By Zaynab Dawood
Quarantine as a word has never been in my dictionary. I never used it or thought about it. But, like most people on the planet, it is all I think about now. The reason for this is simply because I have the time to think about it, to ponder over it and to be face to face with its raw reality. I have been forced to think about it as a mother, teacher, sister, and most of all as a Muslim. The term is believed to have been coined by the tenth century scholar Ibn Sina, and I wonder if he ever thought that a time would come when the whole world would be in such a state…
It has been a turbulent time that has thrust us into a strange and paradoxical isolation within our own homes, but what believers seek to remember is that Allah is Al Hakeem, The Wise. It is He Who shapes history and whilst we may try to understand it, the greater picture, the whole canvas of human history, is way beyond what we can comprehend. So how should a Muslim respond to this unusual rein on our lives?
Time and space
Being in quarantine has taken so much away from us, yet it has given us something that has become a vanishing commodity for many of us, and that is time. We now have the time to think, to feel, to reflect, to wonder and to believe. Of course, we could do all these things before, but now we have been given the time away from work, schools, family, the drama of life, to really think about what matters most. Time and being at home mean we can do these things without the cluttering bemusement of social interaction. Quarantine has given this message to humanity: “pause, slow down, free yourselves from the riot of modern life, go back into your homes, retreat into your hearts and minds and find yourselves.”
Two main features characterise quarantine: time and space, but are these features only to be used for the containment of a disease? Rather, time and space, as instruments of healing, have always been part of the Muslim way. Salah punctuates our day as it gives us our spiritual space and temporary detachment from the world. The blessed Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) would also retreat to Mount Hira for purposeful reflection and meditation. This solitude was known as Al-Tahanuth, and indeed it was during such a period of self-isolation that the heavens opened, and the Quran was revealed. Isn’t this enough evidence to prove that time within an isolated space can yield a spiritual awakening?
The real virus
Without downplaying the severity of the situation, I do feel that this virus is a metaphor for the real virus of our modern age: the neglect of time and its proper use. The value of time, of meaningful activities and maintaining a purposeful state of being have been snatched away from us. Its malady has infected us so we cannot consistently pray with sincere devotion; its symptoms have debilitated us so we have forgotten that we have the “best of stature” (94:5); its malignant presence has festooned our cells and filled us with pride, greed, apathy, and a dangerous thirst for more, more, more. By wilfully wasting time we have forgotten our pre-existent affirmation “we hear and we obey,” (5:7) and now an almost invisible force has kicked humanity to its knees and all the importance we wrongfully assigned to the glitters of this world (11:15) have become meaningless as a microscopic monarch, (because Corona means crown), has grasped the world in a reign of fear. This fear is understandable, but as believers we cannot allow it to consume us, for we know that Allah is Most Merciful, that He has a plan for us, and that indeed, “He is the Best of Planners” (3:54).
The eternal oath
Allah has given us a gift within a gift: Surah Al Asr, a succinct chapter in a timeless Revelation:
“By (the token of) time,
Verily man is in loss,
Except those that have faith and do righteous deeds, advise each other in truth and advise each other to patience.” (103)
Allah sums up what is required of us: believing with sincere faith, engaging in worship and good actions, and endorsing truth and patience in all aspects of our lives. We may have been too busy, too tired, too distracted before, but now we have been given the opportunity to really focus on these gems that are hidden in this truly short chapter. From quarantine we can emerge stronger and better, inshaaAllah. Isolating at home is not easy for those with unruly children, difficult family members or even those who are alone, yet it gives us all an opportunity through which we can all reach Allah. Let us imagine that we have been pushed into a cocoon in our embryonic stage and that we have everything we could possibly need to gestate, grow, and thrive. All the nutrients we need are with us: the Quran, our prayer mat and a yearning to be righteous.
“Righteousness is not that you turn your faces toward the east or the west, but [true] righteousness is [in] one who believes in Allah, the Last Day, the angels, the Book, and the prophets and gives wealth, in spite of love for it, to relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveller, those who ask [for help], and for freeing slaves; [and who] establishes prayer and gives zakah; [those who] fulfil their promise when they promise; and [those who] are patient in poverty and hardship and during battle. Those are the ones who have been true, and it is those who are the righteous.” (2:177)
Wind your own clock
Despite the fear and the uncertainty, we have witnessed a surge in compassion from all sections of our communities. This is also a mercy from Allah: that those with the yearning to help others will use their time to do so. Intuitively I say “SubhanAllah!” in response to the news of nurses and doctors working tirelessly for others, for the charity workers delivering food for those self- isolating and the countless others who help – nameless in this world but always within the Gaze of Allah.
Time is a real gift and we need to use it to the best of our abilities. It will yield all the beautiful characteristics essential to really be worthy of having the “best of stature” (95:4) and it will bring a most pleasing harvest. We have all been given our earthly clocks, our portion of time. The question is, do we wind our clocks slowly, with a hesitant apathetic lethargy, or do we wind our clocks with a positive commitment to do the absolute best we can?
Alhumdulillah, thanks to the gift of quarantine, we now all have the time and space to do exactly that, with the help of Allah.
About the author:
I’m Zaynab Dawood from Lancashire, England. I’m a busy mum of four, a teacher and author. For me there are three delights in life: ibadah, spending time with family and friends, and reading good literature!