By: Dr. Zeti Azreen Ahmad
COVID-19 pandemic is one of the worst health crises since the beginning of the 21st century. In less than four months, the new coronavirus or known as COVID-19 has affected almost 3 million people and the death toll exceeds 200,000 worldwide (Ministry of Health, 27 April 2020). The infectious disease has put many countries on lockdown to break the chain of infection. Malaysian is not spared in this devastating health crisis. The total number of cases as at the time of this article was published stood at 5,820 with 99 fatalities (CPRC, 17 April 2020). In the second wave of the outbreak, the government has implemented a partial lockdown nationwide or known as the movement control order (MCO) to reduce the number of new cases and subsequently flatten the curve. The pandemic and the enforcement of MCO has affected the public immensely. Workers were experiencing pay cuts and some lost their income. A special online survey conducted by the Department of Statistics Malaysia (DoSM), reported that 46.6 percent of self-employed respondents reported losing their job and nine out of 10 respondents were still working with lower than usual salaries (Department of Statistics Malaysia, 2020). In addition, the front liners have to work long hours leaving their family behind. The government has launched the PRIHATIN Economic Stimulus package to help the affected groups. At the same time, people from all walks of life have come forward to render support. Corporate philanthropists, NGOs, universities, individuals and even prison inmates are actively doing their part to ease the burden of the front liners and those who were mostly affected by the pandemic. Donations are pouring in cash and kinds including voluntary effort to sew personal protective equipment (PPE) for the front liners and the list goes on. This paper aims to address the value of responding appropriately in the midst of adversity such as COVID-19 pandemic from the Islamic perspective. It is worth noting that how we respond to this pandemic will make a big difference not only to ourselves but also to others.
Calamity is a test from Allah SWT
The calamity such as the COVID-19 pandemic is a test from Allah SWT to all Muslims. In Surah Al-Ankabut Allah SWT has clearly reminded that all believers will be tested,
Do the people think that they will be left to say, “We believe” and they will not be tried? (Al-Ankabut:2)
The big question is, how do we (Muslims) react to this test? There are guidelines in the Quran and Sunnah addressing ways to respond to adversity. In Surah Al-Baqarah, Allah SWT has taught believers to recite istirjaa’ whenever calamity strikes,
‘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, who, when disaster strikes them, say, “Innā lillāhi wa innā ilayhi rāji‘ūn” (Indeed we belong to Allah, and indeed to Him we will return). Those are the ones upon whom are blessings from their Lord and mercy. And it is those who are the [rightly] guided’ (Al-Baqarah: 155-157)
Al-istirjaa‘ or the utterance of ‘Innā lillāhi wa innā ilayhi rāji‘ūn‘ (indeed we belong to Allah, and indeed to Him we will return) should be recited not only upon hearing someone’s death, but also when we or others are tested with any kind of calamities such as loss of job, pandemic outbreak or any events that are hurtful. Imam al-Qurtubi in his commentary, stated that ‘a calamity is a disaster that befalls on them and hurts them’ (See Tafsir al-Qurtubi, 2/175 in Bayan Linnas Series 221, 20 January 2020). A believer who recites Al-istirjaa’ when facing a calamity belongs to those who are patient and grateful (Zulkifli Mohamad AlBakri, 31 December 2019). A true Muslim believed that everything that they owned was only temporary (e.g. wealth, health, status, happiness etc.). Allah SWT can take them back at any time.
Next, a believer should always think positive and always have good thoughts towards Allah SWT. For example, those who suffered from the COVID-19 disease should neither be in despair nor blaming their fate. They should make an effort to get the right treatment to prevent further harm. In addressing the issue of COVID-19, the former Mufti of the Federal Territory affirmed that it is mandatory to seek and receive medical treatment as suggested by the authority (in the case the Ministry of Health Malaysia) (MoH). This decision was made after analysing the various opinions and assessments from the World Fatwa Body of Authorities and scholars (Bayan Linnas Series 224, 7 March 2020).
In addition, COVID-19 is highly infectious. Thus, those who were suspected to be infected should proceed with home quarantine and comply with all the preventive measures as recommended by the authority. This responsible act will keep others safe. While staying at home, they should optimize their time doing something useful and to be closer to Allah SWT, e.g., by doing istighfar (seeking forgiveness from Allah SWT), reciting Quran and self-reflection. Istighfar will not only purify one’s soul but give a sense of relief as Allah SWT will grant His servants solutions to all their problems and provide sustenance. Ibn ‘Abbas (May Allah be pleased with them) said:
The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, “If anyone constantly seeks pardon (from Allah), Allah will appoint for him a way out of every distress and a relief from every anxiety, and will provide sustenance for him from where he expects not.” (Book 20, Hadith 1873 in Sunnah.Com)
Alternatively, those who have been granted good health and wealth amidst the COVID-19 pandemic should also treat the favour they received as a test from Allah SWT. In Surah Al-Fajr: 15-17, Allah SWT has mentioned these two types of tests; hardships and bounties.
‘And as for man, when his Lord tries him and [thus] is generous to him and favours him, he says, “My Lord has honoured me.” But when He tries him and restricts his provision, he says, “My Lord has humiliated me.” No! But you do not honour the orphan’ (Al-Fajr: 15-17)
Allah SWT bestows favour (wealth, health, power, status, children and etc.) to His servants as a test. Believers who received His bounties should recount their blessings by continuously seeking the pleasure of Allah SWT. One of the ways is by rendering support to those who were badly affected during this health crisis. Lending a hand to ease the burden of the others particularly in the time of need and distress are highly encouraged in Islam. Assistance could be rendered in multiple forms; cash or kinds, offering emotional support and other voluntary work. Helping others is one of the characteristics of the righteousness. In Surah Al-Maidah, Allah SWT mentioned,
“Help one another in acts of piety and righteousness. And do not assist each other in acts of sinfulness and transgression. And be aware of Allah. Verily, Allah is severe in punishment” (Al-Maidah: 2).
An attempt to help others in need will prevent a Muslim from being selfish or self-centred. A calamity that befalls others should be seen as a test to the people around them too. During a calamity people will most likely think about themselves. However, those who decided to help the affected groups will continue to make a positive impact in the midst of the adversity. For example, by providing food supply or financial support to the less fortunate, e.g. homeless, elderly, B40 group or even to neighbours who have to undergo home quarantine. Such action will ease their burden and permits them to stay at home particularly during the MCO or their quarantine period. Technically, this will also lessen the spread of infection. Helping others in the time of need is indeed a noble act that enables Muslims to reap benefits in this world and hereafter. In one hadith narrated by Abdullah b. Umar,
Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said, “A Muslim is a brother of another Muslim, so he should not oppress him, nor should he hand him over to an oppressor. Whoever fulfilled the needs of his brother, Allah will fulfill his needs; whoever brought his (Muslim) brother out of a discomfort, Allah will bring him out of the discomforts of the Day of Resurrection, and whoever screened a Muslim, Allah will screen him on the Day of Resurrection ( Sahih al-Bukhari 2442)
The new coronavirus pandemic will continue to stay with more devastating effects if people are not taking the right response or adjust their life accordingly to the new normal. The battle to fight the pandemic requires behavioural change; such as to observe social distance and personal hygiene, reduced face to face communication, frequently washing hands and to avoid social gatherings. Living on the same planet means our actions will always implicate others either in a good way or the reverse. In responding to the COVID-19 catastrophe, the choice is ours. We can either do business as usual or embrace the new normal and take the opportunity to render support to others to cope with this calamity (within our means) for the sake of seeking His pleasure.
Dr Zeti Azreen Ahmad is assistant professor and head at Department of Communication, IIUM
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 Flattening the curve primarily aimed is to prevent a sharp peak of cases and spread out the infection over a longer period of time so that the healthcare system will not be overwhelmed (Lam Sai Kit, 22 March 2020).