By Imam Qari Asim, Chair of Mosque & Imams National Advisory Board

With the recent outbreak of the coronavirus, we are all witnessing an unprecedented time filled with unprecedented challenges. Life situations are changing rapidly. Our response demonstrates who we are, what we believe and what kind of society we are becoming. Terrible times reveal our true values, priorities, resilience and character as individuals and as a society.

It is certainly difficult for anyone not to feel a sense of fear, anxiety and helplessness during the coronavirus pandemic. But as Muslims we are called to put our trust in our Lord, and not to fall into despair or hopelessness.

Our faith, Islam, reminds us that tests and tribulations are part of our lives. Plagues, wars, and natural disasters will remain a part of life on earth.  Understanding this reality instils peace in our minds and hearts.

The second chapter of the Qur’an mentions five tests and trials that we will go through as human-beings during our life time. The glorious Qur’an says:

“And certainly, We shall test you with something of   fear, hunger, loss of properties and lives and fruits. Give glad tidings to those who shall remain patient during these tribulations.” (Q 2:155)

  1. The first challenge that the Qur’an highlights is experiencing fear. The inbuilt fear in us is natural. We are fearful about our lives, the lives of our loved one, about our health and well-being, our income, our jobs, our houses. The list is truly endless. But we have a choice- either we can live constantly in fear, which will have drastic consequences on our health and well-being and our relationships or we can balance our fear with hope. Catastrophic thinking paralyzes us and stops us from making constructive solutions because it increases anxiety and the flight or fight response. Islam, obviously encourages us to choose hope over fear or flight.
  2. The second test that this Quranic verse mentions is Hunger. Many of us never thought that we will end up in a situation where we will have to seriously consider whether we will have enough food to last us till the end of the week. But this pandemic has forced us to think about shortage of food in our lives. Many in our neighbourhoods are already on the poverty line and the virus will potentially give rise to fresh vulnerable groups.          It is very encouraging to see that many Muslims are distributing food parcels to many vulnerable people in our communities. I have also been on the streets in Leeds, with volunteers from Peace Matters charity, giving food to the homeless and other vulnerable individuals.
  3. The third test that the Qur’an mentions is Loss of Wealth. Many of us are already experiencing some loss in our wealth- some of us have already lost their jobs, others of us can’t pay rent or a monthly instalment on our cars. There’s no doubt slacking of businesses, slow economy, financial crisis and recession will financially impact us all, and test us. Let’s not let our financial loss contribute to our spiritual loss.
  4. The fourth tribulation that the Qur’anic passage mentions is Loss of Lives. The loss of life is the most difficult of all trials. Coping with loss of one life can be very traumatic. Yet we are talking about hundreds and thousands of lives being lost due to this pandemic. The outbreak of coronavirus has compounded grief as many can’t even be present to bury their loved ones due to social distancing measures being in place.
  5. Finally, the Quranic verse talks about Loss of “fruits”, amenities and luxuries. We can all see how our lifestyles have been profoundly affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Even on a good day, many working class white communities living on Estates or those belonging to ethnic minority communities face heightened barriers to food security and economic stability due to a variety of longstanding issues ranging from employment discrimination to caregiving responsibilities to long-term effects of the wage gap. The loss of amenities and luxuries will be hard felt by such vulnerable groups.

At a time of enormous fear and loss, there is a temptation to turn inward and become anxious, to focus on our own needs and interests. But the Qur’an says that this must not be our primary response. In tough times we need to trust God, be patient, rediscover our inner strength and say: “Indeed, we belong to Allah, and it is to Him that we are destined to return” [Q 2:156]

Those who are patient with tribulations have been promised a reward without measure in the next world. Taking the necessary means, adopting precautionary measures and then relying upon Allāh is something that conforms with the Islamic concept of patience, and is the sunnah of the Prophet (peace be upon him)

The tribulations compel us to acknowledge the manifestation of God in everything and our dependence upon our Creator; they help us to see that we need to offer our servitude to none other than God alone.

Those who are consciously aware of God’s sovereignty at all times in all matters cannot be manipulated by the circumstances or catastrophes. Because they know, in truth, all is from God—not just the sweetness of blessings, but also the bitter cup of tribulation.

We in our time face challenges which could pull us apart – whether those be the threat of pandemic, or some other calamity.  But we must remain strong. Our faith gives us hope in the midst of fear, calls us to protect human life and dignity, to care for the weak and vulnerable and to pursue the common good in hard-hitting times.