Without a doubt every single person in the UK is aware of the situation that is currently unfolding; the fears surrounding intensive care beds, the escalating concerns for our elderly and the vulnerable members of our population. We know that several people tried to collect a lifetime supply of toilet roll, and we know some local shops are hiking up prices to increase profits. We all collectively started to “socially distance” a week ago—working from home, cancelled meals, cancelled holidays, cancelled weddings. There is something so “modern” about this virus: that we all feel the effects, without necessarily being personally infected. We have all been affected, either through the cancellation of something we were looking forward to, such as Umrah, or of something we were perhaps not looking forward to, like exams. Whatever it may be, we are collectively affected and shaken by all our presumed certainties no longer being certain.
On Sunday night, I realised I had a cough which quickly escalated to a mild fever. I contacted work to inform them, and they were quick to advise that I take seven days off—self-isolate. Being a doctor, I am likely to have been exposed to the virus at one point, or perhaps I caught it from someone in the community. Such is the nature of this invisible, minuscule virus that I will likely never know where I caught it—or if I even really caught it at all (although the upcoming antibody test may change that!). Of course, my body knows I caught something—the first two days I had intermittent fevers and a persistent cough, all the while cooped up in my quarantined, self-isolated room. Alhamdulillah, two weeks on, I feel significantly better, and inshaAllah I am on the mend from whatever it is I was fighting.
Being in self-isolation for those seven days granted me a lot of time to myself. While this, of course, included Netflix, some reading, some writing and napping, it was also a source of profound reflection. As the world around us comes to a halt, there has been no greater time to increase our own reflection and pondering around this situation, and how best it can benefit us, even amidst the difficulties.
It was throughout these last few days that I have reflected and felt that there are a great many lessons to be learned from self-isolation, and from this situation as a whole, which I hope can be of benefit for all.
The Prophet PBUH said:
“The one among you who wakes up secure in his property, healthy in his body and has his food for the day, it is as if the whole world were brought to him.” [Bukhari, 300]
I wonder how often we can remind ourselves, living in our conflict-free, comfortable homes, with food and good health, that Allah SWT truly has brought the world for us, at times when we feel the world is falling apart.
Few situations have ever made me so acutely aware of my own. While I have previously enjoyed pondering upon the many blessings that Allah has bestowed—indeed far more than we can count—this situation has made me appreciate blessings I did not even realise I had.
This has been a common theme during discussions with friends (on Zoom—which cannot believe I only learned about last week!). We have discussed how profound it is that certain blessings can only be appreciated or realised once they are lost or threatened. Of course, the larger blessings of good health and having a healthy family and friends are particularly noticeable, alhamdulillah. But when had I ever previously considered how grateful I am to go to the supermarket at any time and find everything I am looking for, or not needing to queue for an hour? When have I ever considered being grateful for walking down the street and not having to cross the road to “socially distance”?
When have I ever considered being grateful for simply being able to have tea with a friend? We have all taken such moments as a given and part and parcel of life.
Perhaps the greater wisdom behind this situation is to be reminded again of Allah SWT’s assertion that: if we were to count His blessings, never would we be able to enumerate them. Even within each individual blessing come a plethora of further microscopic blessings, which I have truly learned to appreciate. The gratitude of being able to go to the supermarket has the inner blessings of living in a country that has supermarkets, having access to technology that can pay “contactless,” having an income that provides the money to pay with. The gratitude of being able to attend a masjid at jamaat times means a masjid exists in the area to lead a jamaat.
In all the constant negativity that we hear when we turn on our television screens, perhaps there is room for us to turn it all off, take a deep breath, and ponder on Allah’s blessings, which always, inevitably, outweigh the difficult trials.
2. Self-Isolation is inherently Islamic, and helps to get closer to Allah.
There were points during my self-isolation when I wished there had been a rule that meant my phone could not come into isolation with me. As someone with far too high a “screen time,” I was definitely shocked by how much it increased while I was tucked away in my room. But after day three of bingeing on Netflix, I started to feel lonely and turned to FaceTiming other members of the household. Even then, the lack of human contact felt strange, and I missed the physical contact that enables us to show and feel affection.
It was at this moment that I realised that there are countless stories of isolation from the Islamic tradition.
The Prophet SAW himself received revelation for the first time when secluding himself in the cave of Hira. With no other people, at a time of significant reflection and turning to the Almighty, he was able to start his journey as The Messenger of Allah. Only in these moments of perceived loneliness, detached from the distraction of life, do our role models find peace and tranquility in the solitude and certainty of being with He who creates certainty.
During my own self-isolation, once I was able to battle the distraction of modern-day technology, I found a clarity with which I was able to ponder, meditate, pray and reflect about my faith and Allah SWT. It was different from being in the throes of busy modern-day life. Alhamdulillah, simply having some time to myself made me realise the importance of using that time to consider the multitude of blessings Allah bestows on us daily.
Or take the situation of Maryam (AS) (minus Netflix, minus FaceTime, multiplied by “ostracised by society”). Allah SWT relates in the Qur’an that Maryam “withdrew herself with him (Isa AS) to a remote place…” and subsequently after giving birth, vowed to not speak to any person [Qur’an 19:21-22]. She had no one to speak to except Allah, and in this was the challenge of realising that, while also maintaining trust in The Almighty. Her own words of weakness at this moment—“I wish I had died before this, and been a thing long forgotten ” [Qur’an 19:23]—remind us of her own humanity, alone and desperate in her situation…. Allah never shies away from reminding us of our weakness as humans, and how spectacular that Maryam AS’s moment of greatest weakness is tied to the birth of the Prophet Isa AS—he who will bring her the greatest strength for the remainder of her own life, and future generations to come.
It is important to realise in these situations that where we struggle can often be the fruits of the greatest achievements, and the greatest steps towards getting closer to our Creator.
Zakariya AS was also given the sign of being unable to speak to people for three days and three nights [Qur’an 19:10] and, while not being physically isolated, this was again a form of isolation. In all of this we learn how profound that perceived “aloneness” truly is, as it was in these moments that both Maryam and Zakariya AS found great comfort and reassurance in Allah SWT. In being alone we realise how we are never really alone at all, and that the company of our Creator is with us in times of perceived loneliness as well as times of togetherness.
3. Becoming grateful for loved ones
One thing that has amazed me in this period of quarantine has been the number of social gatherings I have been invited to—online! It is as though in our hyper-connected world, where it is often easy to lose ourselves in social media and the endless scroll of pictures or tweets, we have suddenly been forced to remember our most blessed interaction: with our loved ones.
I have seen my close friends in group video chats during this period of time more often than I saw them physically over the previous year. After the second, third or fourth movie on Netflix, I yearned only to speak to my mother, to joke with my father, to hold hands with my husband.
In the same way, realising how many have loved ones or grandparents who are critically unwell has increased my gratitude for any time I have with my own. I have become attuned to being grateful simply for exchanging “Salaam” with my grandmother, and being able to still do so.
I have become acutely aware of how much time Allah has already blessed me with in the company of those I love, and how all of that time is a blessing.
I hope when we have all been let back out into the world and can fill our feeds with holiday photos and outfits of the day, that we do not forget the gratitude we learned in this time. I hope we never again take for granted the ability to visit our grandparents, or simply tell our parents we love them.
4. Developing Sabr
In Surah Al-Kahf, we are relayed the story of the Prophet Musa AS and how he met with Khidr, who, Allah had informed him, was more knowledgeable than any human. Throughout his story, we witness how the Prophet Musa, despite being a prophet, and despite being the only prophet with whom Allah SWT spoke directly, struggles to reconcile things he does not understand. Khidr says to him, “and how can you have patience for that which you do not understand?” [Qur’an 18:65–68]
There are perhaps few more relevant questions to the coronavirus than this. Allah SWT—in creating us in a weak state—undoubtedly understands the weakness we feel in a lack of understanding. Even as a doctor, I am amazed at how little is known about the virus, and how much we are learning on a daily basis. The things we thought we knew last week, are sometimes proven wrong in the next week. It is only natural—just as our Prophet Musa AS felt—to feel in a state of confusion.
When the Prophet SAW was faced with hardship, he felt that Allah SWT had changed his mind; that he was no longer deserving of prophethood. The beauty of this is two-fold. The first, that Allah SWT subsequently sent down Surah Adh-Dhuha: a merciful Surah explaining that “Your Lord has not forsaken you, nor has He become displeased.” And reminding the Prophet SAW that “what is to come is better than what has passed by” [Qur’an 93:3–4]. In this, we learn two of the most important attitudes to apply to every situation: to remind ourselves of Allah’s Mercy, and to remind ourselves that what comes next is better than what has gone.
The second part of this beauty is in reflecting again on Musa AS. When it is revealed to him all the reasons why Khidr AS does things that are thoroughly and utterly confusing—things that completely try Musa AS’s patience—it all makes beautiful sense [Qur’an 18:78-82].
Take a step back to realise the blessings in this: the earth’s oceans becoming cleaner, the skies being clearer, human beings slowing down from their pace of constant consuming, constant producing—and the whole world coming to a pause.
Allah knows best and Allah knows it makes complete sense.
5. The only certainty is Allah
In Surah Al Kahf again, we are reminded, “and do not say of anything, I will do this tomorrow—except by adding inshaAllah” [Qur’an 18:23-24].
I truly don’t believe I felt the meaning of this ayah before this situation. I remember theoretically thinking “inshaAllah I will go to work tomorrow” and balancing that feeling of being “aware” I might not, with that feeling of certainty that I definitely would. How many of us were preparing with certainty for all of those holidays? In fact, at this time I have realised how I never even considered that having money and a plan was not the recipe for a definite Umrah. Allah SWT has to allow for all of this to happen, and in a world that truly is completely uncertain, it is He who is the only true certainty.
Remembering this comes hand in hand with having faith in his plan. Some are concerned about not praying tarawih in Ramadan, when we are not even assured that we will survive until Ramadan.
The news of loved ones passing away due to coronavirus is tragic, worsened by the prospect of not being able to see them or visit them on their death beds. Worsened further by the potential of having a janazah attended by few. But Allah SWT reminds us that He is closer to us than our jugular veins. In the absence of people at the janazah, these martyrs undoubtedly receive countless angels praying for them. In the absence of time spent with them on Earth, I believe we are waiting to spend eternity with them in the beautiful abode of the Hereafter. May Allah SWT make it certain for us to make it there.
Ultimately, realising that nothing is certain except Allah should humble us. Even those who have no faith in any deity have been left utterly powerless by a completely invisible, intangible virus—that doesn’t even breathe by itself. Whatever the belief, we are united in our shared feeling of powerlessness, and it is in this that we realise that with Allah is all power, and all certainty is and always has been with Him.
6. Tighten your own oxygen mask first
As I came out of my isolation, I realised something else: how long I had neglected myself in terms of simply taking time to pause. I had simply not given myself enough time to switch off; I was running at 200mph.
I know for some, especially parents who have had school holidays start very early, it probably feels that they’re running twice as fast. But this trial should encourage us to at least remember that we can not fasten another’s oxygen mask before we fasten our own. This is something too common in healthcare; we feel burnout, stress, anxiety about things that we have no power to control.
In a brilliant article interviewing David Kessler, an ‘expert in grief’, he reminds us, “you can think about how to let go of what you can’t control. What your neighbour is doing is out of your control.
What is in your control is staying six feet away from them and washing your hands. Focus on that.”
I realised that it was in my control (with Allah’s permission) to take a nice bubble bath, moisturise, put on a face mask and do some dhikr. The ITU beds are not in my control. The stressing colleagues are not in my control. I am in control of how I behave in this situation, and I am in control of how much time I give myself.
In this world of constantly being busy, Allah SWT has now forced us all to collectively hit the “pause” button. In whatever way possible, we need to learn to look after ourselves and our mental and physical health, and inshaAllah this will enable us to look after those whom we love the most, for the sake of The One who loves us the most.
I pray Allah SWT protects you all, guides you all, and elevates you all, as we endure this test and come out on the other side inshaAllah, together.
Inayah is a junior doctor based in London. When she is not working, she enjoys reading, writing, and spending time with her 2 cats. She enjoys deep meaningful conversations and good tasty food. She also enjoys acquiring new hobbies, although she isn’t very good at sticking to them!