Friday Sermon: The Potential for Global Change Through the Coronavirus Pandemic

If the Prophet Muhammad (s) taught us anything, it’s that change doesn’t need to take long. Two decades it took him. Two decades to change an entire society to which Allah (swt) boasted, “You are now the best people heralded for (the guidance and reform of) mankind” (Qur’an 3:110).

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If the Prophet Muhammad (s) taught us anything, it’s that change doesn’t need to take long. Two decades it took him. Two decades to change an entire society to which Allah (swt) boasted, “You are now the best people heralded for (the guidance and reform of) mankind” (Qur’an 3:110).

In the space of a month the world has changed its behaviour. And quite profoundly at that.

Admittedly not all of it has been for the good; scenes of panic buying are as much jarring as they are a stark insight into the insecurities people have from the capitalist system which can only ever breed a ‘dog eat dog’ world.

From another perspective, the awareness of and care toward the most vulnerable in our societies has been brought to the fore in a way that could not have necessarily been in any other format. Politicians like Bernie Sanders who have spent their career fighting for universal healthcare or tenant rights have had their primary mantra proven and understood in these weeks, possibly greater than the 40 years he’s spent campaigning for them.

This raises the question of why Allah (swt) would send – or allow – this Coronavirus to devastate so many lives. Is this from Him (swt) or us? Is this a test or a punishment? And what exactly are we supposed to learn from this monumental historic event?

In my opinion, Coronavirus has been allowed for the purpose of helping a global human community to reform its systems of living and what policies in particular should be adopted as we descend from the peak of this pandemic.

Change no longer needs to take centuries. We’ve seen it can be immediate, if we want it bad enough. People themselves and governments have swept in radical changes to their living practises for the preservation of society and investment into those most vulnerable.

What we’ve learnt so far includes:

  • Children could have been given laptops and free WiFi from the start.
  • University students could have had frozen interest rates on students loans all along.
  • Mortgage repayments and evictions for people out of work could have been suspended all along.
  • Sick people could have been encouraged to take time off to recover and given paid time to take care of themselves.

Change, they say, is a slow process. Slavery? Four hundred years after the first murmurings of its needing to end and we still haven’t ridden ourselves of it. Racism? Fourteen hundred years after the first fight for equality emerged and apartheid still exists.

If the Prophet Muhammad (s) taught us anything, it’s that change doesn’t need to take long. Two decades it took him. Two decades to change an entire society to which Allah (swt) boasted, “You are now the best people heralded for (the guidance and reform of) mankind” (Qur’an 3:110).

Is this from God or our ourselves?

To begin with, we need to ensure our theological understanding of this event is correct.

People are often quick to blame God for events in their life, or ask ‘Where is He?’ or ‘Why has He allowed this evil to occur?’

The Qur’an sets up two kinds of evils and two types of attitudes toward these. The first is that which is from Allah (swt) and in reality is not evil and the second is that which is from ourselves. Our attitudes to these two nuances will help us to navigate any such tribulation in our lives, individually or collectively.

The first verse tells us that both good and misfortune is from Allah (swt):

أَيْنَمَا تَكُونُواْ يُدْرِككُّمُ الْمَوْتُ وَلَوْ كُنتُمْ فِي بُرُوجٍ مُّشَيَّدَةٍ وَإِن تُصِبْهُمْ حَسَنَةٌ يَقُولُواْ هَـذِهِ مِنْ عِندِ اللّهِ وَإِن تُصِبْهُمْ سَيِّئَةٌ يَقُولُواْ هَـذِهِ مِنْ عِندِكَ قُلْ كُلًّ مِّنْ عِندِ اللّهِ
(4:78) Wherever you may be, death will overtake you – even though you be in lofty towers. Yet, when a good thing happens to them, some [people] say, ‘This is from God’ whereas when evil befalls them, they say, ‘This is from you [O fellow­ man]! Say: ‘All is from God.’

The context of this verse is that those things which are decreed by Allah (swt) – all of it is good, whether you perceive it as a benefit or a misfortune.

The second verse tells us that good is from Allah (swt) and a misfortune from ourselves cannot be attributed to Allah (swt):

مَّا أَصَابَكَ مِنْ حَسَنَةٍ فَمِنَ اللّهِ وَمَا أَصَابَكَ مِن سَيِّئَةٍ فَمِن نَّفْسِكَ
(4:79) Whatever good happens to thee is from God; and whatever evil befalls thee is from thyself.

What is a misfortune from ourselves? If we drive 50 mph in a 30 mph zone and get a ticket, we cannot blame this outcome on Allah (swt).

Is Coronavirus from Allah (swt) or created by ourselves? If it is from Allah (swt) there is goodness in it; if it from ourselves and Allah (swt) has allowed it, there is goodness in it. Either way, we have to understand what that goodness is.

Two types of punishment from Allah (swt)

It is not my claim that Coronavirus is a punishment from God; as mentioned above, whatever comes from Allah (swt) is good for us. However, we must understand that there exists two kinds of punishment from Allah (swt).

The first are those that were upon nations of the past. For them there is no return:

(21:95) It has been unfailingly true of any community whom We have ever destroyed that they would never come back. وَحَرَامٌ عَلَى قَرْيَةٍ أَهْلَكْنَاهَا أَنَّهُمْ لَا يَرْجِعُونَ

The second is known as Tanbeeh wa al-Indhaar – a warning – the purpose of which is to awaken change in a person or people.

Importantly, this misfortune allowed by Allah (swt) to stir consciousness and change in behaviour can have two outcomes: A person may become even more firm in their old ways, or it can change them. Both are mentioned in the Qur’an.

For one set of people, a tribulation makes their hearts hard. These will be people who justify their oppression, seek to export them, or even take advantage of the tribulations people are going through.

Think for example about the 2008 financial crash and despite the hardships people faced, how some accumulated even more wealth through what ordinary people lost. Or during this pandemic, where we experience a global shortage of supply and basic essentials, yet some people hoard these making them unavailable to others or sell their loot at inaccessible amounts. These are those who become hard-hearted through the trials of life.

فَلَوْلا إِذْ جَاءهُمْ بَأْسُنَا تَضَرَّعُواْ وَلَـكِن قَسَتْ قُلُوبُهُمْ وَزَيَّنَ لَهُمُ الشَّيْطَانُ مَا كَانُواْ يَعْمَلُونَ
(6:43) Yet when the misfortune decreed by Us befell them, they did not humble themselves, but rather their hearts grew hard, for Satan had made all their doings seem goodly to them.

For another set of people, a tribulation makes them work harder to make things better for their society; they do good and reform obstacles in the way of removing the misfortunes.

وَمَا كَانَ رَبُّكَ لِيُهْلِكَ الْقُرَى بِظُلْمٍ وَأَهْلُهَا مُصْلِحُونَ
(11:117) For, never would thy Sustainer destroy a community for wrong [beliefs alone] so long as its people behave righteously [towards one another].

Reform and behavioural change not only averts divine destruction, it is also the goal of the punishment, that a people learn from their trials so as to make the world a better place. We have the choice of being amongst those whose hearts grow hard during a tribulation, or those who reform.

These series of Friday sermons will look at strategic moral, behavioural, and systemic socio-political change that must be taken from the opportunities the Coronavirus is providing us. The Muslim community, who believe that nothing occurs but by the will of Allah (swt), should be at the forefront of leading positive social evolution and make use of this blessing from Allah (swt).



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