We all remember where we were, not so much when we first heard about it—another respiratory virus occurring on the fringes of our geographical existence—but when the arrogance of our own brand of exceptionalism dissipated, and the realisation that our lives were equally vulnerable flooded through. The news came rolling in to my Twitter feed, and the initial shock of this realisation gave way to a sick, heavy feeling in the pit of my stomach, weighing me down onto a nearby chair, phone still glowing menacingly in hand. My children were sleeping at the time, and the chaos it caused my internal thinking felt starkly juxtaposed to the rhythmic, calm pattern of their nocturnal breathing.
I dropped them to school the next day, with the same tentative restlessness that millions of mothers across the globe undoubtedly felt.
Immersed in my own thoughts, wrestling with the contradictory feelings of anticipation of a governmental response, knowing full well the likely extent of its sluggish ineptitude.
My children came home that afternoon talking about a virus that was forcing schools and playgrounds to close. Despite now being a relatively seasoned mum—with girls aged 7 and 4—I often forget that world events are both relevant to and necessary for our children to understand. As they struggle to make sense of their place and insight into the world, I am invariably needed to provide the missing pieces of the puzzle that constitutes their fragile existence.
That well-worn feeling of mum guilt set in as I realised I had once again missed an opportunity to speak to them about something before playground hearsay had dressed it up in hyperbolic terms.
And it was at this point the penny dropped, and I began to feel as if I were regaining control of the situation, by forcing myself into the neutral voice of authority on a subject that so desperately lacked it. I am guilty of falling into the trap of assuming that our children are born understanding the world around them, with full cognitive and emotional ability. Like many other mothers, I often take for granted my own ability to process information, particularly through the ordering lens of Islam, and in the ever-changing and volatile circumstances we’re currently in. I sometimes expect them to have a pre-existing knowledge that encompasses world history, current events, basic social mores, and moral duty.
For children of all ages, parents and guardians are the most significant conduit for information, with all of its grounding properties. With this comes a great, and often sobering, responsibility.
The one thing that comforts me as a Muslim, is knowing that Islam provides an absolutely limitless resource for understanding and shaping the world.
There is no subject my children can broach that could cause me panic, force me to resort to dismissive platitudes or any form of evasion. And this is because I know we have a value system which sits outside of changing social constructs and provides an objective truth that is unparalleled. This imbues me with the necessary sense of confidence as a mum, even in the current face of uncertainty.
Often, as Muslim parents, we are so desperate to hold on to a tradition and way of life that we do so little to inform ourselves about, that an unwitting insecurity creeps in and threatens to taint our ability to talk about critical issues with the level of nuance and calm neutrality required. And we often have such little faith in our religion that we resort to sleight of hand tactics, fearing our children will reject a way of life that is so beautifully rich, but which we ourselves obviously fail to see and embody in all of its beauty and richness.
It was only when my focus turned to informing my children of these circumstances that I felt I was able to come to terms with what felt like unfathomable changes to our world. And so, being as blessed as we were with good health, we were able to navigate through the tsunami waters of a global pandemic, armed only with our Islamic compass and each other. And these are the lessons we have drawn from these tragic circumstances…
Like many parents, we’ve been contextualising the magnitude of the situation as Allah’s Will. Often when life takes an unexpected turn—none more unexpected than a globe-trotting bat-virus—and our children are forced to see there is an extent to their will, we diffuse their frustrations with the awesome and succinct La hawla wa la quwwata illa Billah: there is no power and no strength except with Allah.
When I first spoke to my children about how drastically their world was about to change, I did so with this phrase. It is an incredibly comforting thought for children, as well as adults, that these wider forces beyond our own control are in the hands of the All-Merciful.
Telling my children that, like every other action and motion in the world, it was ultimately outside the sphere of our influence and only allowed through the Will of Allah, helped them to come to terms with the fact they would no longer be able to see their friends, hug their grandparents, celebrate Eid the way we might have.
We pondered over this verse contained in the Quran:
And with Him are the keys of the Ghaib (all that is hidden), none knows them but He. And He knows whatever there is in (or on) the earth and in the sea; not a leaf falls, but he knows it. There is not a grain in the darkness of the earth nor anything fresh or dry, but is written in a Clear Record.
And spoke about all the creatures, great and small, hidden and exposed, and all the languages they may speak. How Allah knows and hears all their calls, and still He hears them in that very moment, and during the course of every other in their day.
We also pondered over the following verse and its profound implications:
…and it may be that you dislike a thing which is good for you and that you like a thing which is bad for you. Allah knows but you do not know. [Qur’an 2:216]
A verse we often return to when we try to make sense of what might be deemed as “failures”, and a verse which forces us to take stock of our feelings, and try to see things without the sometimes warping influence of prevailing social norms and values.
Practical tip: This du’a is contained in the du’a prescribed when leaving the home (according to Abu Dawud 4/325, At-Tirmithi 5/490). This is a great time to learn and reflect upon this du’a, and all the lessons we can draw from it, particularly now when outings can cause heightened tension and anxiety.
Bismillahi tawakkaltu alallahi la hawla wala quwwata illa billah “In the name of Allah, I trust in Allah; there is no might and no power but in Allah”.
As well as taking full stock of Allah’s Will in relation to these unprecedented circumstances, we also turn our attention to His creation’s right upon us, and how this pandemic has highlighted our impact, and potential, as social animals.
The beauty and simplicity of Islam contained in the dichotomy between Creator and created is something we all have a natural affinity toward. Throughout this seemingly never-ending series of lockdowns, we have been talking a lot about how Allah created us all equally, and more specifically, what rights Allah’s creation has upon us.
Much like when we speak about how Allah can see and hear all we do, we also speak about how Allah hears and sees our neighbours, their cousins and friends too. And how precious life and creation is, and what a responsibility we have to honour it. It is this kernel contained in Islamic doctrine that I find particularly inspiring, and which I feel benefits children in so many ways. Through this, they are able to respect themselves, without exceptionalising themselves, and extend due respect to others.
The pandemic has been an opportunity to talk about, and live, social responsibility. To connect the dots between our actions and their social implications. Be they bigger—helping neighbours, donating to food banks—or smaller—staying home when it would be much nicer to go out.
While there has been no immediate or tangible repercussion for contravening social distancing, or reward for doing our bit to help, we emphasise the fact that they make a difference, and those actions—despite being socially invisible—have a real worth in and of themselves, outside of social approval or disdain. These lessons have been great in cultivating taqwa—understanding we do everything for Allah, and that He sees and hears our deeds. We talk about how we do these actions for the sake of Allah and how much comes out of this pure intention and guiding principal. How this reward is greater than any sense of social approval because it creates a sense of self-sufficiency and purpose.
“Worship Allah and join none with Him in worship, and do good to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, Al-Masakin (the poor), the neighbour who is near of kin, the neighbour who is a stranger, the companion by your side, the wayfarer (you meet), and those (slaves) whom your right hands possess. Verily, Allah does not like such as are proud and boastful” [Quran 4:36]
Practical tip: Take time to recognise your children’s sacrifices, like not going to their grandparents, or their favourite weekend activity, and together explore how these smaller sacrifices create social impact. How our children themselves make an important contribution to a social fabric.
Perhaps one of the most useful traits we can hope to possess—sabr.
The thing I love about sabr is the way that in what Allah has prescribed during times of difficulty He has deposited its cure, and through it we attain His blessings. The feeling of enduring a difficult or trying time, while drawing deeply on reserves of calm, tolerance and restraint, is in itself liberating and most often the only real way to climb out of an emotional rut.
And while our children experience these emotions in a more rudimentary way, without the well of emotional experience we carry as adults, there is no better time to emphasise the message of patience. We tell them we understand it’s not easy—we all want to see family, friends, celebrate and commemorate together, but this too will pass.
We have been really taking the time to emphasise this message when they have been frustrated or felt caged in. And as a parent, I have really appreciated what a great tool patience is in cultivating resilience, seeing beyond the frenzy of the moment, and drawing upon yourself.
“Verily, Allah is with the patient” [Quran 2:153]
Another key life skill that we have worked to sharpen during this pandemic and which will, inshaAllah, benefit them for years to come—gratitude.
We have learned to be appreciative of all the small things that make up our very blessed existence.
We often stop, and take a moment out of our routine, to see the blessings inherent in all of the minute building blocks that make up our day-to-day life. For example, we speak about how the honey on their morning porridge came from the bud of an unsuspecting flower to our table—and all the creatures, peoples, systems and processes that brought us that sweetness, and how Allah’s blessings are contained in each step of the way.
Creating positive patterns of thinking by focusing on Allah’s blessings and saying alhamdilullah along the way, I hope, will enable our children to continue to have a positive and healthy mindset, inshaAllah.
The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) 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.” Narrated by al-Bukhaari in al-Adab al-Mufrad (no. 300)
Practical tip: Do the honey chain—or jam chain—and speak to your child about all the hidden blessings contained in every object we encounter, subhanAllah.
As well as appreciating both the great and subtle blessings, we also emphasise the importance of little, as well as large, deeds.
Children are amazing and dynamic thinkers, and they will always pick up on any contradictions they see in the values you express and define your home by, and in your own actions and temperaments. This means they are absolutely brilliant at holding you to account (and have an uncanny way of measuring your sugar consumption in the absence of their own…).
Islam is entirely consistent as a belief system—we worship Allah through practices that dictate our day and lives; praying and fasting. And we worship Him through smaller actions such as smiling when we greet someone. These smaller actions create an intricately woven and beautiful whole that’s entirely aligned with our overall sense of purpose and direction. This pandemic presents an opportunity to illustrate this perfect symmetry through both actions and words.
I have lost count of the times I have been tempted to park in dubious places, or missed an opportunity for good, when the look my children have given me has prevented me from doing so, often mid-action. And it’s this litmus test of “what will my children think?” that propels us to be our best as believers. It creates a cycle of good—breeding good actions, overcoming moral laziness, which in turn encourages good habits in our children, and is something I value so greatly.
It is something I have leveraged during the course of the circumstances that have taken over us. And so, we’ve emphasised the importance of small and well-intentioned deeds at home by never compromising on these seemingly smaller religious duties—and the social duties we are bound to, by extension. We demonstrate how even the smaller social actions such as avoiding meeting friends and family, means we are creating positive social impact by keeping ourselves and our families safe.
The parallel between the social reality of the pandemic—how our individual actions can lead to large-scale harm or good—and how our smaller religious deeds form our moral existence and character is one we also speak a lot about over our kitchen table. It is a living metaphor. We talk about how equally, small, well-intentioned deeds can change the course of our day or week—and, in some cases, people’s whole lives.
Practical tip: Try incorporating a small, good deed into your child’s daily routine, and highlight the impact this has as a whole—cleaning your plate when eating, and the environmental importance of not wasting food. See how Allah’s hikmah is contained in all that He prescribes.
And so as we enter what we hope is the final phase of this pandemic, I am sure we will be using all of the above as crutches to get us through these last hurdles. And I do hope they have inspired others to do the same, inshaAllah.
Mariya is a 33-year-old mother of two young girls with a background in Policy and Research and Development in the voluntary sector. She has written and illustrated a children’s book titled The Best Dua which is available internationally and in the UK. IG: @muswellbooks
By Afroze Fatima Zaidi