BEWARE THE NORMALCY OF THE DANGER CLOWN

Corona Movie

Time has become a flat circle. Day and night have melted into one another. Each hour simultaneously becomes the last one as well as the next. Reality increasingly becomes unreality. It is as though we have all been unknowingly transported to an alternate unfolding dystopian existence, something akin to the trance-like void of the Sunken Place (from the horror movie Get Out), or the parallel dimension of the Upside Down (from the Netflix TV series Stranger Things). Our deepest nightmares seem to be projected back to us daily in a never-ending Breaking News loop.

Speaking of movies, I recently got round to watching Bird Box, which originally came out in 2018 and caused quite an online discussion as to all the symbolism the movie cleverly contains. However, watching this movie in the midst of a coronavirus pandemic seems to add a whole new layer of text and subtext, making the movie much scarier than it was perhaps intended way back in 2018, a time when things were, you know, normal.

Another movie I saw, just today in fact, was The First Purge. As with Bird Box, this too is a movie from the distant realm of 2018. Watching it today, whilst there are riots all across America due to the horrendous murder of George Floyd, again adds a completely different dimension to this particular movie-watching experience, to the point where the movie at times resembles more a documentary than a work of fiction.

And it seems I am not the only one having anxious troubles about the nature of reality. Professor Robert Reich, a former US secretary of labor, a very clever man indeed, is also concerned about what is going on, especially in the current administration occupying the White House. His quote, along with others, can be read below.

So, before the inevitable second wave sweeps us all away, please find below a selection of quotes (some are funny, some less so) that may or may not ease tensions, reduce confusion, and provide some much-needed clarity. As best as one can given, you know, all that is going on right now, enjoy!


The spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Bangkok

At the Praram 9 hospital in Bangkok, Thailand, two newborn babies are given mini face shields to protect them against COVID-19 while they travel home from the hospital…


In reality, Donald Trump doesn’t run the government of the United States. He doesn’t manage anything. He doesn’t organize anyone. He doesn’t administer or oversee or supervise. He doesn’t read memos. He hates meetings. He has no patience for briefings. His White House is in perpetual chaos. His advisers aren’t truth-tellers. They’re toadies, lackeys, sycophants and relatives. – Professor Robert Reich, 31 May 2020, from theguardian.com

About 12,000 years ago, human domestication of the natural world began in earnest with the intentional cultivation of wild plants and animals. Fast forward to today and our dominion over the planet appears complete, as 7.8 billion of us multiply across its surface and our reach extends from the deep-sea beds, which are being mined, to the heavens, where we are, according to Donald Trump, dispatching a space force. Yet as has been made clear by a recent litany of disasters – from the coronavirus pandemic to America’s deadliest wildfire in a century – there are forces that cannot be domesticated. Indeed, our interference with the natural world is making them more liable to flare up into tragedy. We created the Anthropocene, and the Anthropocene is biting back. – Alastair Gee and Dani Anguiano, 05 May 2020, from theguardian.com

Do weeks even still exist? I mean the calendar has always been a mutual suggestion that we all just go along with, but with what’s happening right now—the virus, the quarantine, the galactically deranged president stressing the whole world out with his daily fits and embarrassments—the concept of time has never been less important. I’m writing this on a Friday morning, I’m told, but who knows if that’s true? Who would even care? Does it matter when I’m writing this, or when I post it—assuming hastily assembled galleries of other people’s tweets “matter” to any extent whatsoever? Or is this just another in a litany of trivialities I’ve devoted my life too—one more insipid bit of business to rush through before I can get back to my true calling of lying perfectly still in a bed while staring at the ceiling and crying softly? I dunno, bro. – Garrett Martin, 17 Apr 2020, from the pastemagazine.com article Tweets Of The Week

Everyone knows corona is no walk in the park, because you literally can’t walk in the park. – Bill Maher, 17 Apr 2020, from the TV show Real Time With Bill Maher

I don’t know it for a fact that the Kardashians are deciding which sister to sacrifice to the virus to stay relevant, I just know it’s true. – Bill Maher, 08 May 2020, from the TV show Real Time With Bill Maher

I think this is going to scramble our politics in a lot of ways. And one thing that I should say, and I think any honest person should say, is that if we all emerge from this situation with the same convictions that we’ve had before, it means were just not thinking. And so this has prompted new thinking on my part, I’m sure it has on yours. But we need to maybe move out of all of our respective ideological boxes because what just happened was 1929. Things have changed. – Bret Stephens, 01 May 2020, from the TV show Real Time With Bill Maher

I’ve read that COVID-19 can live on plastic for over three days. So if you’re in Beverly Hills, don’t touch the women. – Jay Leno, 29 May 2020, from the TV show Real Time With Bill Maher

Like Buzz Windrip, the fictional fascist president in Sinclair Lewis’s novel It Can’t Happen Here, Trump’s underlying fascistic essence is cloaked to some degree by his blustering buffoonery, his strange theatrical clownishness. Even more than three years into his supremely lethal, racist, sexist, eco-cidal and arch-authoritarian white-nationalist presidency, many Americans continue to laugh him off as little more than a fool and comedian. But there’s nothing funny about the Trump presidency. It’s been as seriously awful as a national and global heart attack and anyone who still finds it funny needs a check-up from the neck-up. Donald the Danger Clown has been doubling down on authoritarian rule under the cover of the COVID-19 crisis that he helped fan across the land…God help us if Danger Clown and his backers and allies are the New Normalcy. – Paul Street, 17 Apr 2020, from the counterpunch.org article Danger Clown And The Return To American Normalcy

New rule. The Muslims going to mosques in Pakistan, the Christians holding services in the south, and the Orthodox Jews having funerals in Brooklyn, have to agree that whichever faith loses the fewest members to COVID-19 is the one true religion, and the other two have to go away. Finally! Finally, we can settle this once and for all, although I’m not going to pretend it makes up for cancelling March Madness. – Bill Maher, 01 May 2020, from the TV show Real Time With Bill Maher (this particular new rule was called ‘Need For Creed’)

Our chief executive is, indeed, bumptiously dishonest, a manure-shoveler without precedent in the modern presidency, a man with little capacity to handle even a mildly inconvenient truth. No one expects a truthful and realistic appraisal of the crisis from this president; any sensible person should look elsewhere for the truth. – Ross Douthat, 07 Apr 2020, from the nytimes.com

Science does not obey the laws of politics. – from the 2018 movie The First Purge

The first couple of weeks of all of this I was very much glued to the news, I was reading everything I could, the radio was constantly on. And then I thought “Oh God! Watching a lot of the news is like eating fruit, in that it is good for you, but only up to a point, because after that it gives you the shits.” So you have to limit it, you have to eat it in small portions. – Charlie Brooker, May 2020, from an interview on BBC Newsnight, referring to the pandemic

The vast illegal wildlife trade and humanity’s excessive intrusion into nature is to blame for the coronavirus pandemic…We are discovering two to four new viruses created every year as a result of human infringement on the natural world, and any one of those could turn into a pandemic…This pandemic is the consequence of our persistent and excessive intrusion in nature and the vast illegal wildlife trade, and in particular, the wildlife markets, the wet markets, of south Asia and bush meat markets of Africa…It’s pretty obvious, it was just a matter of time before something like this was going to happen…This is not nature’s revenge, we did it to ourselves. The solution is to have a much more respectful approach to nature, which includes dealing with climate change and all the rest. – Professor Thomas Lovejoy, Apr 2020, from theguardian.com (Lovejoy coined the term “biological diversity” in 1980 and is often referred to as the godfather of biodiversity)

When you are looking at the coronavirus pandemic, you have to sort of think ahead and say that if the Great Depression is what gave us the rise of fascism and a certain Chancellor in Germany, what is the next Great Depression going to do to our politics? We were already moving in a populist and neo-authoritarian direction when the economy was relatively good. What happens when you have tens of millions of people who are out of work and desperate, not just economically but also politically? So people have to start thinking about the balance of risk. That’s something no one likes to contemplate because they say if you balance it in one way then people are going to suffer and people are going to die, and that is almost certainly true. But there are risks to simply pretending that we can hold our breath forever and not hurt ourselves. Right now this is a strategy out of the Vietnam War, we’re trying to destroy the village in order to save it, and I don’t remember that ending very well. – Bret Stephens, 01 May 2020, from the TV show Real Time With Bill Maher

Wow, this, this COVID-19, I tell ya. I didn’t see COVID 1 through 18, so I don’t really know, uh, what this is all about. – Patton Oswalt

The Census Bureau is now reporting that a third of Americans are showing signs of anxiety and clinical depression. And they’ve gained weight. A third of Americans are now half of Americans. – Bill Maher, 29 May 2020, from the TV show Real Time With Bill Maher

WE’VE BEEN SAYING THAT FOR YEARS!

Corona Kaba

Way back in 2012 Riaad Moosa, a South African stand-up comedian, wrote and starred in a movie about a struggling stand-up comedian (somewhat autobiographical then, one would assume). At one point in the movie, called Material, he makes the following sly observation. Remember, this is way back in 2012, back in the days when things were still “normal”…

But the French…I don’t know if you’ve heard about the French. The French wanted to ban purdah. You know the purdah [the veil]? You know? Because they think it’s about oppressing women. You know, it’s not about oppressing women. It’s about not objectifying women. I mean, you’ve never seen a Saudi version of Playboy. “Mahmood, Mahmood, check it out. Look at the naked eyes, Mahmood.” But it’s bad, huh? They ridicule our culture because they don’t understand the wisdom behind it. Like, take swine flu, for instance. All of a sudden, you had Europeans scared of pigs. We’ve been saying that for years! Europeans were so paranoid about swine flu, they were walking around airports, wearing masks. Take a look at our women. We’ve been saying that for years! – from the 2012 movie Material

Since this pandemic started way back in the month of whenever, much has been written by Muslims and non-Muslims about COVID-19 and the Muslim experience. Please find below a selection of quotes from various articles I have read over the last few months about this pandemic, all from an Islamic perspective. As always, the articles are worth reading in full, time permitting.

However, just before we get to these quotes, can I please draw your attention to a few TV programs that may be of interest. Channel 4’s Ramadan In Lockdown is a 5-part series featuring various Muslims from across the UK, including NHS workers. Each episode is only 5 minutes long. BBC Three’s My Mate’s A Muslim is a 30-minute program featuring 2 young British Muslims who each ask a non-Muslim best friend to spend one day fasting with them. With hilarious consequences! Both of these are well worth watching, especially for non-Muslims who are curious about this blessed month.

During Ramadan the BBC also aired the 2-part travel documentary Morocco To Timbuktu: An Arabian Adventure. It features Alice Morrison, an Arabist and an explorer, who journeys beneath the veil along Africa’s infamous salt roads from Morocco via the Sahara Desert to the legendary city of Gold, Timbuktu. Again, well worth watching.

Finally, saving the very best till last, if you have time then please listen to Shaykh Hamza Yusuf’s new Ramadan lecture series called Gateway To God’s Book: Reflections On The Deep Structure Of The Qur’an. We are currently on session 5, with each session being about 45 minutes long. I have so far listened to session 1 and have been blown away by what Shaykh Hamza has said so far. Cannot wait to listen to the rest (I will insha-Allah say more on these in a later blog post).

Anyways, back to topic in hand…As best as one can given, you know, every single thing that is happening in the world right now, enjoy…

PAKISTAN-RELIGION-ISLAM-RAMADAN


A Ramadan And Eid In Isolation

Uzma Jalaluddin, 16 May 2020, theatlantic.com

The sense of community is what has propelled me and my family through past Ramadans. None of that is possible this year. The holy month is supposed to disrupt everyday life, but this year it has been disrupted by a worldwide calamity. Muslims globally are experiencing the strangest Ramadan ever. The feeling of togetherness that is so important during this month is difficult to replicate alone at home, but I am trying to help my family find their own special connection to this Ramadan.

Although I don’t want to go through another Ramadan like this one, the lockdown has helped me concentrate on the purpose of this month, which can get buried beneath the deep-fried food and constant socializing. At its heart, Ramadan is meant to interrupt daily life. We wake before the sun and refrain from food and drink until evening. Many people stay up late in prayer or use the spirit of Ramadan to try to give up bad habits and start better ones. As much as I enjoy the social aspect of the month, the quiet has made personal reflection easier. Many Muslims understand fasting as an act of radical empathy, our experience of hunger and thirst and fatigue a way to honor our blessings while acknowledging the plight of others less fortunate. And I’m acutely aware of the struggles of others now, during a pandemic…I realized one last thing about this holy month: Aside from the understanding that comes with fasting and working on our spiritual selves, beyond the time spent with family and friends and giving to charity, Ramadan is about becoming comfortable with loss—sitting with that loss for hours every day, willingly, surrendering to the discomfort of it.


Ramy Youssef Is Not Using Comedy To Teach You About Muslims

David Marchese, 11 May 2020, nytimes.com

Does your faith affect how you think about the pandemic?

I know I have solace in spiritual connection. What a moment like this does is make your brain so loud. You could read every article. You could listen to every podcast. So in my spiritual practice it’s like, how do I get quiet? How do I get to a place where I can just turn that off and have faith? You know, it’s funny because so many of my closest friends are comics who don’t believe in God the way I do. They’ll say it’s illogical. A lot of things are illogical! We’re dealing with a virus right now that completely turned the world around in a week, and we’re being led by a reality-TV-show star. So why couldn’t Moses part the sea? You’re telling me it’s that big of a jump?


The Coronavirus Is Empowering Islamophobes — But Exposing The Idiocy Of Islamophobia

Mehdi Hasan, 14 Apr 2020, theintercept.com

If anti-Semitism is the world’s oldest hatred, perhaps Islamophobia is the world’s weirdest. How else to explain the fact that a pandemic of global and historic proportions, a novel coronavirus that is infecting people in almost every country and territory on Earth, has been weaponized by the far right to attack…Islam and Muslims?

Here is the great irony: While anti-Muslim bigots have tried to use the coronavirus to smear and demonize Muslims, the pandemic itself has exposed the ridiculousness of anti-Muslim bigotry.

The French and Austrian governments passed bans on face masks, in 2011 and 2017 respectively, as a way of targeting, and criminalizing, the wearing of the Muslim face veil, the niqab. Today, France’s National Academy of Medicine is calling for masks to be made obligatory for anyone leaving their homes during the lockdown, while the Austrian government has made wearing face masks compulsory for anyone entering a supermarket or grocery store.

In 2018, the Danish government insisted on making new citizens shake hands at their naturalization ceremonies — a move which, as the New York Times noted at the time, was “aimed at Muslims who refuse on religious grounds to touch members of the opposite sex.”

So you might assume the Danes had dropped that mandatory handshake now, right? Wrong. According to the Times, “the government in Denmark has asked mayors to suspend naturalization ceremonies…with no exception to the handshake for those who want to become citizens.”

We may defeat the Covid-19 virus in the months ahead, but it will take much longer to defeat the disease that is Islamophobia.


The Ailment’s Elixir

Shaykh Riad Saloojee, 23 Mar 2020, almadinainstitute.org

An invisible, microscopic virus reigns sovereign over the world. The coronavirus has coronated itself king. And we are currently its subjects. We face an invasive pandemic together. In an almost unprecedented twist of fate, each of us shares the same trial.

Trials are never comfortable. They limit us physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually. They push us beyond our comfort zones. Now, even the uninfected are affected: restricted from work; confined to house arrest; freedom curbed; movement impeded; emotionally constricted by anxiety and angst; our present straightened by an uncertain future.

And collectively affected: Our great, advanced political, economic, health and social institutions kneel, humbled, under the edict of a tiny, imperceptible monarch (whom many biologists consider to be non-living). Where is all our power now?

The words of the Divine in the Qur’ān are so perfectly prophetic: “…until the earth with all of its expanse became constricted to them, and their selves became constricted, and they were certain that there was no refuge from Allāh except to Him…” (9:118)

Constriction upon constriction. Is there any relief in sight? Yes. Finite constriction can be an avenue to infinite expanse. The essence of trial is its potential to lead me to the infinite expanse of Allāh’s Divine Beauty, Jamāl, through an experiential encounter with His Majesty, or Jalāl. If I look carefully, I may see: The lock has a key embedded in it.

As this trial continues, my ‘world’ – both internally and externally – is slowly constricting. Why? Because the means, causes and avenues that I rely upon with my heart are no longer reliable. I am losing my familiar foundations; and I am slowly feeling my fragility. I need Allāh more and more.

Corona in latin means a wreath or a crown. Is the coronavirus, in its deeper spiritual reality, a reflection of all we have crowned as a wakīl [a representative or trustee] in our lives apart from Him? Is it not a message from Him to me? Is He not constricting through it every passageway, except the pathway to Him? If I cannot reach the Divine’s door now, in this trial, then when?

A TIME TO DISINFECT YOUR HEART

Shaykh Hamza Smiling

Take a break from the ever-spiralling news cycle and refocus your mind back to what really matters right now, and for us Muslims that is the blessed month of Ramadan. We are now in the final third of what has been for many of us a very strange Ramadan experience. At such times to help me get back to basics I often turn to my favourite scholar Shaykh Hamza Yusuf who is, in my opinion, a rare scholar as his worldview is shaped equally by traditional Islamic schooling as well as modern Western academia.

Please find below a few quotes I have recently collected from the Shaykh regarding Ramadan. I should warn you that in one of the quotes below he talks about how Ramadan is an opportune time to “disinfect our hearts.” This is meant purely in a spiritual capacity and in no way shape or form is a reference to President Trump and his expert medical advice on somehow injecting disinfectant in order to rid the body of COVID-19. Please also refrain from following his other advice of somehow getting ultraviolet light into your body. In other words, do not stare directly at the sun. Anyhoo, as best as one can given, you know, all that is going on, enjoy…


In our tradition prayer, while it is communal, it is also solitary. And one of the most important prayers for spiritual development are the solitary prayers that we do, the sunnan, which are outside of the communal prayers. These are extraordinarily important for human development. And then again the taraweeh prayer, according to the Maliki school, is actually preferred in your house over doing it in the masjid, as long as there is a group doing it in the masjid, fulfilling the sunnah kifayah. So that’s an important point that Imam Malik considered, that taraweeh is better in the home as it’s free from the possibility of riyah, or the hidden shirk. So that’s something for people to contemplate. Obviously in the Hanafi madhab it’s a sunnah muakada.

It’s very important for us to remember that this is a time of tawba, of repentance, and Ramadan is really one of the most opportune times of the year to do that. So take this as a time of repentance.

This virus has reminded us of the temporality of our life on earth, that all of us everyday are facing our mortality. The Prophet said in a hadith that Imam Nawawi put as one of the foundational hadith in our tradition, that if you wake up in the morning don’t expect to go to sleep at night, and if you go to sleep at night don’t expect to wake up in the morning.

May Allah keep all of your hearts connected with those that you love and with your communities, even though your bodies are separate. The hearts can still remain connected insha-Allah.

Even though this is a great difficulty for us, many of us have been a great difficulty for the animal kingdom. And I think some of them are actually relieved, and in fact some people have made the argument that this is actually the animals revenge on us for for not being good stewards of the earth. And so it’s very important that we recollect and remind ourselves that God put us here as caretakers, not as overlords, we are caretakers of this place, and He has given us this extraordinary garden, this amazing creation, and told us to take care of it. And many of us have failed to do that, we have not been good stewards. And this is a time I think for us to really think about the trials and the tribulations that are upon us as really important signs, and maybe a message from God that we should think about the madness of modern lifestyles, and the fact that we really do need to change the way that we’ve been living. And this might be a really important wake-up call for all of us.

We were forewarned in the Quran that Allah created this world as a tribulation and a trial for us, and we will be tested. And this is certainly a big test for us in our lifetimes. May Allah give us the ability to see the wisdom in it and to see the mercy in it, and to look with the eye of rahma, the eye of mercy and compassion, and not with the eye nikma, the eye of animosity and anger.


We have been habituated to the daily rhythms and simple pleasures of our lives continuing uninterrupted by the major traumas that afflict so many in other parts of our world and that God, by His mercy, has protected us from. In the current climate, the blessings that too many of us take for granted now feel threatened by the dark cloud of coronavirus that pervades our planet. The best response is gratitude, as even in such times as these, we can discern untold blessings if we look with the eye of gratitude: “And if you enumerate the blessings of God, you will find no end” (16:18). God promises that if we are grateful, God will increase the reasons for our continued gratitude, and when we are ungrateful, God will remind us that the consequences of ingratitude are severe.

The Qur’an reminds us in many ways that tribulations will befall us, and if we respond with patience, prayer, and high moral character, we will see such afflictions as the Divine Surgeon’s knife, which excises our heedlessness and restores our hearts to health. The Prophet ﷺ said, “For some, an epidemic is a grave chastisement, for the believers, a mercy.” The Qur’an says, “For man was created anxious, unhappy when ill afflicts him, and stingy when good befalls him; except the prayerful who are constant in their prayer” (70:19–23). Indeed, sincere prayer abides as our most potent weapon against fear, panic, and despair. If anything troubled the Prophet ﷺ, he hastened to prayer. Let us recall our Prophet’s stillness in the midst of chaos and trials. He never panicked, because he knew in Whose providential care he remained.

This Ramadan, despite the disruption in our lives elicited by the virus, I urge all of us to reflect on the opportunity and the blessing in this tribulation. “Whoever places their trust in God, God will suffice” (65:3). This Qur’anic promise is as true as time. Embrace it. Live with it.

Tribulations test all of us, and we pass the test by placing our hope and trust in God alone.

We are the inheritors of a tradition of hope, and our beloved Prophet ﷺ was the most hopeful of men.


Ramadan is the time to reflect on the Qur’an and to recommit ourselves to the sacred, well-trodden path, the path of the prophets, the path of people who were closest to God. When we fast, we connect ourselves with an unbroken chain of tradition in a deep and sacred bond with every seeker of God, from the beginning of time to the end of time, to rescue ourselves and to allow ourselves to be rescued by God—that is why this is a blessed month.

Imam al-Ghazālī said the real fasting is not the fasting of the tongue or the stomach but the fasting of the heart, whereby we discipline our heart from feasting on prohibited thoughts and on doubt; despair; anxiety; and most of all, fear of losing what we have. Indeed we could lose it all, but if we have God, we haven’t lost anything. Fear and doubt and anxiety plague all of us, and Ramadan is an opportune time to discipline and disinfect our hearts. This is a month of trust in God, of letting light into our hearts. Let us make this month a time of prayer and peace, a time to recite and reflect on the Qur’an, and a time to seek refuge in God.


Sources:

“The Hearts Can Still Remain Connected”: A Ramadan Message From President Hamza Yusuf

Ramadan 2020: Letter From President Hamza Yusuf

The Zaytuna College Ramadan Reader: Fasting Of The Heart

THE CONSUMER CARNIVAL OF PRODUCT ADDICTION IS OVER

SAHM Forest

In 2019, which now feels like several lifetimes ago, the architects who designed the London Eye created a beautiful, approachable and eco-friendly new place of worship in Cambridge. The result was the new £23m mosque in Mill Road, Cambridge. According to a review in the Guardian the mosque “is the most determined attempt yet to build in a way that is of its own place and time.” It is the brainchild of Timothy Winter, also known as Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad, a convert to Islam who teaches at the University of Cambridge and is dean of the Cambridge Muslim College. The building has room for over 1,000 worshippers and has been funded, according to the Shaykh, by more than 10,000 donations “large and small”, from private individuals to governments such as Qatar.

The striking interior of the mosque has large engineered timber columns in the main prayer hall which, according to the architects, owes something to the internal stone forest of the great mosque of Cordoba. And it is from this great spiritual forest that the Shaykh has been delivering his Ramadan Moments, a series of short lectures designed to help us spiritually through these difficult times. There have been two such lectures so far, the first on the 24th of April, and the second on the 1st of May. Both lectures are presented below, along with a selection of quotes.

Prior to these two lectures, way back on the 7th of April, the Shaykh shared his views on the pandemic that has swept across all aspects of mankind and human existence. This lecture is also presented below, again with a selection of quotes. There are common themes that run through all three speeches, such as sticking to our spiritual paths in difficult times, and re-evaluating our relationship with wealth and consumerism.

In total the three lectures will take up no more than an hour of your time and, let’s be honest, since you’re not exactly going anywhere right now because, you know, of all that is going on, it is worth spending an engaging hour in the company of a Muslim scholar as erudite and as learned as Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad. As much as one can in these bizarrest of circumstances, enjoy!


A Perspective On The Pandemic…

The consumer carnival, the Mardi Gras of our product-addicted age, is over; this feels like some kind of morning-after, a hangover. We used to reach happily for the goods in the shops, which shone and sparkled before our entranced and childish eyes. Now we hesitate and touch gingerly, reluctantly, as though touching the skin of a corpse; I press the keys on the ATM, wondering if my hands, instruments of so much heedless taking in past years, are now carriers of my own demise. A twenty-pound note, the most recent banknote to be plasticised, may be a filthy lucre which can kill us; we want to sanitise it; the thrill of wealth is over.

The world is fasting, in a certain way, this is an imsak of capitalism, whose Belshazzar’s Feast has abruptly broken up; as for the daytime visitor to the stunned city centre, much is off-limits; as a Ramadan hadith tells us, the devils are chained, sufidat al-shayatin. The wary shoppers are interested not in nice things but in survival; old habits of absentminded browsing seem absurd. Our Prime Minister, baring his hedonist’s soul, has closed the bookshops but kept the off-licenses open; but even they do not seem to be busy. Many people are polite and caring, but everyone is chastened, subdued, sober, watchful.

So Heaven has given us to live in interesting times; we are entering the gravest global crisis in many decades; and it is right for Muslims to reflect, taking advantage of these newly long and quiet days. But before we do so, let us self-quarantine from the panicky and sensational media, let us click away and block up our ears against the second-rate fumbling politicians; let us look from our windows upon the eerie emptiness of the streets, and consider what God might mean by this.

Even the atheist brain knows ours for a time of hubris: we madly ravage and violate nature and walk upon the moon; every other species cringes from us as ecosystems die; our gamed financial system is increasingly parasitical upon the poor. From our human perspective COVID-19 is an infection which disorders our world; but seen from the world’s perspective humanity itself has, over the past age, become a still more deadly disease: like a fungus or a hookworm we suck the blood of the host, multiplying insanely until the ecosystem itself, the planet which we vampirize, starts to sicken and die. Bani Adam, released from the natural restraints urged by religion, has itself become a disease, in its planning and its wisdom no more intelligent than a microbe. We have become a Qarun-virus.

And now God’s world is paying us back with this invisible miasma which makes us afraid even to inhale. Putin and Trump, masters of nuclear arsenals, are staggering back from its influence, discovering, perhaps, the Naqshbandi rule of khush dar dam, mindfulness in every breath. So small an enemy to have overthrown our world: too tiny to see, the corona literally a crown: this microscopic flimsy protein, this almost nothing, is now king of the world.

In this divine irony we remember old fables in the mouse and the elephant genre. The Holy Prophet, whose entire message is a challenge to the love of dunya and fear of death, was born in the Year of the Elephant; how often we repeat that sura, as though it were a nursery rhyme: but Abraha the tyrant remains a perennial symbol of the arrogance which seeks to displace the things of God: the Sira writers tell us that the birds which rained clay pellets upon him and his army also brought a disease, so that their flesh started to rot on their bones while they still lived. It was a kind of terrible Ebola, eating them alive. Faja’alahum ka-asfin ma’kul.

Microbes, then, which are part of the symphony of the world’s balanced ecosystem, also belong to the army of God. At times they serve us through the Divine names al-Razzaq, al-Latif: our stomachs and intestines are crawling with them, and without them we could not digest our dinners; on the land they then break down dead matter and return it to the soil; they limit populations naturally, maintaining the balance, mizan, of creation, in which every species has the right to its space. But at other times, no less necessary for the balance, they serve the Divine names al-Qahhar and al-Muntaqim, the Compeller, the Avenger, and thus did Allah use them to strike down the oligarch Abraha and his elephant, his commandos and his marines.

Allah says that He is with the poor and broken-hearted: ana ‘inda’l-munkasirati qulubuhum. The Qur’an makes us uneasy with its uncompromising prophetic arguments against status, pride and the hoarding of wealth. The sharia, with its zakat and its inheritance laws, aims to break up fortunes, smashing them with the hammer of God’s justice; by contrast the parasitic modern schemes of homo economicus have led to a historically unequalled hoarding of wealth by the global one percent.

The smallest creatures can overthrow the proudest human hubris. And in our time it is the virus that wears the crown, and the mighty who are helpless and humbled. Look at the politicians across Europe who have persecuted the honourable traditions of Islam: it is they, now, who are forced to wear the niqab.

Terrors about death and a love of abundance are more the sunna of Nimrod and Pharoah; they are the way of Abu Jahl, not that of the Seal of the Messengers; as the poets say, they reflect the materialism of the donkey, not of the Jesus who rides it. Our modern attitudes to death are very unrealistic, evasive and stressful: atheist beliefs, which have themselves spread like a virus thanks to the unclean matter which has accumulated in our hearts, persuaded many that clinical death is the end of ourselves. As the Qur’an describes such people, in Surat al-Jathiyah: “They say, it is only our life of this world, we were dead, and we live, and only Time kills us.”

Such people are tragically terrified of death; in fact, this forms the major terrorism which dismays humanity in our age: the wicked threat of a meaningless and eternal nothingness. In the old Arabia the jahili Arabs had no confidence in life after death; but the Man of Praise, in his saddest moment of confronting them, was told: “the next world shall be better for you than this”. And in Surat al-A’la: “you prefer this worldly life, but the next life is better and more permanent.”

Death is a normal and natural part of our frail human reality, and its decree proceeds from an inexorable Divine name al-Mumit, the Slayer. Premodern humanity saw it on every hand, and knew how to cope; rituals helped a good deal, but even more healing was the awareness of the Divine wisdom and mercy. So the Man of Praise said, remarkably: “tuhfat al-mu’min al-mawt”, the precious gift to the believer is death; because he or she moves on from this disappointing world to the world of pure mercy and meaning. True, the Holy Prophet also tells us not to hope for death, “let none of you hope for death”, for our ending is to be by His decree, not our preference. We simply accept it calmly as an entire expression of the Divine wisdom.

This is one reason, no doubt, why believers enjoy better mental health outcomes than atheists; a 2013 Daily Telegraph article, noting the intrinsicality of religious belief to human beings, proposed that atheism itself should be classed as a mental illness. But it is a widespread infection, with ugly psychological symptoms, and in modern Britain this is showing. The monstrous cruelty of atheist beliefs is revealed never more sharply than by the suffering of relatives as they receive the news that a loved one has died in an ICU. A void replaces a soul; there are no timeless rituals; there is not the glimmering of hope.

Islam is quintessentially the religion of submission: not only to God’s amr taklifi: the commandments of sharia, but His amr takwini: His command which shapes every event in the world, including the command which says that we must die. Ours is pre-eminently and proudly the religion of tawakkul, of rida, of taslim.

Thus the wali, the truly Muslim person, is of those whom “la khawfun ‘alayhim wa-la hum yahzanun”: they fear not, neither do they sorrow. For God has commanded us to say: “lan yusibana illa ma kataba’Llahu lana”: nothing will afflict us other than what God has written for us.

So we mourn our dead, and this is a natural and a healing reflex; and we believe in medicine; but we do not panic. Death is a natural part of the glorious system of God’s universe, with its cycles of birth, growth, flourishing fertility, and death, a creation which contains jalal as well as jamal, rigour as well as beauty. As Ibrahim Haqqi, the Turkish poet, writes:

What comes from Thee is good for me,

The rose’s blossom, or the rose’s thorn,

A robe of honour, or my deathly shroud,

Good is Thy gentleness; good is Thy rigour.

The current khawf and huzn, this epidemic of fear and sorrow, which are paralysing our supposedly blasé and sophisticated world, are not only about death however, but about the frailties and precariousness of dunya as well. The FTSE all-share index has dropped through the floor: thirty-five percent in the red, and counting; unemployment is growing ten times as fast as it did after the 2008 financial crisis; businesses are folding and dying. The poor and helpless, on zero-hours contracts and gig economy jobs, are already facing hunger. This will fall heavily on our community: tandoori restaurants and taxi businesses are very vulnerable; failed asylum seekers and the visa-less can even be denied healthcare. As usual the weakest and the poorest suffer most; but this is Ishmael’s fate: we live on the wrong side of the Gaza wall. Again, we reflect that in an age of spiralling inequalities and titanic arrogance, God is always with the weak, the hungry and the despised; the Holy Prophet himself prayed to be resurrected among the destitute.

We need our basics from dunya, we have the right to our qut, our daily bread. But the mad love of consumption which has become modern man’s lethal addiction is hateful to Heaven. The Qur’an says, “Know that the life of this world is only a game and play, and adornment, and boasting among you. And the life of this world is only the enjoyment of beguilement.”

Our product-addiction is murdering Mother Earth; hence our idea that humanity is itself a disease killing its planetary host: we are all the Qarun-virus. But it is killing our souls and our societies as well. The believer is not much given to shopping, although she or he takes pleasure in treating guests well; the Holy Prophet’s home was so simple that his door was not made of wood, but of a simple length of sackcloth. Kun fi’d-dunya ka’annaka gharibun aw abira sabil, he says: “Be in this world as though a stranger or a traveller”.

So the believer, in isolation, is further from dunya, there is a detachment, and he revives some of the key benefits of khalwa or ‘uzla, remembering the possibility of experiencing clear-heartedness when distractions and worldly pleasures are at arm’s length: the Blessed Virgin saw the angel when she was on her own in the desert, and the same angel came to the Best of Creation when he was alone, yatahannath, in the Cave of Hira.

Our moment, then, is an opportunity to reactivate the honourable and richly-rewarding Islamic customs of khalwa and ‘uzla and I’tikaf. Perhaps, if Mr Hancock’s predictions of an unlocking at the end of April come true, it will be a forty-day retreat. Literally, a true quarantine, an arba’in, a chilla. During this time the atheist materialist world will be suffering from boredom, fear and financial anxiety: its dilemma is clear: either leave people in their homes, or revive the economy: the fear of death and the fear of poverty are two agitated giants clashing in their hearts.

To the extent that we have internalised our Islam, we will not suffer much from such clashes or from such fears. The future belongs to Allah, not to man; all is His, and we travel into it as He decrees.

For many people, the confinement is irksome and the purity of spiritual concentration seems like an unrealistic hope: children fight and need exercise, we miss our friends, and, this the greatest pain, in Ramadan we are likely to miss the timeless majesty of our Tarawih prayers. Our hearts miss the mosques, and in this distance we learn how much we need the beautiful and healing forms of our practices, and we realise also with sorrow how impoverished must be the life of the Godless.

But Islam has no priesthood and no consecrated churches; the Chosen One tells us that one of the khasa’is, the special characteristics, of his Umma is that “the whole earth has been made a mosque for me”. In almost every home there is someone who can lead the prayer, even in a basic way; the fasting can proceed in a fully Sharia-valid manner; our zakat al-fitr can still be paid: Islam is entirely doable in our seclusion.

So let us relearn the traditions of seclusion, ‘uzla. And let us not waste time, but seize the opportunity. We can read books more than we ever did before: Ni’ma’l-anisu kitabu, in fataka’l-ashabu. “How good a friend is a book, when friends are unavailable.”

In times of fitna, particularly amid the seditions and sorrows of the end-times, the Prophetic instruction is, firstly, to break your swords: “wa’dribu bi-suyufikum al-hijara”, and to become a piece of furniture in your house: “kun hilsan min ahlasi baytik”. The intention should be to avoid the distractions of the tumultuous outside world: in many countries, for instance, the temptations of the treacherous glance in the underdressed summer months, the risks of improper conversations, of backbiting and slander, or pointless shopping expeditions and extravagant restaurant meals; but our imams, including Imam al-Ghazali, emphasise that the intention must primarily be to keep others safe from our own evils, not to be safe from theirs. By self-isolating, we avoid infecting other people with our bad habits and our poor adab. We now inflict less harm upon the world.

We were all running too fast after dunya, and we need to stop, and draw breath for a while.

And we will pray that the mighty will be humbled, that the dead hand of materialism will be lifted from a frantic and greedy and stressed Bani Adam, and that this be a time of tawba and reflection and return to Haqq not only for the Umma, but for all of humanity, which has suffered from its own sins for too long, and craves the merciful guiding restoration of its heart, by the grace of Heaven.


Ramadan Moments 1 – Straight…

It’s like the two shahadas. La-ilaha-il-Allah Muhammad-ur-rasool-Allah. “There is no god but God.” What should I do about that? The sunnah. Follow the holy prophet, sal-lal-lahu-alayhi-wa-alihi-wa-salam.

We get distracted, that’s our nature. It is said the reason why man is called insaan is because he is full of nissian, forgetfulness. This is one interpretation, poetic perhaps, of what the name of man means. We forget, and we remember, and we forget, and we remember, and we forget that Allah and His grace gives us lots of times and opportunities and days and months to go back to Him.

The believer is between fear and hope. Fear and hope are like the two wings of a bird. If they’re balanced the bird travels, it goes right, in a balanced way. So we have to have fear as well as hope. Life is not just about enjoying the pasture, life is all about having a direction. You’re not always going to be in this field where you’re munching the grass happily. You came in through a gate, you’re going out through another gate. That’s the iron rule of life for Bani Adam and for every living thing. You came in through a gate, you’re going out through another gate. So don’t spend too much time just thinking this pasture and this joyful munching is going to go on forever.

This is the nature of Bani Adam, that we have these two enormous impulses, just as we have these two enormous spiritual principles within us. There’s the nafs, which is gravitational, animalistic, it wants to go down, subject to the laws of gravity, and it is interested in every possible way the endorphin circuits of the brain might be tickled. Any pleasure and it’ll be really interested in it, like a dog that looks excitedly in the direction of anything that smells good. That’s us. But there’s also this ruh, this spirit, which is from the divine breathing in, insufflation. Adam had the divine spirit breathed into it…The lower self, the nafs, doesn’t really have a direction, it goes this way and that just like any instinct or creature. It goes where ever the pleasure seems to be greater. The goat goes for whatever looks tastiest. That’s us…So we have these two dimensions within us, the one which is going this way and that…The ego is like a fox, it is slimy, it wants to get out of difficulties, it wants to tell fibs in order to extricate itself, it twists and turns, it is devious. But the spirit, what we truly are, the ruh, which remembers the day of alas-tu-bi-rabi-kum, just wants to go straight back, straight for the light.


Ramadan Moments 2 – Own Your Wealth…

The Holy Prophet says, sallallahu alayhi wa sallam, “If a man were to have a whole valley full of gold, he would want to have a second valley full of gold. But at the end only dust will fill his mouth.” Another of our deep problems as human beings is this hubbul-maal, this love of wealth. It’s no coincidence that some of the very first verses of the Holy Quran to be revealed were condemnations of this human sleepy acquisition of stuff. A futile exercise because the more we have the more we tend to want.

Al-haku-mut-ta-ka-thur. “Rivalry in worldly increase has distracted you.” There’s three important lessons in those two words, not just the problematic nature of wanting worldly increase, but the fact that we compete with each other. “This guy’s got a billion, I want to have two billion or I can’t sleep.”

And then the fact that al-hakum, “it distracts you.” Hat-ta-zur-tu-mul-ma-kay-bir, “until you go to the graves.” All of these people, at the very last moments of their lives, are still checking the FTSE and the Dow Jones, just to see what’s happening to their fortune. They can’t see the dark mouth of death yawning in front of them, waiting to swallow them whole. But this is how we are, but at the end only dust will fill our mouths.

The Holy Prophet, salallahu alayhi wa sallam, says in a hadith Qudsi, “Oh son of Adam, do you own any of your wealth, except for something which you end up eating and you pass it on (you pass it away, it goes through you, it’s no longer yours, you destroy it)? Or you wear it and you wear it out? Or you give it in sadaqa and make it eternal?” This is the irony. We think “If I give ten pounds to the Cambridge Muslim College, I’ll be ten pounds poorer.” Nope! Actually, you’re poorer if you hold on to it because it’s not going to go with you into the grave. But the sadaqat, the investments, the deposits, in the eternal bank, this transaction which never diminishes, this hisaab, this account which is the account of the akhira. The believer knows this and with an expression of pain perhaps he produces his zakat, when he can, as much as he can, and his sadaqa, and his lilla, and his zakatul-fitr. But there’s an element of pain, which is foolish because he’s actually liable to lose these things. He may not even enjoy them himself if he walks around during his life, with all of these coins jingling in his pocket. What should he do? Put them in the bank. But not the bank of this corporation or that corporation that may or may not, in the current reckless world of casino capital and financial freefall, go on. But instead the only bank which, once the deposit has been made with a “Bismillah,” will keep it for eternity and will yield dividends eternally. That’s intelligence, that’s wisdom.

This condemnation of al-haku-mut-ta-ka-thur was from the very beginning of revelation, but is absolutely appropriate to our time now. And Islam is the religion that says give and give and give…Give, give, give. We are people who are muta-sad-diqeen, who give.

The holy Prophet, sallallahu alayhi wa sallam, was more generous and swift in giving, doing good, then the wind let loose. In other words, there’s no hisaab, there’s no calculation, he just gives and gives and gives because he’s not afraid of poverty.

We like to have those coins jingling in our pockets. There’s a story that says that when the first gold and silver coins were minted, created when somebody first had this idea, Iblees raised them and put them to his eyes and kissed them and said “Whoever loves you is in reality my slave, my servant.”

The age of wealth has become the age of loneliness as well. But ours is not the ummah of loneliness, ours is the ummah of solidarity, ummah-tul-wahida, a single ummah, and we are to be an exemplary community to show how human beings can and should be together, in solidarity, in cooperation, in sharing, not in hoarding but in sharing, in giving. We are to be open handed people.

May Allah make us people of giving, people who are not misers, people who are open hearted and open handed, an example to an increasingly lonely and selfish and self-centred age.