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…
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?