CRUCIBLE: Eid al-Fitr 2020 – Facing the Challenge of COVID-19 (1)

QUEZON CITY (MindaNews / 26 May) – All praise is due to Allah (SWT). He sends Mercy and Forgiveness into His servants especially those who have successfully performed their sawm or fasting in the Holy Month of Ramadan. We also extend our salam and salutation to the Noble Prophet, Nabi Muhammad (SAW).

There is probably no moment in recent history where humankind is faced with such tremendous challenge – a challenge that strikes the core of human existence, his belief, relationship, and so on.

Some authors have, in fact, viewed the challenge of COVID-19 as akin to the effects of the First and the Second World Wars. Except that in those wars, people knew their enemy. Whereas in our fight against COVID-19 we are practically at lost whom to identify as our enemy. It is not only unseen; it is also difficult to fight against.

There is a sense of irony when COVID-19 has already struck in many countries, then the Holy Month of Ramadan comes with many of our brothers and sisters rejoicing in welcoming the fasting month. Except that today, the Ramadan has already left us; or, we have left the Holy Month of Ramadan as we are now in the first day of Eid.

At any rate, there is a metaphor we could identify with our learning in the Holy Month of Ramadan particularly our sacrifice and struggle with the way we experience the challenge of COVID-19.

For the past several weeks we have been practically under lockdown lessening our activities while concentrating our affairs in our homes – such that, when the Ramadan comes it is as if that feeling of solitude as our main experience amid the onslaught of COVID-19 fits into the message of what is meant to perform our spirituality.

So that we gladly engaged in sawm, in fasting during the Month even as the rest of the world is struggling against COVID-19.

The metaphor we talk about is that Ramadan has provided us precisely the tools to develop further our spirituality and our lives. Even as vocabulary related to fighting against COVID-19 is also increasing like Personal Property Equipment, Respirator, Social Amelioration Program, and the like. They provide certain symbolism of different kind representing our “spiritual tools” to truly mean our own PPEs, our own respirators, and our own SAPs, and so on and so forth.

What is meant is, whereas science tries to develop or to find solution to the challenge of COVID-19 in order to identify the cause of virus and saves lives of people, Ramadan teaches us the need to consider an understanding that goes beyond the notion of life that we try to secure and protect. That is, we take lessons from the Holy Qur’an in terms of how it views life in its totality and how we could avail an understanding about life that is quite distinct from our obsession in saving our lives from COVID-19.

What I meant is, while science would like to identify the cause of death, problems caused by virus in order to save lives, the Qur’an gives an answer on what is the nature of life, why is there such as transitory life and why there is a life that is comprehensive – a life with which we Muslims, during this Month of Ramadan and beyond, have developed “tools” like PPEs corresponding to our prayers, our fasting, our good works, and so on. These “tools” address not only this present life of ours but the next “life” to come most importantly.

As we are now familiar with what is referred to as Social Amelioration Program, we have to note that Islam has already provided even long time ago its own version of SAP that should be given whether there is plague or pandemic or not. We refer to the principles of Sadaqatu l-fitr (charity for Eidu l-fitr) including particularly Zakah (annual obligatory charity) as our way in reaching out especially to downtrodden, poor, and helpless, with which we share part of our wealth to them. And this should be done not only during crisis but must be done regularly in the life of every Muslim.

We purposely highlight the idea in understanding a broader prism of life so that we could frame a perspective of life that is part and parcel of life that the Qur’an so speaks about. The Holy Qur’an says:

“How can ye reject the faith in Allah?- seeing that ye were without life, and He gave you life; then will He cause you to die, and will again bring you to life; and again to Him will ye return (2: 28).”

Why do you disbelieve when, in fact, in the beginning you were nothing to paraphrase the Qur’an? Then, Allah (SWT) gave you life, which is our life now, then He caused you to die as death that is inevitable to happen to all of us; then, He gave you another life – that is, the life in the resurrection; then, the Final Return.

It only shows that the notion of life which the Qur’an would like to impress upon us is an understanding of life that is eternal – a life that is not transient and ephemeral. Whereas we are obliged to protect and preserve our lives – our life now – the reality is, this life of ours is temporary. The Qur’an says:

Every soul must taste of death…(21: 35).”

In other words, there is another life that should be the object of our conviction and struggle, a life that is eternal and the bridge into our Final Return to Allah (SWT).

This is not to impress that we do not value our present life. That is not the point. But we have to develop a comprehensive perspective of life that is empowering and inspiring. Amid the challenge of pandemic, we have to be convinced that at the worst time of our struggle to face head-on COVID-19, there is the Hands of Allah (SWT) that take care the affairs of humankind.

This way we develop a guarantee – a kind of certainty that there is a bigger life that we all have to prepare for, with our all-embracing PPEs, respirators, and SAPs as our tools in our journey towards life that is eternal, life that is everlasting. And this Holy Month of Ramadan those spiritual tools have been strengthened amongst us.

Apart from the fact that studies show that fasting actually strengthens our immune system, medical doctors are saying that the best way to protect ourselves from COVID-19 is to develop strong immune system. In fact, medical sciences have shown that intermittent fasting should now become part of people’s lifestyle if they want to develop their well-being as individuals.

Thus, by performing fasting, Muslims actually gain dual benefits – heightening of his or her spirituality; and, development of one’s immune system with attendant consequences like lessening or removal of unwanted fats in one’s body and other unnecessary elements in ourselves. This is the beauty in performing fasting in the Holy Month of Ramadan.

Mind you, the primary objective of fasting is beyond medical or therapeutic effects in one’s body; it is the formation of what is referred to in the Qur’an as muttaqun – the righteous individuals, the God-fearing persons.

It suggests that therapeutic and medical benefits of fasting, while important, is simply incidental into the formation of human being who is righteous, pious, and who is a believer. The logic is that, when a person develops piety while improving himself, then that would benefit him not only in this world but, most importantly, in the life to come. Hence, there is even more reason for us to be joyful now that we have Eid al-fitr.

By the way, contrary to impression about conventional celebration of festivities, Eid al-fitr is a day of tashbi (proclaiming praises to Allah (SWT); a day of tahlil regular utterance of “There is no god except Allah (SWT)”; a day of takbir (proclaiming Allah’s greatness); a day of ta’zeem (proclaiming Allah’s sovereignty) – the usual dhikr or remembrance of Allah (SWT) that we do whether it is Ramadan or not.

The point is, Eid al-fitr is an extension of the bounty of Ramadan and that believers who have successfully performed their sawm or fasting are given this day a reason for them to be joyful even as they have to continuously engage with their tashbi, with their tahlil, with their takbir and so on and so forth.

This is to impress on us that as we face the challenge of COVID-19 with the Ramadan already departing from us, we have to continuously be armed with those spiritual tools so that there will be less room for COVID-19 to have a play in our lives. And if it happens, then we struggle to cure it or to engage against it and embrace whatever is the Will of Allah (SWT) upon us.

We know even as we want to protect this life we now have, there is a bigger life that we ought to prepare for – a life that is everlasting; life that is eternal.

Alhamdulillah, with this Holy Month of Ramadan, we are doubly strengthened with our wherewithal to face the challenge of COVID-19 hoping that its virulence would decrease in the coming days so it lessens our agony and fear. (To be continued)

[Eid al-fitr khutbah delivered at UP Lagoon, University of the Philippines Diliman, on 24 May 2020, without actual jama’a or congregation in compliance with guideline on Modified Community Quarantine and broadcast by IBC-13 and PTV4 nationwide. Minor editing has been done into the text as the khutbah was delivered extemporaneously. MindaViews is opinion section of MindaNews. Julkipli Wadi is Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of the Philippines.]

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