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One Night In Aleppo… Will Change You

Innovation isn’t something that most Muslim organisations are accused of lately. We tend to be behind the curve on most things, if we’re even on it at all. So when I got an invite to a unique experiential event called “One night in Aleppo”, I was keen to see what it was all about.

Organised by Islamic Relief UK, the event was designed to highlight the suffering of the ordinary Syrian people that has tragically reached the 5th anniversary with no end in sight.

I went expecting to sit in a lecture theatre and hear speakers who would tell us about the dire situation in Aleppo and perhaps see a few file clips from the news. So I finished up quickly at work and sent my Medical students away with homework and proceeded to the event, but my mind was elsewhere.

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I was thinking about the piles of marking I had to do, planning my Charity Week meetings for the coming week and what I needed to pick up from the supermarket on the way back home. My mind was everywhere but on the event that I was going to. I certainly wasn’t thinking about Syria.

All that changed the minute I walked through the door of the non-descript building and pushed aside the curtain.

IMG_0739

What I saw before me was nightmarish.

The dingy lights.

The broken glass.

The empty shops and homes.

The demolished mosque with no minaret.

The unexplained splatters of blood leaving trails of broken dreams and families in their wake.

The ghostly figures standing in the corners of the ruined buildings making me realise – shockingly – that there were some who still lived there.

Everything that had preoccupied my mind seconds ago had been pushed out. The tragedy of Syria had collided with my brain head-on and what I was left with was a deepening sense of dread.

Islamic Relief had hired a venue used for WW2 simulation war games and converted it into the streets of Aleppo. You know a conflict is bad when a WW2 scene needs to be made more harrowing to reflect it.

Alepo2

They also hired actors to act out scenes of ordinary people and their extraordinary struggle to survive through the chaos. There was a teacher desperate to learn about the fate of her school children. There was a medic struggling to help an injured lady with little equipment in the ruins of the hospital. There were aid workers being overwhelmed by the scale of the disaster. Most hauntingly of all, there was a couple consoling each other about the loss of their little son.

Alepo1

I felt numb, desolate and angry. If this re-enactment of Aleppo could be so moving, how much more desperate must the real city be?

It has been 5 long years.

5 years of tragedy.

5 years of killing.

5 years of fleeing.

5 years of watching a people torn apart, city by city, family by family, person by person.

Today, as I write this, Aleppo is surrounded by the forces of darkness preparing to snuff out any remnant of hope left in that broken, battered city. We have yet to figure out how we are going to stop this and the other conflicts that afflict us. Until we do, we can at least donate to help them in their hour years of need.

www.islamic-relief.org.uk/current-appeals/syria-appeal

www.irusa.org/syria

I’m grateful to Islamic Relief for organising an event this innovative and immersive that it managed to shake me out of the rat race. One night in Aleppo was a glimpse into hell, but the fact that we are able to put on events like this to remind us of their suffering gave me hope amidst the darkness.

May Allah protect the people of Aleppo and the oppressed wherever they may be.

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Dr. Muhammad Wajid Akhter - Doctor, Medical Tutor (Social Media, History & Medicine) - Islamic Historian - Founder of, and current board member to Charity Week for Orphans and needy children. www.charityweek.com - Council member, British Islamic Medical Association

9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Umm Ayesha

    April 28, 2016 at 11:41 PM

    When we muslims leave the ways of sunnah, become westernised liberal and modern, forget the teachings of the Quran and Hadith then Allah’s wrath opens in any form. May Allah have Mercy on us. This the time for Astaghfaar and repentence. Begging Allah for forgiveness and trying to lead our lives as Rasoolallah (PBUH)and his companions, the Sahaba led (RA). There is no other way for te Ummah to get out of these tragedies.

    • Avatar

      Truth

      May 1, 2016 at 3:30 AM

      Umm Ayesha do you live in the West? if so, what do you mean “When we … become westernised liberal and modern … then Allah’s wrath opens in any form.” If indeed you do live in the west then obviously you and your interpretation of Islam have no place in the west and you need to move to a Muslim majority country.
      Also it seems obvious that it’s the violence found in the Quran and hadith that is a big part of the problem.

      • Avatar

        Ishmum Khan

        May 8, 2016 at 1:02 AM

        okay so Russia and US are attacking according to Quran and hadith?

  2. Avatar

    Umm Aasiyah

    April 29, 2016 at 9:44 AM

    Subanallah! It’s so easy to forget about the suffering and anguish in Syria as we in the West and other relatively calmer places go on with the hustle and bustle of life. May Almighty Allah reward Bro. Akhter for this piece. It has also shaken me out of my complacent state. Even if regular folks like I cannot do much, we can at least make our dua for Syria more intense and more frequent. And also increase our donations to the relief organizations out there. May Almighty Allah help the people of Syria. It is indeed a great trial.

  3. Avatar

    Murtala Lawal lsah

    April 30, 2016 at 6:07 AM

    Oh! Allah, saves Muslims ummah from the enemies of lslam, and restored peace in Muslims state, such as Syria, Nigeria, Iraq, Somalia etc.

  4. Avatar

    Mohammad Abdul

    May 3, 2016 at 5:20 PM

    Ameen,

    The rulers in the Muslim world have let down the Muslims of Syria spectacularly. Erdogon pretends to be the saviour of the Muslims, but he has not moved one soldier to help protect the Muslims of Syria. The Saudi family can find all the resources under the sun to fight and kill the Muslims of Yemen, but cannot find any soldiers to assist the Muslims of Syria.

    If there is one thing we as an Ummah need to understand is that until we remove these rulers and put in charge someone who cares for the sanctity of Islam and Muslims, these types of massacres will become common place, if they have not become already.

    May Allah (swt) bless us with a leader like Abu Bakr (ra), ameen.

    • Avatar

      Hue Man

      May 10, 2016 at 11:00 AM

      May Allah make us like the followers of Abu Bakr so that we may deserve a leader like him.

  5. Avatar

    Muslim

    May 6, 2016 at 3:59 AM

    Salam Aleikum,

    A primitive narrative toeing the mainstream/corporate/NATO parameters on what is happening in Syria. The sad reality is that events in Syria have nothing to do with Bashar al-Assad or “human rights.” It has everything to do with securing Israel, eliminating Hizbullah, Hamas, PIJ and PPF from having an Arab state support to resist Israel, along with facilitating inter Muslim divisions.

    Why does the Western media not cover Yemen even for 5% of air-coverage it gives to Syria? Why do Western regimes back regimes in the Muslim world 100 times worse than Assad?

    Wake up people, Syria is a trap and it has nothing to do with slogans projected by the Western media and parroted by naive Muslims.

  6. Avatar

    Manaal

    May 26, 2016 at 8:48 AM

    In 2009, Rania Azeem made contact, heshe was from a family of doctors in Aleppo. She said, such a sad state to find the curses of the oppressed resting upon the very fate of the oppressors, who have tried everything to plot and plan against Allah’s creation. The meddling of tryants is only a reflected wave to themselves. For which human thinks it can stand against Allah’s retribution and power?

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Aqeedah and Fiqh

Prosperity Islam And The Coronavirus Problem

Hadith: “Hasten to perform good deeds before seven events: Are you waiting for poverty that makes you forgetful? Or wealth that burdens you? Or a debilitating disease or senility? Or an unexpected death or the False Messiah? Or is it evil in the unseen you are waiting for? Or the Hour itself? The Hour will be bitter and terrible.

Islam encompasses all of human experience. We believe in the good and bad from divine decree. The ‘problem of evil’ is not a Muslim dilemma because the abode of this world is a test, and the next life is the abode of recompense. Those who do evil in this world may enjoy comfortable and pleasurable lives. Pious Muslims on the other hand may live in immense suffering and oppression.

One’s state with Allah is not known through worldly position.

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The Quran has lots of mention of suffering in this world and the reward for the pious is constantly in the hereafter. Distance from the Quran distances us from what our Creator told us about living in His world.

Habituation to feel-good religious programs and motivational talks has left us unable to know how to be serious. The Coronavirus pandemic should be all the motivation we need for serious learning and hasten to good deeds.

New-age religion and the prosperity gospel

Modern Islamic discourse intertwines notions of sulook (spiritual wayfaring) with new-age spiritual ideas which make spiritual progression a self-centering endeavor of ‘personal development.’ Missing from this discourse is submission to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), which entails doing what one is obliged to do- even if there is no apparent personal win. A self-centering religious perspective is antithetical to true religion, and ironically a spiritual pursuit becomes a selfish pursuit.

Within this approach, we see our practice of Islam not in terms of fulfilling obligations or understanding we must develop virtues we lack; rather we approach Islam as consumers and form identities around how we choose to be Muslim. This is visible on marriage apps where Muslims will brand themselves around how often they pray, whether or not they eat halal, and how practicing they are. Once this identity is formed, such Muslims are less likely to experience contrition and ultimately improve. The self is then a commodity on the marriage market.

When it comes to worship, for example, giving charity becomes an ‘act of kindness’ to fill the quota of selfless acts to becoming a better person. In other instances, acts of worship are articulated in worldly language, such as fasting in Ramadan being a weight-loss opportunity. One can make multiple intentions, but health benefits of fasting should not be used to articulate the primary benefit of fasting. In other instances, some opt to not pray, simply because they don’t feel spiritual enough to pray. This prioritizes feelings over servitude, but follows from a ‘self’ focused religious mentality.

Much like the prosperity Gospel, Muslims have fallen into the trap of teaching religion as a means of worldly success. While it is true that the discipline, commitment, and work ethic of religious progression can be used for material success, it is utterly false that religious status is on any parallel with material status.

Too many Sunday schools and conferences have taught generations that being a good Muslim means being the best student, having the best jobs, and then displaying the power of Islam to non-Muslims via worldly success and a character that is most compliant to rules. Not only does this type of religion cater to the prosperous and ignore those suffering, it leaves everyone ill prepared for the realities of life. It comes as a shock to many Muslims then that bad things can happen even when you work hard to live a good life. The prosperity gospel has tainted our religious teachings, and the pandemic of COVID19 is coming as a shock difficult for many to process in religious terms. There will be a crisis when bad things happen to good people if we are not in touch with our scripture and favor a teaching focused on worldly gains.

Why it leads to misunderstanding religion

Tribulations, persecution, and events that are outside of our control do not fit the popular self-help form of religion that is pervasive today. Islam means submission, and while we must avoid fatalism, we cannot delude ourselves into idolatry of the self. An Islam that focuses on our individual life journey and finding ourselves has no room for the ‘bad stuff.’ This type of religion favors well-to-do Muslims who are used to the illusion of control and the luxuries of self-improvement. Those who believe that if you are good then God will give you good things in this world will have a false belief shattered and understand the world is not the abode of recompense for the believer.

Islam means submission, and while we must avoid fatalism, we cannot delude ourselves into idolatry of the self.Click To Tweet

Tribulations may then effect faith because it questions the often subconscious teachings of prosperity gospel versions of Islam that we are in control of our own destiny, if we are good enough we will succeed. If this is the basis of a person’s faith, it can be proven “wrong” by any level of tribulation. Having one’s ‘faith’ disproven is terrifying but it should make us ask the question: “Does this mean that Islam is not true, or does this mean that my understanding and my way of living Islam are not true?”

My advice is do not avoid struggle or pain by ignoring it or practicing “patience” just thinking that you are a strong Muslim because you can conquer this pain without complaint. Running from pain and not feeling pain will catch up to us later. Learn from it. Sometimes when we are challenged, we falter. We ask why, we question, we complain, and we struggle. We don’t understand because it doesn’t fit our understanding of Islam. We need a new understanding and that understanding will only come by living through the pain and not being afraid of the questions or the emptiness.

Our faith needs to be able to encompass reality in its good and bad, not shelter us from reality because, ultimately, only God is Real.

Unlearn false teachings

Prosperity religion makes it much easier to blame the person who is suffering and for the one suffering to blame himself. As believers we take the means for a good life in this world and the next, but recognize that acceptance of good actions is only something Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) knows, and that life is unpredictable.

Favor from God is not reflected through prosperity. It is a form of idolatry to believe that you can control God or get what you want from God, and this belief cannot even stand up to a distanced tragedy.

Responding appropriately requires good habits.

Tribulations are supposed to push us towards God and remind us to take life very seriously. Even with widespread calamity and suffering, many of us still have a very self-centered way of understanding events and do not hasten to good actions.

For example, reaching old age is supposed to be an opportunity to repent, spend more time in prayer, and to expatiate for shortcomings. Old age itself is a reminder that one will soon return to his Lord.

However, we see many of today’s elders not knowing how to grow old and prepare for death. Most continue in habits such as watching television or even pick up new habits and stay glued to smart phones. This is unfortunate but natural progression to a life void of an Islamic education and edification.

Similarly we are seeing that Muslims do not know what to do in the midst of a global crisis. Even the elderly are spending hours reading and forwarding articles related to Covid-19 on different WhatsApp groups. This raises the question of what more is needed to wake us up. This problem is natural progression of a shallow Islamic culture that caters to affluence, prosperity, and feel-good messaging. Previous generations had practices such as doing readings of the Quran, As-Shifa of Qadi Iyad, Sahih al-Bukhari, or the Burda when afflicted with tribulations.

If we are playing video games, watching movies, or engaging in idle activities there is something very wrong with our state. We need to build good habits and be persistent regardless of how spiritual those habits feel, because as we are seeing, sudden tribulations will not just bestow upon us the ability to repent and worship. The point of being regimented in prayer and invocations is that these practices themselves draw one closer to God, and persisting when one does not feel spiritual as well as when one does is itself a milestone in religious progression.

While its scale is something we haven’t seen in our lifetime, it’s important to recognize the coronavirus pandemic as a tribulation.  The response to tribulation should be worship and repentance, and a reminder that ‘self-improvement’ should not be a path to becoming more likable or confident only, but to adorn our hearts with praiseworthy qualities and rid them of blameworthy qualities. Death can take any of us at any moment without notice, and we will be resurrected on a day where only a sound heart benefits.

Our religious education and practice should be a preparation for our afterlife first and foremost. Modeling our religious teachings in a worldly lens has left many of us unable to deal with tribulations to the point where we just feel anxiety from the possibility of suffering. This anxiety is causing people to seek therapy. It is praiseworthy for those who need to seek therapy, and noble of therapists to give the service, but my point is the need itself serves as a poignant gauge for how much our discourse has failed generations.

Benefit from Solitude

We should use solitude to our benefit, reflect more, and ponder the meanings of the Quran.  Completing courses on Seerah, Shamail, Arabic, or Fiqh would also be good uses of time. What should be left out however are motivational talks or short lectures that were given in communal events. In such gatherings, meeting in a wholesome environment is often the goal, and talks are compliments to the overall atmosphere. When that atmosphere is removed, it would be wise to use that normally allotted time for more beneficial actions. Instead of listening to webinars, which are not generally building an actual knowledge base that the previously mentioned courses would, nor is it a major act of worship like reading and reflecting upon the Quran. In other words, our inspirational talks should lead us to action, and studying is one of the highest devotional acts.

The pandemic should serve as sufficient inspiration and we need to learn how to be serious. I urge Muslims to ignore motivational and feel-good lectures that are now feel-good webinars, and focus on studying and worshipping. We should really ask if we just lack the capacity to move beyond motivational lectures if we still need motivation in the midst of a global pandemic.  The fact that after years of programming the destination is not the Quran for ‘processing events’ or studying texts for learning is symptomatic of a consciously personality oriented structure.

Muslims struggling to process a pandemic (opposed to coping with associated tragedies, such as loved ones dying or suffering) show the lack of edification feel good talks can produce.

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Coronavirus

A Doctor And A COVID19 Patient: “I will tell Allah about you.”

Guests

By Dr Farah Farzana

I get bleeped at around 2.30am to review a patient. A Pakistani gentleman admitted with Covid19.

The lovely nurse on duty says, “He is on maximum amount of oxygen on the ward, but keeps on removing his oxygen mask and nasal cannula, very confused and is not listening to anyone.”

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I arrive as soon as I can to the ward. I stare at him through the glass doors of the closed bay, while putting on my inadequate PPE.

He looks like he is drowning, he is gasping for air, flushed and eyes bulging like someone is strangling him.

I immediately introduce myself, hold his hands and he squeezes my hand pulls it close to his chest. Starts to speak in Urdu and says he doesn’t know what is going on, he cannot understand anyone and he is so scared.

I give him my Salam and start speaking to him in Urdu. His eyes fill up with tears and hope.

I explain to him he really needs to have his oxygen mask on as we are trying to make him feel better. He tells me he is suffocating with the mask and he doesn’t like the noise. I grab his arm help him sit up in his bed.

We exercise synchronising his breathing and I put the mask and nasal cannula back on.

He asks me Doctor, am I going to die? I cannot hear the voices anymore, they don’t come to visit, everything is quiet and silent, like Allah is waiting to take me to Him. I am lost for words and tell him we are doing all we can to make him feel and get better. He tells me he has been speaking to Allah, he doesn’t care for himself just his family. I know he is scared and feels so alone. I tell him I’m here with him and am not leaving yet. I monitor his saturations and surely they come straight back up. I tell him I am going to give him medications for his temperatures and fluid in his lungs.

He agrees to take them.

He asks me why I didn’t come to see him until now, because I am his own. He says when he speaks to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) he will tell Him about me and that I am a good person and I cared for him.

I get a little choked up.

I can’t gather my thoughts before my bleep goes off again. I have to leave now though I tell him I have lots of patients who need my help. He begs me not to leave, but understands after a while and lets me go.I take off my inadequate surgical mask (PPE) before I leave the bay I look back at him to smile and he smiles back. We both wave goodbye. I can see tears rolling down his cheeks.

I don’t know how he will do, how he is now but I cannot stop thinking about him. I always assume positive outcome if I don’t get called back during the night to see the patient again. Plus it was such a busy night I had no time to stop to reflect, and I continued with a smile.

I speak fluent Bangla and my Urdu isn’t very good. But that night Urdu flawed so effortlessly out of my mouth without any hesitation and I was able to say exactly what I needed to him *SubhanAllah*.

My heart breaks for the minority patients, with language barriers. They are fighting this battle more alone and scared than ever.
Normally, they would rely on family members to translate for them, but given the current situation they must feel helpless.

It’s not just the suffering it’s the suffering alone that pulls on my heartstrings.

‘Indeed, to Allah we belong and to Him we shall return’
Quran 2:156

When all this is over, please remember to appreciate the little things.

  • Appreciate your freedom.
  • Appreciate all the hugs and love.
  • Appreciate your health and your health service.
  • Appreciate your families and loved ones.
  • And just be grateful to be ALIVE.
  • Stay at home. Save lives.
    #stayhome #nhs #gratitude

Courtesy: Facebook post

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#Current Affairs

COVID19: Calling The Conscientious

Violating borders, scaling every wall and traveling faster than a rumor, COVID19 is now around nearly everywhere. It has reduced nations and societies, low and mighty, to their knees, demoted all preoccupations to insignificance and is threatening to torch everyone in its path.

The imperial hubris of nations, with and without nuclear weapons has crumbled. Mighty militaries have been reduced to mere spectators. Borders are closed. Markets have tumbled. Even the gods amongst humans – rulers, monarchs, dictators, religious heads, generals, billionaires, movie stars, icons of sports and music –have been forced to recede from the limelight. Neither they are in control nor can they perform. All of them are forced to surrender by an unseen microscopic speck with an insatiable appetite to devour humankind, bit-by-bit, part by part.

A pre-COVID19 world is now a blurred memory. It was not long ago that we were a different planet and a different people. Neither hand-sanitizers nor masks were precious enough to purchase let alone hoard, or even think about. YouTube was popular but not so much for videos on how to wash hands or what to do when self-quarantined. And, shaking hands were a norm and we used to respond with a “bless you” to our neighbor’s cough or sneeze.

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That was pre-COVID19.

Places of worship are already shut down and airports, train stations and shipping ports are shutting down. Boulevards and avenues are eerily silent. Shopping malls and theaters stand abandoned.

This is post-COVID19.

Yet, there are flashes of hope and inspiration. Medical professionals and health care workers are fighting to save mankind, a patient a time. Our ill equipped and fatigued hospitals are abodes of our new heroes and true patriots. And no less are trash collectors, grocery workers, truck drivers, postal workers, fruit pickers among others whom we took for granted all along.

Covid-19 is not just the biggest story of our time, it is the only story.

Amidst a piercing cacophony of politicians’ press conferences and public interest advisories, we cannot afford to miss out the soft whispers of COVID19.

It is telling us to pay more attention to the under-estimated meaningful over the hyper-marketed mundane. Its whispers remind us to remember that we are but a mere mortal. We are reminded in the Quran that God made us from a mere speck (40:67).

Not, too long ago, we seldom had to remind ourselves that we are human. Not too long ago we could afford to be enemies of ourselves. Humans were enemies of humans, fighting and taking life of those considered ‘others’. We fostered division … “them” and “us,” “citizens” and “illegals.” COVID19 has spoken: no more. We stoked exclusion … “black, brown and white,” “conservative and liberal,” and “urban and rural.” COVID19 has spoken: no more.

In its sweeping trail of destruction, COVID19, is imploring us — harness my power to cause dread in each one of you, across borders, across genders, across races — and unite. COVID19 is challenging us: find a common cause against me. When any of you find an antidote against me, may that be a reason for your coming together, even if right now I have forced you to stay away from each other – six feet part.

COVID19 is an equal opportunity and a non-discriminating enemy, which will kill no matter how we worship, what we eat, where we live. One touch strikes all with equal precision.

Today, as we face an existential threat from a mortal molecular foe, we must remind ourselves about what matters most, our humanity and not our race and nationality.

The truth is that long before COVID19 struck us, we were sick. We spread viruses; hate and bigotry, we held thoughts of xenophobia for those who did not deserve it. We wallowed in bias and built echo chambers. COVID19 exposed all of our pre-COVID19 shortcomings.

Coronavirus will kill us for a while, but then in the end, we will overpower it. But before that happens, all the human deaths would be in vain if we don’t realize that in a world of such threats, we never needed to have been at each other’s throats.

In fear and panic, people resort to extreme behavior, it amazes us with their capacity for wisdom and kindness, or stupidity and cruelty. COVID19 is beseeching us to reclaim and regain our humanity of compassion and kindness. It is telling us to come together to fight our common battles. It is forcing us to wash our hands of all sins of our past and then lock our hearts and hands and build a world where meaning must matter more than the mundane.

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