I CANNOT BE SUPERIOR IF YOU ARE NOT INFERIOR

Black-Deaths-Matter

In 1956 the celebrated author Robert Penn Warren wrote about racism in America. He described how there is a “national rhythm” related to race matters that sways gratuitously between “complacency and panic.” We certainly know which way the pendulum is swinging at the moment. If Warren is right in his analysis, then the question arises as to how do you find your way out of this rhythm? Warren himself spoke of needing leadership grounded in “moral identity” in order to “break out”, and God only knows what “moral identity” means in this post-Trump universe we all seem to be imprisoned in.

Another way to “break out” is to inject your intellect with new ideas and new perspectives, told by voices old or new. The most obvious voices belong to the serious people, be they historians, academics, and such like. Joseph Harker is one such example. Harker is the Guardian newspaper’s deputy opinion editor as well as the former editor and publisher of the weekly newspaper Black Briton. He recently made the following observation:

If I hear one more white person say “Black Lives Matter” I think my head will explode. The slogan, powerful when first popularised by black people after the shooting of Trayvon Martin in 2012 in the US, has now become so ubiquitous as to have lost almost all meaning. A way for people to endlessly repeat “I hate racism” while doing nothing to actually stop it…You can say “Black Lives Matter” a million times but it will change nothing…To make lasting change, we ultimately have to get off the streets and into the rooms where these decision-makers operate…Black Lives Matter is a catchy slogan. But right now, action is what really matters. – Joseph Harker, 11 Jun 2020, theguardian.com

As well as Trayvon Martin, Harker was also referring to the murder of George Floyd, the aftermath of which has unleashed an international conversation on questions of race and racism. And it seems everybody has an opinion, a voice they wish to share. Here we have the American-Korean designer Courtney Ahn with her simple but honest take on ‘white privilege’:

White privilege doesn’t mean your life hasn’t been hard, it doesn’t mean you haven’t experienced prejudice, hardship, or earned your successes, but it does mean that your life hasn’t been harder because of your skin tone. – Courtney Ahn

But there are other voices that I think should be heard too. These voices belong to comedians and satirists who, believe it or not, have also expressed deep and thoughtful pronouncements regarding the murder of George Floyd. But why listen to the non-serious people? Well, during a crisis comedians do the impossible task of finding what’s funny about a dire scenario, thus giving us permission to laugh. They also keep us informed about important issues in an entertaining and digestible way.

For example, the Marx Brothers released classic movies like Duck Soup during the Great Depression, providing a cheap laugh (in a good way) amid grave economic uncertainty. The black American stand-up Dick Gregory satirized the inequality and discrimination faced by black Americans during the height of the civil rights struggle (he also managed to back up his words with sustained activism). And in the sombre days after 9/11, the return of comedy institutions like Saturday Night Live signalled that irony was far from dead. And today we need humour more than usual, a fact that is not lost on the black actress Taylor Garron:

Even as a satirist, it’s admittedly not the easiest (or the most helpful) thing for me to find humour in police brutality, white supremacy, and the seemingly endless fight for Black people’s rights. It can feel hopeless, inappropriate, and sometimes even damaging to use comedy to bring attention to something so serious and so urgent. But at the same time, I think that using humour is an effective way to highlight the hypocrisy and cast light onto blind spots that even the best-intentioned allies can perpetuate. – Taylor Garron

With that in mind, here are a few quotes from comedians related to current events. We begin with the late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel who recently said something similar to Courtney Ahn:

White privilege doesn’t mean your life hasn’t been hard, it just means the colour of your skin isn’t one of the things that makes it harder. – Jimmy Kimmel

And then you have comments such as these:

The police are a reflection of a society. They’re not a rogue alien organization that came down to torment the black community. They’re enforcing segregation. Segregation is legally over, but it never ended. The police are, in some respects, a border patrol, and they patrol the border between the two Americas. We have that so that the rest of us don’t have to deal with it. Then that situation erupts, and we express our shock and indignation…The root of this problem is the society that we’ve created that contains this schism, and we don’t deal with it, because we’ve outsourced our accountability to the police…We use the police as surrogates to quarantine these racial and economic inequalities so that we don’t have to deal with them. – Jon Stewart, 15 Jun 2020, nytimes.com

It actually makes me feel good that white people are showing the level of passion for black people that they normally reserve for animals. – Larry Wilmore, 12 Jun 2020, from the TV show Real Time With Bill Maher, referring to white people joining Black Lives Matter protests

I’m mixed race. If there are reparations for slavery, I’ll owe myself a fortune. – Andy J White, 19 Jun 2020

And then you have the following videos, all featuring well known comedians, that have really helped me to understand these complex issues in a new way. I hope they help you too. As best as one can in these turbulent times, enjoy…


Dave Chappelle

Arguably the greatest living stand-up on the planet, Chappelle delivers a blistering 27-minute set that cuts straight to the brutality of the murder of an innocent African-American. At one point he muses “Why would anyone care what their favourite comedian thinks after they saw a police officer kneel on a man’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds?” After listening to his passionate and urgent lament, it is clear that we should all care.


Trevor Noah

Noah, a bi-racial South African who has made it big in the States, spends 18 reflective minutes telling us about the domino effect, or how some things are more connected than you may realise. He also discusses the “unspoken contract” that exists between us all, and how this contract seems to be broken for black people in America.


Hasan Minhaj

Minhaj, a Muslim like his fellow comedian Dave Chappelle, offers many home truths in just 12 minutes about how we all perhaps need to reflect more, including Muslims as well as angsty white teenagers.


Bill Maher

You have polytheism (belief in more than one God), monotheism (belief in only one God), agnosticism (belief in sitting on some imaginary theological fence), and atheism (belief in no God). And then you have your anti-theists, a militant form of atheism where people believe that believing in God in any way is completely stupid, and they’re not afraid to speak their mind about it. Maher is just such a guy, so perhaps I, a practising Muslim, should steer clear of anything he has to say. Trouble is he often says things I happen to agree with, and this 5-minute rant about how easy it is for white people to be “helping wrong” because of the “guardians of ‘gotcha’” is a perfect example.


Honorary mentions go out to an 8-minute video of Keegan-Michael Key, one half of comedy duo Key and Peele, who, in an interview with Stephen Colbert, gives his thoughts on racism, with reference to Trevor Noah and the aforementioned “unspoken contract.”

Likewise, author Kimberly Jones very passionately explains the difference between protesting, rioting, and looting, all in under 7 minutes. She too refers to Trevor Noah and some of his earlier comments.

And finally, Dr Robin DiAngelo, author of White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard For White People To Talk About Racism, shares many of her thoughts and experiences in an interview on CNN. The 17-minute interview took place in September of 2018, but CNN consider it so relevant they recently released an extended version of it. A few selected quotes are also presented.

It takes very little to set white people off, to set us off into defensiveness. So, for many white people, the mere suggestion that white has meaning will cause us to erupt in defensiveness. For many of your listeners, the fact that I’m generalizing right now about white people, will set off the defensiveness. Individualism is a really precious ideology for white people, and we do not like to be generalized about.

It’s a kind of delusion. I think that some people have said when you’re used to 100 percent, 98 feels oppressive. As a white person I was just raised to expect the world to be mine, in absolutely any field. I see myself represented. I see myself represented in all my teachers and my curriculum and my heroes and heroines. And so, just even a suggestion that we need to make sure we’re being fair and including other people, seems to set the white collective off.

Toni Morrison beautifully argues that white people need black people. There is no white without black. I cannot be superior if you are not inferior. And so, there’s a kind of investment in those positions. And it’s the bedrock of this country. It’s maybe buried in a way that it wasn’t in the past, but it sure looks like it’s coming back up.

MUSLIMS DON’T EAT TOYS. FACT.

Nana

Why is all of society basically dumb and bad and deserving of our contempt? Maybe it’s because we all now live in a political and media Bizarro World, a world where scepticism is the default, news is indistinguishable from entertainment, and entertainers have usurped public authority from the country’s political leaders (a footballer causes the British government to do an embarrassing political U-turn – need I say more). As such, the world has been reduced to something worth completely ignoring. This is a hard time, friends, a hard time indeed. But then again, what do I know? According to the wife, nothing, nothing at all. Less than useless, so I am repeatedly informed.

So how do we fight against this tide of moral regress? I have no idea. Maybe we could all take a pause every now and then and have a damn good chuckle at the craziness of it all. Maybe we could let some funny tweets and quotes take our anxiety-filled minds off the news for just a few minutes. Well, except for the tweets that are specifically about how hard this time is now, and how terribly everybody in power is acting. It’ll probably be hard to forget about the world when you’re reading those. Sorry about that. Aside from that, some of these tweets and quotes are surreal and stupid, but I guess them’s just the times we live in, baby. As best as one can, please enjoy!

PS I’ve also added in a few cartoons from the always on-point Mr Fish, as well as links to videos featuring two up and coming Muslim comedians, begging for stardom-scraps at homogenised reality TV talent shows. As previously stated, enjoy…

Tina

Black people are getting sick. I blame institutionalized racism and elaborate handshakes. – Mark Normand, Jun 2020, referring to COVID-19

CUSTOMER: Why has your colleague got a larger plastic face covering than you? SHOP ASSISTANT: That’s the supervisor. – Glenny Rodge, Jun 2020

Do we have any feminists here tonight, by applause? Wow! A lot of single ladies. It’s so hard if you’re on a date to be like “Whoo! The future is female! Are you still gonna pay for everything? Is that deal still on the table? I’m more of a feminist in the mornings when nobody’s trying to buy me anything.” Hey ladies, maybe we should start paying for our own dinner and drinks, really let guys know we’re serious about this equality thing. Really…I’m just kidding around! Why would we do that? No. I think it’s the responsibility of a man you just met online to feed you. He’s got the option to kill you later, so I feel like that’s fair. You put in all the risk. At least get a nice meal out of it. – Bonnie McFarlane

Don’t fight with Gen Z, you can’t win. Once when I was teaching an SAT prep class, I told everyone to “quiet down” and one girl just said “Haha, ok sweater!” (because I was wearing a sweater.) Every single one laughed at me. – Paul McCallion, Jun 2020

Due to this pandemic we’ve all been sitting at home watching Netflix for 6 months. People ask me “What are you watching?” and I’m like “I’m watching my life pass me by.” – Mark Normand, Jun 2020

I am a feminist and a vegan, so you know my sense of humour is top-shelf…I love being a vegan. I consume no animals or animal by-products of any kind. I do eat eggs though, because I’m also pro-choice. – Bonnie McFarlane

I don’t understand how COVID-19 is worse than ever after we’ve tried everything, from pretending it’s over to pretending it never happened. – Zack Bornstein, Jun 2020

I used to get teased quite a lot at school because I bore a slight resemblance to a bowl of custard, but luckily I had quite a thick skin. – Olaf Falafel

I’m officially leaving Twitter. I spend way too much time on here. Take care everyone. I’ll be back in 5 minutes. – @Iovejutsu

Imagine how excited barn owls were when humans invented barns. – Nate Swick

It’s a crazy country we live in. Eventually all this will be over. That’s something to look forward to. The pandemic will end, the police brutality will end, and then we’ll be right back to school shootings. What a nation! – Mark Normand, Jun 2020

I’ve FINALLY found out what chronology is. And it’s about time. – @NickMotown

John Bolton saving his story about Trump approving of concentration camps is like an aging sitcom actress writing a tell-all about what REALLY happened on the set of Designing Women. Thanks for the info and fuck off. – Billy Eichner, Jun 2020

Looting target is un-American. The real American thing to do is loot Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan, Vietnam, Mexico, Cuba, Panama, Haiti, Nicaragua, Jamaica, North Korea, Guatemala, the Philippines, the Dominican Republic, Guyana, Chile, Cambodia, Angola, El Salvador. – Jaboukie Young-White, May 2020

NEWS: Growing concerns about COVID-19 spikes because of protests. ALSO NEWS: The gym is open! Go on! They miss you! Hit up Vegas on your way! – Janelle James, Jun 2020

Nobody is walking up to a statue to learn history. Now, a pedestal with a statue missing? Something happened here. Time to learn what fucked up shit this guy did that got his metal ass removed. – @SwiftOnSecurity, Jun 2020

OMG LOL, my 4-year-old just put down her Legos and said “99% of Trump voters are worse off in every way now, but still support him, taking solace in the hollow victory of communal racism as they are willingly robbed blind and stripped of their constitutional rights.” – Zack Bornstein, May 2020

People are getting angry about this pandemic. Everybody’s pent up, everybody’s worked up. Some people are mad at Asian people. Asian people love the riots, they’re like “Woo! Heat’s off us for a minute.” I saw a bunch of people online saying racist shit to Asian people. Look, if you’re gonna type a bunch of racist shit to Asian people, don’t do it from an iPhone. Have some respect for the kid who made it. – Mark Normand, Jun 2020

So, I’m married. This is the sadder part of the show…At one point I got so mad at my husband that I gave him the silent treatment for a week. At the end of it he was like “We’ve been getting along pretty good lately.” – Bonnie McFarlane

Someone bought me a pair of skinny jeans for my birthday. A guy came up to me in the street and said “Take those jeans off! You look gay.” I said “I’ll tell you what’s gay mate, you asking me to take my jeans off.” And then he kicked the shit out of me. A couple of you got a bit tense there. You thought “Oh no, a Cockney guy talking about gays. He’s going to be offensive.” You can all relax, because I’m now going to do a bit about Muslims. No, I really am, so here we go. I try not to read newspapers. I’m sure we’re all smart enough to know newspapers are not about news anymore, they’re full of shit. It’s about keeping us divided. There was this headline from the worst newspaper of them all, the Sun. The headline was “This little piggy gets removed for religious reasons.” What happened was a toy shop removed the toy pig from a farm set so they didn’t offend Muslims. Now, I don’t know if anyone here knows this but Muslims don’t eat toys. That’s a fact. That is a fact. Nobody eats toys. – Wilson Milton

The day begins when I bring my charger from the bedroom into the couch area. – Natalie Walker

The sum of the shredded cabbage multiplied by the total amount of carrot is equal to the square root of the mayonnaise. That’s Cole’s Law. – @trouteyes

They interviewed R Kelly about this virus. He was like “COVID-19? Nope, too old for me.” – Mark Normand, Jun 2020

Trump only has two modes, menacing sociopath or limp French fry that’s been sitting in the bottom of the bag soaking up all the oil…I know our brains have all melted from the constant flagrant lawlessness and overall weirdness of this administration, and nothing feels real anymore, and we’re all just programmed to move on to the next thing because Trump will inevitably do something bizarre the next day, like throw a tantrum in the Rose Garden or rub up against the flag like a horny 16-year-old at prom. – Seth Meyers, Jun 2020

Very American to decide we are bored with COVID-19 and therefore it is over. – Jeff Kasanoff, May 2020

We’re fat here in America. We did it! [Waves her arm and chants] USA! USA! Oh no, my arm is tired. That was too much exercise. You know when someone breaks up with you, and they gain weight, and that makes you really happy? I bet that’s how England feels about us. “Hey America, you look different. How’s math and science?” [Winks] – Michelle Wolf

Monster

For more laughs please check out these videos featuring comedians Usama Siddiquee and Nabil Abdul Rashid…

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.

THE IDEAL TIME FOR REFLECTION

Spongebob

Muslims around the world now find themselves in the blessed month of Ramadan. However, as seems to always be the case here in Britain, the month started on different days yet again, with some beginning on Friday and the rest on Saturday. Despite this usual different days debacle, can I just say Ramadan Mubarak to you all, which means ‘blessed Ramadan’ or ‘happy Ramadan’. Or some might prefer the alternative greeting of Ramadan Kareem, which means ‘may Ramadan be generous to you’.

I’ll make this intro quick because I would rather you spent your time reading the following articles. The first two are about how Muslims are coping during this blessed month in the strangest of times. The final two are totally non-pandemic related, as one is about how Muslims in the UK are unfairly portrayed in such negative terms, and the other is about possible historical links between Islam and the British royal family. All articles are presented in full, to hopefully stop you from going down the internet rabbit hole. As best as one can given, you know, all that is going on in the world, enjoy…


As Ramadan Starts, Muslim Doctors Fight Hunger, Thirst — And The Coronavirus

Kevin Baxter, 24 Apr 2020, latimes.com

When Dr. Imran Siddiqui went to bed Thursday night, he set the alarm for 4:30 a.m.

As the director for both the Desert Valley Medical Group in Victorville and a nearby nursing home, Siddiqui’s days have been long and stressful since the COVID-19 pandemic began its deadly assault on California more than six weeks ago. But it’s faith as much as duty that will require him to rise early each morning for the next month.

Because in addition to being a doctor, Siddiqui is a devout Muslim, and like thousands of other faithful first responders, he will be waking before dawn for a large breakfast, then going without food and water throughout the daylight hours of Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting that ends May 23.

“My weakness in Ramadan is not food, it’s not water,” Siddiqui said. “It’s coffee. I need to have a cup of coffee in the morning. Or two cups.”

The fast is obligatory, one of the five pillars of Islam. Yet for frontline healthcare workers, observing it could be extra difficult this year. The novel coronavirus has overwhelmed emergency rooms and intensive care units, infecting more than 9,000 U.S. healthcare providers and killing more than two dozen, according to a study released earlier this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Uneven reporting across the country, the CDC added, means the real numbers are almost certainly much higher.

And that has some doctors and Islamic scholars questioning whether working long hours in a challenging environment without food and water is wise.

“This has been a discussion,” said Dr. Faisal Qazi, a neurologist and an assistant professor at Western University and UC Riverside. “In Ramadan fasting, you’re not hydrated, so it’s different than other forms of intermittent fasting.”

The use of personal protective equipment, including masks, could increase the chances of dehydration. Religious officials in the United Arab Emirates have said that those treating COVID-19 patients there are exempt from fasting, but most Islamic leaders in the United States insist healthy caregivers here should have little problem fasting.

“This COVID-19 situation doesn’t really change that normality,” said Dr. Aasim I. Padela, an emergency medicine physician at the University of Chicago Medical Center and director of the Initiative on Islam and Medicine. “Now what has been a concern is that frontline workers like me who are fasting and making very critical decisions or surgeons who are making critical decisions … people are saying it might be more difficult, I might become more dehydrated because I have to wear all these extra layers of protection.

“That’s a credible concern although there’s no data that I know of to show that.”

In any case, Islamic law allows followers to opt out of a fast under certain circumstances, such as illness or other hardship, and make it up later in the year. The strain of working in a COVID-19 ward would certainly qualify for an exemption.

“Fasting is hard,” said Muzammil Siddiqi, religious director for the Islamic Society of Orange County. “But some things are much harder. If it is for their work, for their health, that will be an acceptable excuse.”

Dr. Muna Beg won’t be looking for an out. An ICU doctor who treats COVID-19 patients at two hospitals in Alameda County, Beg has been observing the Ramadan fast since she was 7. And while the first few days are always tough, after that “for Muslims in Ramadan, it’s Zen-like,” she said. “It’s a very personal experience.”

“I don’t have a clinical study to support this, but I can definitely attest to the fact that if you’re in a place where I’ve eliminated food or whatever my crutch might be, I find that hypersense of awareness does make me more present.”

Siddiqui agrees.

“You are more and more focused. You don’t waste time,” he said. “I feel like our religion is a boost. I don’t know if it’s a spiritual thing or if it’s something in the air, but it’s a little bit energizing.”

Muslim medical personnel have been on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19 all over the world. The first four doctors to die from the virus in England were Muslim immigrants, and in New York City, a hotbed of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States, more than 10% of the pharmacists, clinical laboratory technicians and doctors are Muslim, according to the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.

The percentage is even greater in Michigan where healthcare workers have paid a high price with more than a thousand employees of the Henry Ford Health System testing positive.

“The first two weeks in April were as challenging as it’s been,” said Dr. Mohammed Rehman, a neurologist who has seen his time in the ICU nearly double this month. “But I also saw a lot of people come together during this.”

Rehman also sees the Ramadan fast as something that will strengthen, not weaken, him.

“It was meant to reconnect you back with your faith, it’s not meant to put a burden on that you can’t even function anymore,” he said.

The greater challenge could center on the five prayers — at dawn, midday, afternoon, sunset and night — that Muslims are called to make each day. Since it’s inconvenient to bring a prayer rug into a hospital now and inappropriate for a doctor to strip out of their PPE, Padela will substitute a towel or clean sheet for a rug and pray in his protective clothing and mask.

Beg, the Alameda County ICU doctor, will sometimes use a chair rather than risk contaminating her PPE by praying on the ground.

“The whole world is stretching their PPE further than I wish it was,” she said. And if she can’t leave a patient to pray at the right time, she’ll combine two prayers when she can get away.

“The way my mom always taught me about Islam is God is not cruel,” she said. “So whatever situation you’re in, you should be able to be adaptable.”

COVID-19 has put limits on that though. In normal times, many Muslims would gather with family or in mosques for the evening prayer, but social distancing regulations have forced mosques to close, leaving the faithful to pray at home.

“I can’t even visit my parents now,” Rehman said. “I can’t go anywhere. So the community events, I would say, I will miss this year quite a bit.”

The coronavirus is not just punishing those who are infected and those who are treating them. Siddiqui said it’s also punishing the families. Each night he has to strip in the garage and put his medical clothes in the washer, then take a shower before he can greet his wife. And whatever plans they have for the evening are often interrupted by calls from the hospital or nursing home.

“‘Doctor, this patient’s coughing, he’s feverish. Should we test for COVID? What do you want us to do?’” Siddiqui said, imitating the kinds of calls that have become a nightly routine.

“It’s not just coming to work. The mental toll that this has taken on me and my colleagues is unprecedented. I feel like just, you know, crying almost.”

For the next 30 days, he’ll be handling that stress with both a renewed faith and an empty stomach.


Ramadan During Coronavirus May Seem Disheartening But It’s The Ideal Time For Reflection

Heba Shaheed, 24 Apr 2020, theguardian.com

As an introvert, I am really looking forward to spending this month focusing inwards, without the burden of social responsibility.

It is going to be a very different Ramadan this year due to the Covid-19 global pandemic and the social isolation laws. For 1.8 billion Muslims around the world, the cultural traditions and customs of this religious month of fasting will have to be forsaken for the safety of the global community. As an introvert, I am really looking forward to spending this month focusing inwards, without the burden of social responsibility.

Ramadan in 2020 means no communal gatherings in mosques for “tarawih” night prayers, no large “iftar” dinners with family and friends at sunset to break the day’s fast, and, sadly, restrictions on celebrating Eid, the biggest social holiday for Muslims signalling the end of Ramadan.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the lunar Islamic calendar, and involves fasting from food, water and marital relations from dawn to dusk for 29-30 days. Though cultural traditions have depicted Ramadan as a month of “feasting” and socialisation, in reality, the pure religious tenets stress Ramadan as a month of extreme self-discipline and self-mastery, concepts that I constantly strive for.

The current coronavirus rules involve hygiene practices that Muslims are encouraged to do in general daily life. Muslims believe that cleanliness is half of faith, and we perform “wudu”, which is a ritual purification that involves handwashing and washing the face, arms and feet five times a day before each obligatory prayer.

Self-discipline when it comes to physical acts of worship is a part of the heritage of Islam. However, the true essence of Ramadan has been diluted, and dare I say, lost, through the generations. The struggle for us today lies in the matters of the heart and the soul, and connecting at a deeper, more authentic level, to our sense of self and to our creator.

Unfortunately, today Muslims often subjugate themselves and put the needs of others over our own physical, mental and spiritual needs. We frantically prepare large family dinners, and with the lockdown and children at home every day, this struggle can be magnified. It could simply be a matter of perspective, where a shift into a spiritual reflective state – a state of being rather than doing – could help maximise our affinity.

The focus of Ramadan can move away from food preparation and “eating at sunset”, to self-improvement and self-discipline. There can be a tendency to overeat at these large iftars due to the spread of food available. However, now, without the self-induced obligation of hosting or attending iftars, meals can be prepared with a focus on simplicity and aligned with Islamic principles.

Islam teaches that any food consumption should be to the fullness of one third of the stomach, with another third for water, and the last third for air. Muslims are highly discouraged from overeating and from wasting. Furthermore, any food that is consumed must be “halal” and “tayyib”. Tayyib means that the food eaten must be wholesome and good for you. Ramadan is the best time to discipline the self to eat healthy fresh food and in smaller proportions.

Ramadan is also known as the month of the Qur’an, as this is the month in which the Islamic scripture was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. We Muslims place a heavy emphasis on connecting to the Qur’an during this month, through daily recitations and reflections, or attending the mosque for congregational night prayers (tarawih) where the Imam aims to recite the entire scripture in the prayers over the month so that we can reflect as we listen.

In this time of physical distancing, as Muslims we will be forced to reconnect to our God and the Qur’an on a deeply intimate level. Interestingly enough, this is the authentic practice of Prophet Muhammad. He would isolate himself for days in a cave at the top of a mountain to introspect, reflect, worship and connect with God. During the last 10 days of Ramadan, he was known to self-isolate in a spiritual seclusion practice known as “itikāf”.

In the time of Prophet Muhammad, tarawih night prayers were initially prayed in congregation for three days, however from the fourth night onwards Prophet Muhammad prayed tarawih in his own home, saying “O people! Perform your [tarawih] prayers at your homes, for the best prayer of a person is what is performed at his home except the compulsory congregational prayer.”

I believe the authentic spirit of Ramadan is one of self-discipline, introspection, self-discovery and self-development. Ramadan during the global pandemic may seem disheartening at a superficial level, however I honestly feel that it arrives at an ideal time.

You have the choice to embrace this Ramadan with a focus on deep connection and one-on-one intimacy with God through prayer and reflection. I plan to spend this next month practising self-compassion and self-mastery, and I invite everyone to join me in this journey of holistic growth and connection.


The Majority Of Sexual Offenders Are White Men – There Is No ‘Muslim Problem’ With Sexual Grooming

Faima Bakar, 02 Apr 2020, metro.co.uk

Our series The State of Racism has been running over the past six weeks to illuminate just how prevalent racism is in the UK.

We’ve also been highlighting the unique dilemmas faced by certain groups, from black mums, to South Asian Muslims.

But every time I have written about Muslims, I have received one recurring comment, on my Facebook, Twitter, emails and in the article comments – ‘what about the grooming gangs?’.

Why is this brought up every time I mention an obstacle faced by Muslims? Do the crimes of a few speak for all Muslims?

Obviously not, but it seems that frequent reference to Muslim grooming gangs is specifically being used to shut down important discussions about islamophobia.

And while it’s difficult to measure the ethnicity of sexual offenders, there is clear evidence in many reports that the majority have been white men, not Asian Muslims.

Almost 85 per cent of offenders found guilty of sexual activity with a minor in England and Wales in 2011 were white while four per cent were Asian.

Some have reported even higher figures, claiming that the number for white male offenders is 90 per cent.

To cite more recent stats, a 2017 report concluded that while there isn’t many available data in the area, the data we do have shows a large majority of those convicted of sexual offences (no matter the age of the victim) are white.

This may be due to having a higher proportion of white people in the UK and while it is concerning that some Muslim men make up a disproportionate number of offenders (which I discussed in an earlier article), the issue is that it seems to be framed as an exclusively ‘Muslim problem’.

There is nothing inherently about Islam that promotes this kind of behaviour.

To say it’s an intrinsically Muslim problem is a lazy, transparent tactic – and the inaccuracies behind these claims need to be dismantled in order to move the conversation on.

White men that make up these large figures don’t speak for all white men. So why do the crimes of some Muslim men typify all Muslim men?

Grooming gangs are only depicted to be an Asian or ‘Muslim’ problem because of a few high-profile cases and the media’s penchant to overreport certain types of stories.

The reasons people seem to be so consistently hung up on this issue is twofold; first because it reinforces already-held racist stereotypes of Muslim men as threatening and regressive.

And secondly, because the most oft-cited cases of sexual grooming involve white, working-class girls and women.

In the sexual exploitation cases of Rochdale and Rotherham in Yorskhire, there was extraordinary neglect against the, mostly white, victims aged 12-16.

How they were treated was largely due to classism and misogyny.

The girls were from working-class backgrounds, which is often thought to signify laziness or fecklessness.

And they suffered misogyny – thought to be ‘available’ – a kind of oppression assigned to anyone who looks like a girl or woman and wears anything ‘suggestive’.

Consider this – had the victims also been of Asian and/or Muslim descent, would the uproar be the same?

There are actually Muslim victims of sexual exploitation but they’re often missed because of the focus on white victims.

We can also ask: if the perpetrators were also white – would their race be mentioned?

In this case, one of the most reported aspects was the commonality of the gangs – in terms of their ethnic and religious background.

The fact that whiteness so often goes unchecked and becomes an invisible default is one of the reasons we launched The State of Racism.

Granted, sexual abuse should always be taken seriously. But there is only one thing in common with sexual predators – the crimes they’ve committed.

But their background is oft mentioned because there’s an appetite to be fed about how backward Muslims are.

We see the same thing happen in cases of terrorism where attacks by Muslims receive 357 per cent more press attention then when white people do it.

These grooming gang cases are complex and there are racial elements to it – the perpetrators saw the girls as ‘easy meat’ because they were white and thought to be sexually loose.

This is, unquestionably, appalling and discriminatory behaviour from these Asian men.

Not all Muslims follow this backward way of thinking though.

And it’s not to say that Muslims have no problem with grooming either, quite the opposite. Islam as a religion is peaceful and vehemently opposes sexual violence.

Yorkshire police also admitted to being reluctant to report the men due to fears of racism accusations.

But arresting dangerous men, especially where there is evidence, is not racist.

Major neglect like this occurs because the UK is so ill-equipped to discuss and identify what racism really is.

Some people are more worried about looking racist, than they are concerned about doing the right thing.

These young girls were failed twice; by the men in their community who saw them as nothing but easy targets to quench their dark thirsts, and by the police who had their own interests in mind.

But they were not failed by all Muslims.

The way we see it, the men denounce themselves from Islam the moment they commit grotesque crimes.

So when they do commit them, they’re doing it as bad and dangerous men. Not as Muslim men.

These gangs deserve all our condemnation for the crimes they commit, but let’s not frame this as an intrinsically Muslim problem.


King Henry II: The Muslim Monarch Of Medieval England?

Claudia Gold , 06 Apr 2020, historyextra.com

In the 12th century, furious with the archbishop of Canterbury, England’s King Henry II threatened to forsake Christianity for Islam. But how serious was he? And what would have happened if he’d actually converted? Writing for BBC History Magazine, Claudia Gold investigates.

In the spring of 1168, Henry II, King of England, wrote to Pope Alexander III. While correspondence between monarch and pontiff was a matter of course, this letter was notable for the menace it projected. For Henry was threatening to convert to Islam.

It was not unusual for Henry to issue threats: they were fundamental to his arsenal of kingship, as vital as his carefully calculated thunderous outbursts, his diplomacy, the legendary speed at which he drove his armies and his unsurpassable siege warfare in inspiring awe among his adversaries. Henry did not discriminate between the recipients of his threats, from the pope to the lowly electors of Winchester, whom he once ordered to “hold a free election” but forbade “to elect anyone but Richard my clerk”.

But this was of a different order altogether. Since 1097, European crusaders had been fighting the forces of Islam in the Middle East and tenaciously hanging on to their conquests: the kingdom of Jerusalem, the principality of Antioch, the counties of Edessa and Tripoli. Muslims were seen as Christendom’s enemies.

Moreover, Henry was not simply King of England: he was also the Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, Count of Maine, Anjou and Touraine, master of vast swathes of France. One of the world’s most powerful men, he held sway from the Scottish borders to the Middle East, where his uncles ruled the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem. If Henry was serious, the ramifications across 12th-­century Europe would be seismic.

Could this, then, have been more than Henry’s characteristic bombast? Is it possible that he meant what he said?

Henry was familiar with Islam. He would have studied the works of Petrus Alfonsi, physician to his grandfather Henry I, who wrote the earliest credible account of Muhammad, as well as Peter the Venerable, who ordered the first translation of the Qur’an into Latin. Although he saw Islam as a heresy, Peter thought it the greatest of all heresies – the one that most deserved to be answered.

Alongside Islam, Henry also developed an admiration for Arabic learning from an early age. He had received an outstanding education from scholars versed in the ‘new’ knowledge that was exploding out of Sicily, Spain and the Middle East. Western Europe had never experienced such an intellectually exciting period as the 12th century – later dubbed the 12th­century renaissance – fed by a rediscovery of the classical thinkers of Greece and Rome (particularly Christian Rome after Constantine’s conversion), and by contact with the Arab world and its rich intellectual tradition in astronomy, medicine, music, architecture and mathematics.

Henry’s parents – heeding the lesson from the monk William of Malmesbury that “a king without letters is [just] an ass with a crown” – had hired the best tutors in Europe. Among them was the renowned Arabist, linguist and scientist Adelard of Bath, who had a profound impact on Henry’s education. Adelard had travelled for seven years in Italy, Sicily, Antioch and the southern coast of what would become Turkey, dedicating himself to the ‘studies of the Arabs’. He was famed for his translations into Latin of Arabic treatises on astro nomy, and introducing Arabic innovations in mathematics into England and France. Adelard dedicated De opera astrolapsus – his work on the Arabic innovation of the astrolabe – to Henry.

Henry’s interest continued into adulthood. He welcomed travelling scholars, not least Arab ones, to his courts. He knew enough about Arabic learning to request specific texts from diplomats travelling to Sicily and the kingdom of Jerusalem. And Henry admired the Islamic arts so much that when he built a palace for his mistress Rosamund Clifford, at Woodstock, he mimicked the palaces of the Norman kingdom in Sicily, with fountains and courtyards. The palace was later destroyed but its style, abounding in Arabic motifs, was unique in northern Europe.

WHY DID HENRY II THREATEN TO CONVERT TO ISLAM?

So much for the king’s high regard for Islam and Arabic culture. But what was it that provoked Henry to make the threat in the first place? The answer is to be found in Henry’s letter, where he tells Pope Alexander he “would sooner accept the errors of Nur al-Din [the Sultan of Aleppo] and become an infidel, than suffer Thomas [Becket] to hold sway in Canterbury Cathedral any longer”.

Now things become a little clearer: it is 1168, and Henry’s row with his erstwhile friend Thomas Becket is in its fifth weary year. Henry had raised Thomas high, appointing him to the position of chancellor soon after his accession. He was “considered second only to the king”. Henry had such faith in Thomas to do his bidding that after Theobald, archbishop of Canterbury, died in 1161, he strong-armed a reluctant Becket into taking up the dual position of chancellor -archbishop, despite warnings from Henry’s mother, the Empress Matilda, and from Thomas himself. Thomas thought it was ludicrous, protesting that Henry and he knew “for certain that if I am ever promoted to that dignity, I will have to forfeit either the king’s favour or… my service to God Almighty”.

Henry ignored all objections, paying no heed to his mother and even threatening the monks of Canterbury (who did not want Thomas as their archbishop) with his anger if they failed to elect his candidate. Henry’s primary concern was to ensure the succession by crowning his eldest surviving son in his lifetime. It was his bid to avoid another blood-spattered race to the throne when he died – as had happened at the death of every monarch except Stephen since the Norman conquest. The right to crown the kings of England was the prerogative of the archbishops of Canterbury, and Henry expected Thomas to accede to his desire.

Instead, Henry discovered that he had installed a zealot, a soldier now for the eternal Christ instead of his temporal king. Henry was livid when Thomas resigned the chancellorship; king and archbishop soon became locked in a battle for supremacy between church and state. The balance of compromise – whereby the kings gave their archbishops dignity and in turn the archbishops sought to please their kings – was torn to shreds.

THUGGISH BARONS

The major source of friction was over which court – the king’s or the church’s – should govern clerics accused of committing crimes. Henry was concerned that separate ecclesiastical courts operated in tandem to his own, but he was also vexed that the punishments they meted out were negligible. Neither king nor archbishop would budge.

When Henry, seeking to rid himself of Thomas, charged him with contempt of royal authority and embezzlement in 1164, Thomas foresaw his imprisonment, and even death. He was reminded by some of Henry’s more thuggish barons that the king’s own father, Geoffrey of Anjou, had castrated some of his clergy for their disobedience, forcing them to “carry their members” before him in a basin. Petrified, Thomas fled to the court of Louis VII of France, where he was gleefully offered sanctuary. Louis, the first husband of Henry’s wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, was ever pleased to create trouble for his most powerful lord – Henry owed allegiance to the French king for his lands on the continent.

Louis, as pious as Henry was worldly, had offered sanctuary not only to Thomas; he had also given refuge to Pope Alexander III when he had left Rome in 1159 following a split election that resulted in the first in a series of antipopes to occupy the papal throne.

Pope Alexander also owed much to Henry, who had supported him alongside Louis. Alexander needed Henry’s backing, and the row over Becket put him in an impossible position. Although he may have sympathised with a bitter Thomas, he was compelled to tread a careful path. For the next few years he would procrastinate, even while allowing Thomas to vent about Henry’s destruction of the church through his “evil customs”. (As it turned out, Becket’s fears were justified. He was murdered two years after Henry composed his letter to the pope.)

Henry’s conversion threat was a bludgeon, waved before the pope the more forcefully to persuade him to remove Thomas from his post. He had successfully threatened Alexander before. Eight years earlier, he had sought a papal dispensation to allow his five-year-old son to marry Louis’s infant daughter Margaret, enabling him to grasp the Vexin, a key French county that was baby Margaret’s dowry. He had bullied Alexander’s ambassadors into thinking he would back the pope’s rival, the antipope Victor IV, if he did not get his way, and Alexander had capitulated. It had worked before, so Henry likely believed the pope would yield again in the face of his outlandish threat. As far as we are aware, however, Alexander did not respond to it directly, but continued to push for negotiations between Henry and Becket.

A MAN OF THE WORLD

As to whether Henry would ever have carried out the threat, it is unlikely. A practitioner of realpolitik, he would have been all too aware of the dangers. His hold on power notwithstanding, Henry would not have been able to deny that his divine right to the crown of England sprang from Christianity. Christian society was structured in a very different way to Islam; it was primarily an agrarian and feudal society. Islamic society allowed for a reasonably high level of social mobility and was far less rigid than the Christian west’s feudalism. Henry’s empire was based on an intricate system of oaths and obligations.

Henry’s conversion would presumably have required the mass conversion of all the different peoples in the lands under his rule, from Northumberland to Aquitaine. The administrative implications alone would have been immense. What would have become of the thousands of bishops and priests? Would Arabic have replaced Latin as the lingua franca? Would there have been a new curriculum in the universities? Would Henry have developed Arabic rather than English law? With which caliphates would he have forged his new alliances? What would have been the effect on the crusades?

Consider the hundreds of years of chaos sparked by Henry’s descendant, the eighth Henry, with his separation of England from the Roman Catholic church – chaos that resulted in civil war and the eventual execution of a king. We can only imagine the bedlam that would have ensued had Henry II converted to Islam. Conversions in both directions did happen, particularly in the marchlands where Christianity and Islam met – but the converts were not kings or queens. Such an undertaking would have been beyond the diplomatic and administrative talents of even a king as exceptional as Henry II.

If there is anything to learn about Henry from the episode, it is perhaps that he cared far more for the temporal than the divine. Although a superstitious man, Henry was not a religious one. The chroniclers railed against his lack of piety, claiming that he never sat still in church. Henry found himself so bored at mass that he doodled and met petitioners. His threat to convert to Islam is indicative of how little religion meant to him and, as a result, how much he resented papal authority when it stood in his way. For all the reasons that Islam may have appealed to Henry, one of the most attractive would surely have been that, unlike Christianity, it had no centralised authority, no supranational power. How gratifying the thought: no Muslim pope to bar him from sacking his own archbishop.

This article was first published in the February 2020 edition of BBC History Magazine.

PRAYER DURING A PANDEMIC

General view of Kaaba at the Grand Mosque, which is almost empty of worshippers, after Saudi authority suspended umrah amid the fear of coronavirus outbreak, at Muslim holy city of Mecca

For the last few years I have written a blog post about the upcoming holy month of Ramadhaan. The post contains links to various resources, some inspirational quotes, things of that nature. The link to last years post can be found here. I was going to do something similar again this year, what with Ramadhaan less than two weeks away. But this year ain’t last year. Last year the big concern during Ramadhaan was whether Muslims should waste their precious time watching the climactic season finale to the global TV phenomenon that was Game Of Thrones, which genuinely feels like a lifetime ago, something from a completely different era entirely.

And what a difference a year makes. 2020 has so far been dominated by one topic. In Britain the year began with just one word on everybody’s lips, Brexit, which we all seem to have forgotten about and look back on as some sort of collective madness, a political gesture that is now seen as totally futile given current circumstances. Now all of mankind, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, finds itself in the midst of the spread of COVID-19. This disease has been analysed from every angle possible: financial, biological, spiritual, and conspiratorial.

There are many conspiracy theories out there about this pandemic, such as biological weaponry, germ warfare, economic rebalancing, and the rest. But then you have the religious conspiracies. Is this a punishment on non-Muslims for what they are doing to Muslims in China, India, Israel, and Burma? Or is it a punishment on Muslims for what we are doing to each other in places like Syria and Yemen? Or is this virus not a punishment but instead a test of how strong our faith is? God only knows, I guess.

Not only are Muslims grappling with such thoughts, and with the world in the ever tightening grip of this pandemic, we are also trying to mentally prepare for the holiest month in our lunar calendar. However difficult that may be, it is still something all practicing Muslims should endeavour to do, only so they get the best out of this blessed month. For those looking for ‘normal’ Ramadhaan advice, please refer to last years blog post. In order to help us this year, please find below a selection of quotes, articles, and videos that I hope will inspire and educate in equal measure, and that offer a somewhat different perspective on faith in Ramadhaan during a global pandemic. As best as one can given all that is swirling around us, enjoy!


Shaykh Yasir Qadhi wants us to rediscover the original spirit of Ramadhaan…

The sahaba did not have Ramadhaan the way we have Ramadhaan. There was no taraweeh prayer in the time of the Prophet (S). There were no community iftaars that we are accustomed to. They would eat at home individually. They didn’t have enough surplus food to have massive feasts. So in some ways perhaps we will have to rediscover the original spirit of Ramadhaan as it really used to be…and that is simplicity. – Shaykh Yasir Qadhi


He also wants Muslims to reflect, ponder, think, and to rediscover religiosity…

We are witnessing a tragedy at a global scale, the likes of which we could never have imagined, even a week ago, much less a month ago or a year ago. Around the globe what we are seeing, of shutting down of cities, of shutting down of masajids, of the fear, of the great trepidation that is afflicting all of us. If this is not going to cause us to stop in our tracks, if this is not going to cause us to reflect and to ponder and to think, then what is ever going to cause us to change?…Now is the time to ask ourselves why is this happening? Why are khutbahs being given in empty masajids? Why are masjids being shut down? Why is commerce and industry coming to an end, when we thought we have reached our pinnacle, when we thought we had come to the top of civilization?…If we want this problem to be solved, and all of us do, collectively Muslims and people of other faith traditions, they need to rediscover religiosity. They need to collectively turn to Allah (subhanuwatala), they need to beg and plead and understand this life has a higher purpose than just living like animals. We need Allah (subhanuwatala) and Allah does not need us. – Shaykh Yasir Qadhi


This virus is causing the whole world to become more Islamic…

As isolation measures increase and countries around the world place their citizens into total lockdown, a very peculiar thing is taking place without us realizing. The situation is actually making the world more inclined towards a Muslim way of life. And you don’t have to look far to see how. People around the world are spending more time with their families. Pubs, clubs, and casinos are now officially closed. In certain countries alcohol has been banned. People are washing their hands more regularly. And suddenly it’s becoming socially acceptable not to shake hands…We’ve also seen interest rates reduced to zero, a clear win for Islamic finance. The President of the United States has held a National Day of Prayer, and people have begun shifting their hope towards a higher power. – The Muslim Lady


The virus also brought a Muslim and a Jew together in prayer, in Israel no less…

Corona Praying

42 year old Jew Avraham Mintz and 39 year old Muslim Zoher Abu Jama, both hard working paramedic members of Israel’s emergency response service, were busy dealing with coronavirus patients. They had just finished responding to a call from a 41-year-old woman who was having respiratory problems. During a rare moment of rest they took a quick break to pray. Mintz stood facing Jerusalem whilst Abu Jama knelt facing Mecca on his prayer rug. The above picture of the two men taken by a co-worker quickly went viral on social media.


This virus should help us Muslims realise that we are to act differently because we have faith…

In times of fitna, in times of trial, like we are going through now, it is easy to look at things like everybody else looks at them. And that would be our loss. We have to look at any trial from the lens of iman…While everybody can be in a state of hysteria, we can stay calm because we have iman…The way you act is different than everybody else because you see things differently than everybody else. – Imam Nouman Ali Khan, Mar 2020


A brilliant article about what the Prophet Muhammad said about plagues over 1,300 years ago…

Can The Power Of Prayer Alone Stop A Pandemic Like The Coronavirus? Even The Prophet Muhammad Thought Otherwise

Dr Craig Considine, 17 Mar 2020, newsweek.com

The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing governments and news sources to provide the most accurate and helpful advice to the world’s population, as the disease is indeed global in reach. Health care professionals are in high demand, and so too are scientists who study the transmission and effect of pandemics.

Experts like immunologist Dr. Anthony Fauci and medical reporter Dr. Sanjay Gupta are saying that good hygiene and quarantining, or the practice of isolating from others in the hope of preventing the spread of contagious diseases, are the most effective tools to contain COVID-19.

Do you know who else suggested good hygiene and quarantining during a pandemic?

Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, over 1,300 years ago.

While he is by no means a “traditional” expert on matters of deadly diseases, Muhammad nonetheless had sound advice to prevent and combat a development like COVID-19.

Muhammad said: “If you hear of an outbreak of plague in a land, do not enter it; but if the plague outbreaks out in a place while you are in it, do not leave that place.”

He also said: “Those with contagious diseases should be kept away from those who are healthy.”

Muhammad also strongly encouraged human beings to adhere to hygienic practices that would keep people safe from infection. Consider the following hadiths, or sayings of Prophet Muhammad:

“Cleanliness is part of faith.”

“Wash your hands after you wake up; you do not know where your hands have moved while you sleep.”

“The blessings of food lie in washing hands before and after eating.”

And what if someone does fall ill? What kind of advice would Muhammad provide to his fellow human beings who are suffering from pain?

He would encourage people to always seek medical treatment and medication: “Make use of medical treatment,” he said, “for God has not made a disease without appointing a remedy for it, with the exception of one disease—old age.”

Perhaps most importantly, he knew when to balance faith with reason. In recent weeks, some have gone so far as to suggest that prayer would be better at keeping you from the coronavirus than adhering to basic rules of social distancing and quarantine. How would Prophet Muhammad respond to the idea of prayer as the chief—or only—form of medicine?

Consider the following story, related to us by ninth-century Persian scholar Al-Tirmidhi: One day, Prophet Muhammad noticed a Bedouin man leaving his camel without tying it. He asked the Bedouin, “Why don’t you tie down your camel?” The Bedouin answered, “I put my trust in God.” The Prophet then said, “Tie your camel first, then put your trust in God.”

Muhammad encouraged people to seek guidance in their religion, but he hoped they take basic precautionary measures for the stability, safety and well-being of all.

In other words, he hoped people would use their common sense.


Another brilliant article, this time about the spirit of Ramadhaan…

Coronavirus Won’t Ruin Ramadan – It Will Remind Us What It’s All About

Rabina Khan, 19 Mar 2020, independent.co.uk

The month of Ramadan has always been a time for Muslims to reflect on those less fortunate than themselves. As Covid-19 sweeps the globe, it’s come at an important time.

The month of Ramadan has always been a time for Muslims to reflect on those less fortunate than themselves. As Covid-19 sweeps the globe, this holy month is particularly so.

This year Ramadan falls in April, and will be immensely challenging. The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) has called for the suspension of mosque congregations, while the British Board of Scholars and Imams (BBSI) has advised people to perform daily prayers at home. In many cases, this will mean omitting certain prayers – such as Tarawih, usually prayed in pairs – yet at this time, the health of the community is paramount.

My family and I always look forward to Ramadan; yet we know it will be different this year. There will be no large Iftar (fast-breaking) meals with friends and family, no communal gathering for Ramadan prayers.

But it is not only Muslims whose worship will be affected by Covid-19 in April.

Next month will see celebrations from most of the world’s major religions restricted, be that Easter mass, Passover seders, Hindu Rama Navami or Sikh festival Vaisakhi festivities.

Yet people of faith have always found ways of continuing to observe at times of crisis. In fact, such times can be an opportunity to assess what is important in life, and help other people in whatever way we can.

As the Liberal Democrat peer Navnit Dholakia puts it: “Regardless of faith, let us all see this crisis for all communities coming together, whether it’s a neighbourhood watch group, small groups of people, volunteers and charities reaching out; we all have a role to work together for an antidote of compassion, understanding and altruism. Ramadan is also a month of giving and sharing so let us all ensure that in this difficult time we care for all our communities which make our diverse society the envy of the world.”

A core principle of Islam is helping our fellow human beings. During the coronavirus outbreak, there are many ways we can practice this, whether that be donating to foodbanks, supporting local businesses or checking up on our neighbours.

Growing up in Rochester, one of only a couple of Muslim children in my primary school, I remember my mother packing my Easter basket with food. My classmates’ baskets included baked beans, soup tins and bread; mine included samosas, biryani and roti. The aroma from my basket in the Cathedral did seem to attract a lot of friends.

This year my family, friends, neighbours and I will be following public health guidance, and packing our Ramadan baskets with non-perishable essentials and long-lasting perishables, including soap, long-life milk, pasta, tissues, canned soup, dried fruit, rice, stock cubes and spices.

Crises can bring out the worst in human nature – yet it can bring out the best, too. Regardless of faith, let us channel the spirit of Ramadan to consider those in need. Let us all look out for our friends, family and all vulnerable people at this difficult time, so that we can make it through together.


And finally, sound advice from my favourite scholar Shaykh Hamza Yusuf…

We should keep in mind that plagues, wars, and natural disasters have vexed our species throughout human history and that these will remain a part of life on earth. In fact, epidemics are mentioned at least twice in the Qur’an—in the second chapter, Al-Baqarah (The Cow), and in the seventh chapter, Al-A’rāf (The Heights).

These are indeed strange times: our authorities are telling us to wash several times a day, a lot of frivolous entertainment has been cancelled, bars have been shut down, interest rates are at zero, and the president of the United States is telling us to pray. In other words, for Muslims, this means keep practicing your religion!

It also means that this is an opportunity to get closer to God and to become more acutely aware of and grateful for God’s bountiful gifts that we so often take for granted and that for some are now threatened: security, sustenance, mobility, family, friends, and faith.

The natural state of human beings who are not aligned spiritually with the celestial realm is angst—an existential dread that takes hold, a dissatisfaction with the way things are on earth. Some even designate our own modern materialistic epoch as the age of anxiety. The antidote to such a condition is true faith and the knowledge that everything comes from God. When we are afflicted with loss of life, limb, or property, we say, “To God we belong, and to God we return” (2:156).

The Qur’an also tells us that those who turn to God in prayer in times of trouble and who are constant in their prayers and display high moral character do not suffer the slings and strikes of bad fortune; rather, they recognize that these trials and tribulations emanate from our Lord for our benefit, whether known or unknown. Athletes train in preparation for the test of tournaments; similarly, a believer’s prayer exercises his or her soul, so when the test comes, the soul doesn’t just survive it but thrives in it. The prepared soul experiences solace in the face of calamities. For those who have been wayward or whose souls are spiritually flaccid, these are excellent times to return to our Lord. Indeed, this is often the very purpose of the tribulation. The Qur’an reminds us, “Foulness, corruption, and pollution (fasād) have manifested on the land and in the sea from what humanity’s hands have earned, to make them taste some of what they have done, that perhaps they might turn back to God” (30:41).

Prayer abides as our greatest weapon against fear, panic, and despair. If anything troubled or alarmed the Prophet, he hastened to prayer. So let us see the opportunity and the blessing in the tribulation. This particular viral visitation apparently began in the ancient and sagely land of China; interestingly, the Chinese ideogram for crisis also denotes opportunity. The Qur’an says, “Nothing will afflict you except what God has decreed for you” (9:51). Follow the guidelines and take the sound measures, but feel secure that what will be will be—the readiness is all.

May God preserve and bless all of you, may stillness surround you, may peace and tranquillity descend upon you, and may you and your loved ones be spared the trials of these times.

 – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, 18 Mar 2020, from the zaytuna.edu article A Message On The Current Crisis


PS As an added bonus, here is a short but inspirational video…

CORONA HAS BURST OUR BUBBLE OF FALSE COMFORT

Corona WeeksIt seems almost a moot point to write about anything other than the pandemic that has caused over a quarter of all people on earth to be placed under government lock down. Corona has proven that many of the things in our lives are unnecessary. Things such as the gym, shopping malls, cinemas, sports events, and restaurants, have all gone for a toss as we learn to live without them:

Every sport has been cancelled, so men have to just live with themselves. I called my friend up and I was like “What you been up to?” He’s like “I’m just working on me.” I was like “Whoa! That’s great.” He’s like “I realize I’ve got a lot of daddy issues, there’s a lot of jealousy in my life.” Pause for another second. “I just want to tell you I love you, man. I don’t say it enough.” And I was like “Man, this is a great virus. This is a good virus. We all need this.” – Ethan Simmons-Patterson

It has indeed been quite a week, quite a month, quite a year, quite an endless, blurry lump of time in quarantine. Despite this, for the first time in history we can all save humanity, we can all save ourselves, by just staying at home and doing absolutely nothing. Please, for the love of all that is good, let us not mess this up (although somehow I feel we will).

Like most things in our globalised capitalist society, the current epicentre of the virus has moved from China to America. I know Americans are obsessed with being number one, but surely they do not want to the accolade of being the country with the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases (113,000 at the time of writing). Go Team America!

This virus has also proven to be somewhat of an existential challenge. We all find ourselves asking soul searching questions. How many of us are to die before this too shall pass? Who knows what the ripple effects and the knock on effects of this pandemic will be? Who knows how long this virus will last, or for how long we will be dealing with the aftermath? Who knows how life will change (surely it must)?

Such is the impact of COVID-19 that the Guardian news website, of which I have been a visitor for well over 15 years, has only had one news topic dominating their Most Viewed list of top 10 news stories, for at least 3 weeks now. It is almost as though no other news story matters, and I guess no other news story does.

Speaking of news websites, I know much has already been written about this situation, but I would just like to draw your besieged attention to the following articles and quotes. We start with three humorous tweets that somehow capture the sheer madness and confusion of these crazy times we find ourselves in. The next two quotes are from a drug dealer and a Jesuit sister (I kid you not), telling us about how this pandemic has affected them and their ‘clients’. What follows on from that are various quotes that, I hope, provide a different perspective on the current global situation. As best as one can, enjoy!

Corona Everything

If you want an indication of how much of a hellscape this is going to be, last night a mate told our friendship group he couldn’t do a virtual dinner on Friday because he had “other digital commitments.” – Alan White, 24 Mar 2020

I’m stocking up on photos of empty supermarket shelves. The media are going to run out of them pretty soon, and I’ll make a fortune. – Paul Bassett Davies, 06 Mar 2020

At this point, asking me “What are you doing tomorrow?” is hate speech. – Sydnee Washington, 25 Mar 2020

I sell cannabis and cocaine to suppliers in the north of England. I have around 20 guys on the street, with approximately 200 regular customers. We have two main concerns now: sourcing drugs and getting enough money. We expect no more cocaine shipments from abroad for the next six weeks, so prices have shot up. I’m maintaining the same prices I’ve always charged but I’m concerned that, when stock begins to run low, people higher up the chain will charge more or cut the cocaine and decrease its quality. People are panicking – the amounts of cannabis they’re buying is ridiculous – so we are just dealing to regulars now. I’ve told my workers to be strict with what they sell and who to, but they aren’t changing their behaviour much, other than offering to post through letterboxes and accept bank transfers from trusted customers. People running out of money is a big concern, but we’ll always have the regular cokeheads who buy most days. I’ve been doing this for 12 years and don’t have any dependants – other than sometimes helping my parents out with bits of cash – so I’m not financially worried. My biggest concern is handling money. I’ve been wearing gloves. – a drug dealer, 28 Mar 2020, in an interview with theguardian.com

Normally we have Mass daily; not now, but we’re praying more. Faith is important to people in times such as this. For all of us, the crisis is triggering questions about what is important. Having a pope like Francis is wonderful; he sent out a beautiful message: “Tonight before falling asleep, think about when we will return to the street, hug again…We will go back to laughing together. Strength and courage. See you soon!” It will be interesting to see what happens in the longer term – whether some people turn to faith. Faith is about finding meaning, and everyone is now trying to do that. People are living a stripped-back life and that means they’ve been given time for reflection. This crisis has shown us that vulnerability has something to teach us; suddenly, we’re all vulnerable. The temptation is to retreat, to look inwards. But once this is over, do we stay behind borders or will we have learned things? We might have opened our hearts in ways we hadn’t thought about before. – a Jesuit sister, 28 Mar 2020, in an interview with theguardian.com

We have been living in a bubble, a bubble of false comfort and denial. In the rich nations, we have begun to believe we have transcended the material world. The wealth we’ve accumulated – often at the expense of others – has shielded us from reality. Living behind screens, passing between capsules – our houses, cars, offices and shopping malls – we persuaded ourselves that contingency had retreated, that we had reached the point all civilisations seek: insulation from natural hazards. Now the membrane has ruptured, and we find ourselves naked and outraged, as the biology we appeared to have banished storms through our lives. The temptation, when this pandemic has passed, will be to find another bubble. We cannot afford to succumb to it. From now on, we should expose our minds to the painful realities we have denied for too long…Never again should we listen to the liars and the deniers. Never again should we allow a comforting falsehood to trounce a painful truth. No longer can we afford to be dominated by those who put money ahead of life. This coronavirus reminds us that we belong to the material world. – George Monbiot, 25 Mar 2020, from the theguardian.com article Covid-19 Is Nature’s Wake-Up Call To Complacent Civilisation

Celebrities have always been the symmetrical, smiling face of wealth inequality. Their role in modern life is as paradoxical as trickle-down economics: to be preternaturally charming and attractive, but also relatable and attainably aspirational. We speak of “liking” one celebrity and “disliking” another on the basis of the professionally calibrated personas they beam out to us as sincerity. We enjoy their work – their acting, their singing, their athleticism – and we cheer on their successes. They are purveyors of a great American myth: that there is such a thing as “well-earned” luxury, or a “deserving” millionaire. And in America, fame doesn’t just make you rich: it makes you a role model…Watching yet another celebrity announce that they have been tested (often while asymptomatic) feels like watching a medical drama that takes place on another planet. Meanwhile, the rest of us wait: not just for tests, but for the after-effects that a lack of testing will bring upon our communities, and upon the communities of those we love…The wealthy and the powerful are counting on us not paying attention. They’re looking out for their own while we are left on a sinking ship: the hedge funders, the landlords, the pharmaceutical billionaires. They’re counting on our attention being elsewhere – not Uncle Idris! Not Forrest Gump! – and they’re counting on our anger losing steam by the time this international nightmare ends. They’re counting on us taking it – as President Trump tells it – as “the story of life”. – Jennifer Schaffer, 21 Mar 2020, from the theguardian.com article Why Are The Rich And Famous Getting Coronavirus Tests While We Aren’t?

Corona Terror

It may have started with a bat in a cave, but human activity set it loose…So when you’re done worrying about this outbreak, worry about the next one. Or do something about the current circumstances…Current circumstances also include 7.6 billion hungry humans: some of them impoverished and desperate for protein; some affluent and wasteful and empowered to travel every which way by airplane. These factors are unprecedented on planet Earth: We know from the fossil record, by absence of evidence, that no large-bodied animal has ever been nearly so abundant as humans are now, let alone so effective at arrogating resources. And one consequence of that abundance, that power, and the consequent ecological disturbances is increasing viral exchanges — first from animal to human, then from human to human, sometimes on a pandemic scale. We invade tropical forests and other wild landscapes, which harbor so many species of animals and plants — and within those creatures, so many unknown viruses. We cut the trees; we kill the animals or cage them and send them to markets. We disrupt ecosystems, and we shake viruses loose from their natural hosts. When that happens, they need a new host. Often, we are it. – David Quammen, 28 Jan 2020, from the nytimes.com article We Made The Coronavirus Epidemic

Online misinformation about Covid-19 appears to be spreading faster than the virus itself. Certain claims made about the origins and transmission of the virus may be true, but many aren’t, and these falsehoods are fuelling conspiracy theories that serve only to spread fear on a global scale. The World Health Organisation has labelled the overabundance of information an “infodemic”, arguing it “makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it”…Twitter, Facebook and Google’s filters and algorithms may be a good starting point in tackling misinformation about coronavirus and allow people to easily find relevant and authoritative updates. However, penetrating the social media echo chambers fuelled by distrust in experts and news outlets will be the real challenge. – Sabrina Weiss, Feb 2020, from the newstatesman.com article Inside The Infodemic: Coronavirus In The Age Of Wellness

Almost every day the BBC’s One-minute World News provides the latest death tally from coronavirus. The short news wrap-up typically covers about three news items only, meaning that for the BBC, the virus has been among the top three most important issues for the world, daily for the last two months. All the other mainstream media outlets are likewise reporting on every single angle to this story they can, including regular updates of the global tally and a country-by-country breakdown. The impact of such intense coverage of the virus is widespread fear, even though pedestrians are still 13 times more likely to be killed by a car than by this virus…Then there are the epidemics that aren’t even documented or counted…There is no one categorizing the overproduction of useless shit, though we do know that there are around 50 million tons of electronic waste produced each year. There is no daily news on the virulent erasure of histories, voices, people’s organization, cultures, and languages. The mainstream media are not concerned in the same way by the epidemic of corrupt politicians bought off by big business or by the public money lost to corporate tax avoidance (estimated at $500 billion per year). And the mainstream media will not talk much about these things. That isn’t just because rich people can’t catch poverty, it’s because the mainstream media is capitalist and it does not recognize systemic issues, and certainly not the causes and solutions to them. The media pretends not to, but it does have an agenda, and that agenda is in fact counter to the one that us serious journalists commit to – to revealing the bruises of the world and the screaming injustices and holding those in power accountable. Panic and fomenting fear are well-tried methods of control, distraction, and of shifting popular support towards the rightwing. On the other hand, raising awareness of the sickening global inequality and the daily pain so many are subject to develops critical thought, and would be empowering and disrupting, and so the mainstream media does not do that. – Tamara Pearson, 06 Mar 2020, from the counterpunch.org article All The Devastating Epidemics That Coronavirus Is Distracting Us From

We Now Live In A.C. – After Cirona

Corona1

If a week is a long time in politics, then a month during a pandemic truly feels like an eternity. Such is the intensity of the coronavirus outbreak that the economist Thomas L Friedman stated in the New York Times “There is the world BC — Before Corona — and the world AC — After Corona. We have not even begun to fully grasp what the AC world will look like.” In the early AC days the American talk show host Stephen Colbert described the situation by saying “We don’t know whether it’s a feather or a brick.” A few weeks later and we know for sure that this, whatever it is, most definitely is not a feather.

Now that we live in the AC era, an era where the anchor of normality is well and truly set adrift, many of us look back in yearning to our BC lives. Writing in the Guardian, Arwa Mahdawi pines “Remember the good old days when supermarket shelves were stocked with toilet paper? Remember when only a few people were familiar with the phrase “social distancing”? Remember when you could cough in public without immediately becoming a pariah? Remember February? I have never been so nostalgic for “normal”. I have never longed so desperately for a dull day.”

This epidemic has increased anxiety levels all round, partly due to the fact that we sit and watch the news more than ever, something I didn’t think possible. Since the advent of President Trump (himself a type of immoral virus) the 24 hours new cycle spews out information at break neck speed. And just when I thought my neck could not be any more broken, along comes the coronavirus speeding up the news cycle exponentially, as noted by Natalie Morris over at the Metro: “The current news cycle looks like the opening montage of an apocalyptic horror movie, and every headline leads on spiralling death counts, panic in the streets and dire warnings from official-looking medical professionals…We are living through a scary moment in history, so if you are feeling anxious, that’s normal.”

Rani Molla over at vox.com pretty much confirms our increased news addiction: “If you feel like you’ve been glued to the news lately, you’re not alone. We’re collectively reading much more news during the novel coronavirus pandemic than normal, according to new publisher traffic data…Page views were up 30 percent last week compared with last year…Overall traffic to news sites has gone up.”

Okay, so we are all scared and we are all watching the news perhaps a little too much. What do we do now? Well, the American satirist Bill Maher has some non-medical advice to help us calm our nerves. According to Maher, we need to focus of the 3 S’s, which are “sugar, stress, and sleep. Get a lot of sleep, don’t have sugar, and don’t stress. Turn off the fucking TV! I haven’t watched the news all week. I get it, we’re in trouble, I don’t need to see it every two minutes. And I think I’ve been sleeping better because of it because, I mean, people are going get it or not.”

Further advice was provided in a letter published in the Metro, which simply suggested how we should all just binge-watch our way out of this: “What about giving the whole world a two-week Netflix holiday and having the government supply us with free popcorn and food delivery? They spend so much on wars I bet they could afford that. It should stop the spread of coronavirus.”

The coronavirus is bringing out the best in humanity, with medical staff working tirelessly around the clock. Some have even lost their lives for their heroic efforts. Unfortunately we’ve also seen the worst, with some profiteering from the outbreak in many different ways. And then you have the weird and wonderful reactions. For example, the Shish Mahal Indian restaurant in Glasgow is offering a free curry to anyone affected by the deadly virus, despite there being no confirmed cases in the city at the time of writing. Good luck delivering that. Not to be outdone, the Maaya Indian Kitchen and Bar in Milton Keynes have said they will give a free toilet roll for purchases over £25. Spend over £80 and you will be treated to two free toilet rolls. One assumes after eating their food you will need them.

The collective reaction to the virus reminded me of something comedian Marc Maron said in his recent Netflix stand-up special End Times Fun, filmed before the epidemic started: “I don’t know what it’s gonna take to get everybody to unite. Haven’t we been entertained enough? Isn’t there something that could bring everyone together and make us just realize that we’ve got to put a stop to almost everything. What would it take? Something terrible. That’s what brings people together. Nothing good. It’s gotta be something bad and big. Get everyone to fucking snap out of this trance. I don’t know what it’ll take. Does the sky have to catch on fire? Would that do it? If we all walked outside and went ‘Oh, we fucked it. Fucking sky’s on fire. God damn it. I knew we were in trouble, but fuck, it made the jump from land to sky. This is bad.’”

Although the sky may not be on fire, at least not yet, it does feel like this virus is the bad and big and terrible thing that is uniting us all. And in an attempt to unite us all a little further, and to take our minds away from the unpleasantness temporarily, please find below several comedic quotes that I hope you will find amusing. Present circumstances persisting, enjoy!

The-Disease

It’s easy to get depressed or anxious in the world that we’re living in right now. A lot of that is due to Donald Trump. He wants us to fear everything, even Mexicans. He tells us that Mexicans are going to take our jobs. Let me tell you something. Mexicans are not going to take your jobs. Robots are going to take your jobs. And once the robots have all the jobs, trust me, Mexican robots are going to take their jobs. Lazy Mexican robots, sleeping on the factory floor. – Jeff Greenspan

Is Google male or female? Female, because it doesn’t let you finish a sentence before making a suggestion. – Anon

I’ve been married a very long time, over 20 years now. And when you’ve been married this long you get to know each other so well. My husband knows me well. And I know my husband so well at this point that we can have a full blown argument, from start to finish, and he’s not even home. – Sindhu Vee

I’m trying to slim down. I was at the gym today for three hours. I did 45 minutes of Instagram, 1 minute of cardio, then I went to the smoothie bar for the rest of the afternoon. – Jeff Ross

In Texas where I’m from there is a lot of weird Christian Muslim tension. I don’t really understand it because Christianity and Islam are the same thing. Both have one God, both started in the Middle East. Only difference I can think of is that Islam is the one true religion. Besides that they’re pretty much the same thing. Do you guys realize how tough it is that I’m the only one in this room who is going into heaven? You guys seem so nice but rules are rules. – Usama Siddiquee, American stand-up comedian

I was crossing the street in my neighborhood and this guy walked by me, muttering ‘ISIS’ under his breath. So I turned to him and said ‘ALLAH-HU-AKBAR!’ I mean, if you really thought I was a terrorist, would you want to provoke me? – Mariam Sobh

People accuse of me of sneaking references to metal working into my tweets. Well, der. – David Quantick

It’s tough being a man right now. Bruce Jenner got out just in time. – Jeff Ross

I met an American girl. We went on a date. I took her to a Syrian restaurant, because that’s the only place I can afford. I’m like “What would you like to have?” And she’s like “I don’t know, what should I have?” And I’m like “Well there’s shawarma.” She looks at me and says “No, I’m a vegan.” I’m like “What does that mean?” She’s like “We don’t eat meat or chicken.” I’m like “Oh, a vegetarian.” She’s like “No, a vegan. We don’t eat eggs, milk, chicken, yoghurt, or honey.” And I’m like “Oh, a Syrian refugee.” – Omar Mohammad

Since we all love shows about drag queens, and we used to love shows about baby beauty queens, we have to make a show about baby drag queens. We could call it Lil’ Queens. That way when ISIS kills us all at least we’ll deserve it. – Bill Maher, Jun 2019

Hello, my name is Ibrahim. I’m currently a part time Muslim. I don’t pray much, I like to party, and I love pepperoni. But I get stopped and searched at every airport going, so it kind of balances itself out. – Ibrahim Sesay

I never liked my index and middle fingers but I’ve made peace with it. – tweet from Steven W Skinner

I lived in Alabama throughout college. I went to a really small Southern Baptist school where there was no diversity whatsoever. It was 99% white people and me. The closest I got to another Arab there was Jesus. – Atheer Yacoub

The three major religions have a lot in common, and this is just a really small example of something that they all share. And you guys can look this up in the Bible, the Torah, and the Quran. They all talk about heaven the exact same way. They all refer to it as a paradise land flowing with milk and honey. And that’s one small thing we can all agree on, that vegans are going to hell. That’s what I got from that…I have nothing against vegans. In fact some of my best friends are self-righteous. – Atheer Yacoub

Whenever my family would travel to Palestine and back, my parents would always order a kosher meal, even though halal was available. I guess they knew better. Kosher and halal are pretty much the same thing, except when you order a kosher meal they let you back into the country. So just a little tip for you guys, make sure you do that. – Atheer Yacoub

The next best thing to being a doctor is marrying a doctor. After I turned 30 my mom stopped caring what kind of doctor, it could be a doctor of history, a doctor of art. I think if Trump had a medical degree she’d like if “Give him a chance. No man is perfect.” So ever since I turned 30 every year my family reminds me that my biological clock is ticking, I’m getting older, I need to have kids. When my parents first saw that show 16 And Pregnant they were like “That poor girl. Why did she wait so long?” – Atheer Yacoub