Draz explained that divine rule which is applicable to broader God’s determination:
“[It] is never made in order to shackle our freedom, but somehow to increase it. … It also provides a framework for activities that increase our power and effectiveness. Our freedom may be lost in extension but it gains depth as we search for the best way to perform a duty” (The Moral World of the Qur’an).
We also tend to think that what we see as good is good for us and are quick to pose judgement. We also have a certain approach to judgemental positions and claim it is all about the teachings of Islam. However, we are now beginning to realize that God’s Will and purpose is far more powerful than what we so foolishly prescribed. We recently began Ramadhan with sadness since we cannot attend routine congregational prayers lauded for guaranteeing our greatest reward. We now realize that performing prayers at home during MCO is its own good. It strengthen bonds with family and trains the children as future prayer leaders. We understand that final judgment in all things is from Allah who knows best our resolute limitations and sincere motivations, however contrary they may be. Later, we will come back to our routine by being more thankful for the opportunity given.
The Qur’an deeply challenges what people think is good in life:
Had Allah so willed, the people who had seen clear signs would not have fought against one another after the Prophets. But they disagreed; then some of them accepted the Truth and others rejected it. If Allah had so willed they would have never fought against one another, but Allah does whatever He pleases. (Al-Baqarah: 253)
People generally think fighting and disagreement are counterproductive and that Allah should not allow it to happen. However, Allah’s foresight, as seen in this passage, says He did it purposefully. Via experience, they can hold important lessons that are revealed only when we think “out of the box”.
Ideally, Islam teaches us to walk the earth with a positive mindset. A Muslim should be predisposed to search out the smallest things in life for lessons that reflect divine intention. To the contrary, fasiqs like to belittle and mock things:
Behold, God does not disdain to propound a parable of a gnat, or of something [even] less than that. Now, as for those who have attained to faith, they know that it is the truth from their Sustainer — whereas those who are bent on denying the truth say, “What could God mean by this parable?” In this way does He cause many a one to go astray, just as He guides many a one aright: but none does He cause thereby to go astray save the iniquitous (fasiqun). (Al-Baqarah: 26)
Therefore, be positive. Challenges bring us closer to Allah!
Dr. Amilah binti Awang Abd Rahman is an assistant professor at Dept. of Usul al-din and Comparative Religion, Kulliyyah of Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences, IIUM