CRUCIBLE: Eid al-Fitr 2020 – Facing the Challenge of COVID-19 (2)

QUEZON CITY (MindaNews / 29 May) – There is a short line in the Holy Qur’an that states: “Allah doth set forth parables for mankind… (14: 25).”

There are many sublime passages in the Qur’an that talk of parables. The reason being is that parable, like simile, metaphor and a few others, is easy to grasp when it is used to explain things. That is the reason why we connect some of our lessons or learning in these days of pandemic with our experience in the Holy Month of Ramadan. Hence, our metaphor of PPEs and the like understood as our spiritual tools.

Beyond spiritual dimension or significance, as we said, there is probably no moment in recent history where we have faced with this challenge of pandemic. Many analysts were quite humbled as most of them failed to predict today’s plague. Earlier, quite a few known political scientists had identified the two main problems of the world: proliferation of nuclear weapons and worsening Climate Change or Global Warming.

Yet, there is this third force – an enemy that is invisible. It was only predicted by personalities like Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, during his TED Talk in 2015. Accordingly, the world would likely not experience nuclear holocaust but a plague called coronavirus. There were, in fact, few people who had made the same prediction. Because of this we raise the question: how come these people knew beforehand the coming pandemic?

For sure, epidemics and pandemics punctuated human history, but what is unique in our time is the frequency of their occurrence with today’s epidemics and pandemics. Just in recent years, there were familiar names identified with epidemics including today’s SARS-COV-2, the cause of COVID-19; SARS-COV; SADS-COV; MERS-COV; HCOV-229E, and many others. Indeed, we raise the question: why such a frequency of their occurrence these recent years?

We raise the question with the premise that past plagues – epidemics or pandemics – occurred with some degree of naturalness; it means they happened naturally as there could be instances where diseases were transferred from animals to humans.

In fact, there were so-called fifty great killers. In the book of J. N Hays, “Epidemics and Pandemics: Their Impacts on Human History,” there were 50 major epidemics that started in recorded history as early as in Greece in around 430-427 BCE until quite recently even before SARS-COV-2 like Mad Cow Disease and many others, notwithstanding the Spanish Influenza in the early 20th century.

Our question on the frequency of their occurrence in recent years alludes precisely to the current debate: whether or not the virus that caused COVID-19 was caused naturally or was

A product of genetic manipulation of certain bat species in a laboratory. If it is the latter case, it precisely begs our question: why should humanity be made to face with pandemic in so frequent a time and how much is the role scientists or those in power with the way they handle their so-called bio-research and research on bio-weapons?

The point we want to raise is: we have entered a phase of history where we should become even more vigilant and more informed. The least we could afford is for us not to be inquisitive or relegate our right particularly our freedom to inquire with what is happening in our world today.

If we are well-informed as individuals, we could face properly the challenge of this pandemic. The worse that could happen is, if in our search for vaccine to address the virus, the virus and its patent and the vaccine are actually controlled by those in power.

It is, as we said, unlike in the past where pandemics simply happened naturally –  a reason why, for instance, during the time of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) when they were going to Syria they found out that there was a plague; he then prohibited his sahabah (companions) to go or enter the area and prohibited those who were there to get out – antedating all the notion of quarantine that we know now.

So that, around 9th or 10th century, accordingly, Ibn Sina, a known Muslim philosopher and medical doctor, developed the idea or method of “arba’uun” (forty). That is, in order to address the contagion, people should be isolated or, at least, contained to around 40 persons. Accordingly, this study reached Italy and other European countries in the 10th century; hence, the word “quarantine.”

The point we want to impress is that, yes, we have to become spiritual. And we are so especially in this Holy Month of Ramadan. But we are also even more obliged to be well-informed of what is happening out there. Hence, we need to master science, we need to master society, culture, politics, and geopolitics most especially.

We cannot separate our quest for spirituality and religiosity with the challenge to understand the world around us. We have to be ulama – real ulama – well-informed of things around us not only in terms of religious matters but on practically all sciences and world affairs. With this, we can properly position ourselves in understanding and explaining not only the science of COVID-19 but the geopolitics that underpins it.

At the end of the day, when we are well—informed on these, we are in better position to frame our understanding of the challenge we face with COVID-19 with even broader, inspiring, comprehensive understanding of what life really is – a life that we simply have to live or to be lived in this world, but something that we have to prepare for and look forward to in the Hereafter. And that we have our spiritual armors with all the facilities and methods we all have developed in this Holy Month of Ramadan.

So, this will be our final message to all Brothers and Sisters. We would like to express our Eid Mubarak to everyone. We would like to extend our thanks to Secretary Martin Andanar of the Presidential Communications and Operations Office. We also would like to extend our thanks to Secretary Saidamen Pangarungan of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos for supporting this program and also our sincerest thanks and gratitude to some ulama and their jama’a we have consulted. Finally, we extend our thanks to the management and staff of IBC-13 for preparing and broadcasting this program.

We hope and pray that we are now even more strengthened and empowered to face the challenge of our time!

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

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