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 the downtrodden, the poor, and the 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 life’s perspective 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 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 the muttaquun – the righteous individuals, the God-fearing persons.
It suggests that therapeutic and medical function 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 or 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 would 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.
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 is easy to grasp when it is used to explain things like simile, metaphor and few others. 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 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 human.
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 into the current debate: whether or not the virus that caused COVID-19 was caused naturally or was product of genetic manipulation of certain bat species in a laboratory. If it is the latter’s 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 powers 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 into 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 if we 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, if the virus and its patent and the vaccine are actually controlled by those in power.
Unlike, as we said, pandemics in the past, they 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; then, he 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, when 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, containing them 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 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 Coordinations 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.
Our sincerest thanks and gratitude to some ulama and their jama’a that we 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. Julkipli Wadi is Professor and former Dean of the Institute of Islamic Studies at the University of the Philippines Diliman].