Living in post-modernity, a young woman struggles to keep afloat in the course of finding her balance in life. With the recent pandemic leading to global lockdowns, her reflective journey in reconciling spirituality and the complex challenges posed by society was sparked off, unintentionally, by a brief advisory from the Mufti over the radio…
I sat listening to the Mufti’s message that was played over national radio after the azan, the call to prayer; all mass religious activities had been suspended, all mosques had been closed, we were told to disrupt our habits of devotion and to pray by ourselves or with our families, wherever convenient.
The urgent tone of his message reminded me of how serious the pandemic was and how widely it has affected diverse aspects of our lives. Social distancing could not mask the collective fear and worry that was hanging in the atmosphere as everyone around me struggled to adjust to an unaccustomed routine. Reading about the imposition of restrictions globally on travel and activities, it dawned on me how great the impact of the virus actually was.
Beyond grappling with the practical difficulties resulting from the pandemic, I began also to search for a new understanding of spirituality that made sense of a crisis in the modern age.
From the outset of this pandemic, I saw extreme reactions quickly surfacing: panic buying in supermarkets, racist and xenophobic speech as well as behaviours, acts of public defiance, forlorness over the restrictions on religious gathering and resentment towards unequal repercussions suffered by different socio-economic groups.
I became aware of my growing helplessness and grief as I reflected on the rise of prejudice and discrimination along lines of class, privilege, ethnicity, and nationality. Local news agencies highlighted the irony of pre-pandemic pride in our supposedly harmonious and developed society that started unravelling at the seams with the crisis. Cooped up in quarantine with all of these overwhelming thoughts, I had to ask myself: How does spirituality help mitigate these perplexities and anxieties?
Even as the situation improves gradually in medical and social terms, I now better recognise how spirituality is interwoven in our lives far more than before the pandemic.
I began to find spirituality in the social responsibility behind the precautions we take to safeguard ourselves and each other from infection during this pandemic. The Muslim tradition emphasizes the importance of this responsibility above religious practices and rituals. Connecting to the Divine transcends the spatial limitations of designated houses of worship. In the Muslim tradition, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “All of the earth is a mosque except for graveyards and hammam (translated: lavatories).” [Narrated by Ibn Majah]
Spirituality appears also in the guise of empathy and solidarity as we look out for others who may have been affected more than our own families and friends. Regardless of what distinguishes us from each other, we learn to develop empathy and moral sensibilities. Many have reached out and expressed generosity and kindness, rendered in forms such as material aid, financial assistance, or moral support.
Even as it inflicts pain and misery in our lives, COVID-19 has the potential to teach us virtues such as patience and trust. Developing our capacities in moral reasoning in times of crisis, democratizing voices and agencies from every corner of our society, transcending individualistic behaviour encouraged by neo-liberal systems and institutions, and critically reflecting on our mutual obligation to flourish together as a larger community are some crucial lessons that we might learn during this crisis.
Another insight I had to ponder is that spirituality is not merely about my vertical connection with God but also my horizontal relationship with people. In the Qur’an, God has specifically appointed all humans as vice-regents of the earth, bestowing upon us latent capacity and power to lead a civilised life based on social order and good moral conduct.
Furthermore, Islam, in its essence calls us to re-centre our lives, our intentions, our actions, again and again on the Divine. What ties our remembrance to God are litanies, supplications, contemplation, and engagement with one another as humankind. Just because there is a pandemic, we are not spared from striving for these goals.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “How wonderful is the case of a believer; there is good for him in everything and this applies only to a believer. If prosperity attends him, he expresses gratitude to Allah and that is good for him; and if adversity befalls him, he endures it patiently and that is better for him” [Narrated by Muslim]
A familiar sound seems to reverberate from a distance, but soft and mellow. I glance over my shoulders, my eyes land on the radio, and I respond quietly to each line of the call to prayer, living out my new sense of spirituality, in my house, where convenient.
Image credit: Majdah Nizam