“Our Lord! You have not created this in vain…” (3:191)
To date, there are more than 90,000 confirmed cases of the Corona Virus which has claimed the lives of over two thousand people in mainland China. The virus has now spread to 76 countries, leading to a potential pandemic. An epidemic is a disease that spreads across a large region and affects multiple countries. When the epidemic crosses international boundaries and spreads throughout the world it becomes a pandemic. The Spanish flu, from 1918 to 1920 has been the deadliest pandemic to date which infected 500 million people around the world, including people on remote Pacific islands and in the arctic, and resulting in the deaths of 50 to 100 million people. Although the World Health Organization (WHO) has not as yet declared the Corona Virus as a pandemic, scientists and disease experts say the Wuhan Corona Virus outbreak could soon be declared a pandemic.
The Corona Virus could hardly have emerged at a worse time for Chinese authorities, appearing in the weeks before the lunar new -year, China’s most important holiday. It is usually the occasion for the biggest human migration on the planet – up to 3 billion trips – as people race home to celebrate with family, travelling on packed trains, buses and planes.
Source of the virus
There are various unsubstantiated theories regarding the origin of the virus; one theory is that it might have come from snakes; another theory is that the primary source of the outbreak was a market where wild animals were illegally sold; a third report suggests that the virus may have originated from bats or snakes. An article published by the Washington Times, a conservative newspaper suggested in a headline that the “Corona Virus may have originated in a lab linked to China’s bio-warfare program” and pointing to the Wuhan Institute of Virology. This theory has however been debunked by scientists.
What lessons do we learn from the pandemic? How do we as Muslims view the outbreak of the disease and what do we learn from it?
Life can change in ways we thought impossible
With one unanticipated event, life can change in ways that we thought were not possible. The deserted Beijing railway station, which usually sees around 34.7 million passengers during the holiday period has overnight become forsaken, abandoned and deserted. Life for millions of people has come to a virtual standstill. The city of Wuhan which is home to 11 million people resembles a ghost town, with empty streets and bio-security checkpoints. Transport is shut down, most shops and businesses closed, and people are being advised to stay at home. A resident in Wuhan describes what life is because of the lock down: “The world is quiet, and the silence is horrifying. I live alone, so I can only tell there are other human beings around from the occasional noises in the corridor. In the supermarket, the vegetable shelves are empty and almost all dumplings and noodles are sold out.”
Your circumstances tomorrow may be very different from your circumstances today. Are you able to adapt to unexpected circumstances? Is your faith able to motivate and insulate you from feeling hopeless and helpless? Shurayh RA said: “Verily, if I am afflicted with a calamity, then I praise Allah four times. I praise him that it was not worse than it was. I praise Him when He provides me patience to bear it. I praise Him when He guides me to supplicate appropriately and hoping for reward, and I praise Him for not making it a calamity in my religion. (Siyar A’lam An-Nubula) Everything you’re given is either about fostering gratitude or patience – both of which are things that Allah loves and both of which strengthen your connection with Him.
Life is impermanent
“And the life of this world is only a deceiving enjoyment.” (57:20) Life can abruptly end without any warning as it did for 638 individuals who had dreams and aspirations just as we have, individuals who had families and children like we have; their lives suddenly came to an abrupt end. We live in the space between one breath and the next. We often try to maintain an illusion of permanence, even though we know the fleeting nature of life.
This could be the last time
By reflecting on the impermanence of everything in the world, we should be conscious of the fact that every time we do something it could be the last time we do it. This understanding should enable us to act with greater commitment, urgency and drive. This consciousness must spur us not to sleepwalk through our lives. An adage reads: ‘I shall pass this way but once, any good that I can do, or any kindness that I can show, let me do it now, let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”
Is this disease a sign of Allah’s punishment?
The truth is that we cannot sit in the judgement seat, we neither have the authority nor the ability to pass judgement, which is the preserve of Allah alone. Not all diseases or plagues are a result of evil, oppression or transgression. In 639 AD in the town of Emmaus (Amwaas), in Palestine, a plague claimed the lives of 25,000 people, among whom were many prominent companions of Nabi SAW. Condemning an entire people together for collective punishment, rejoicing in their suffering, and mocking their food choices even they are highly offensive to us. However as Muslims, we believe that through our actions we determine our own circumstances. “Whatever affliction befalls you, it is because of what your hands have earned, and yet He overlooks many (of the wrongs you do)” (42:30) this verse calls for introspection rather than condemnation.
Should foreign citizens be evacuated from Wuhan?
Several countries have evacuated citizens from Wuhan – the epicentre of the Corona Virus outbreak. There has however been debate around the ethical moral and potential health hazards regarding evacuation of foreigners from the city of Wuhan. We however have a precedent which indicates that those inside should not flee from the area nor should those outside go into the area. Abdullah ibn Abbas RA reported that Umar ibn al-Khattab RA went out to Syria until he arrived at Sargh. The commanders of the army, Abu ‘Ubaydah ibn al-Jarrah RA and his companions, met him and told him that an epidemic had befallen the land of Syria. Umar RA announced to the people, “I will turn back in the morning, so you must as well.” Abu ‘Ubaydah RA said, “Are you fleeing from the decree of Allah?” Umar RA said, “Would that another had said so, O Abu ‘Ubaydah! Yes, we are fleeing from the decree of Allah to the decree of Allah. Do you not see that if you had camels descending in a valley with two fields, one of them fertile and the other barren, you would graze in the fertile field by the decree of Allah or you would graze in the barren field by the decree of Allah?” (Bukhari) What we learn from the above is that those inside should not come out and those outside should not go in. In this way ‘Umar RA explained what human effort is all about. It is not about surrendering to whatever we assume Allah has decreed for us, but rather to avoid misfortune by seeking what brings about good results. It is about overcoming weakness by developing our capabilities, dispelling ignorance with knowledge, removing poverty by producing wealth, and curing illness to achieve health. Our belief should not lead us to fatalism whereby the human being is dis-invested of all responsibility.
The Power of Allah
This incident gives us a better understanding of how Believers will cease to exist during the end of time. Nabi RA said: “… Allah will send a pleasant wind that will cause death to everyone who has even the weight of a speck of mustard (the smallest bit) of faith in his heart. Only those who have no goodness will remain on earth; they will return to the religion of their fathers (a religion other than Islam).” (Muslim) A pleasant gentle breeze will pervade the entire globe pursuing people who have even the minutest level of faith causing their demise.
May Allah protect us; grant us the insight to take lesson from all that happens around, for nothing happens by chance or without meaning.