Dr. Abou El Fadl begins with the reminder that if God truly allowed humans to suffer the consequences of their own actions, nothing would remain on earth. Divine grace intervenes in our lives constantly, saving us from our own follies and giving humanity infinite opportunities in the hope that we will do good. God has also blessed humanity with a beautiful, true moral example: The Prophet Muhammad. Yet, no prophet has been vilified throughout history as much as the Final Prophet. The Prophet was a man of great ethics, making him fit to bear the enormous task of carrying the Quran to humanity. His moral character was the Quran. He was sent as a mercy unto mankind and is dearly loved by God. God told the Prophet, "You are in Our eyes”, an Arabic expression that means, "I love you to the point that it is as if you are the core of my heart”. We should pray to be among those who would be included in that statement, to be like the Prophet in God’s eyes.
The same man who was so dearly loved by God also experienced much tragedy, losing his beloved wife, his paternalistic uncle, and witnessing two of his sons die. This shows that it is not an indication of God's love if God spoils us on this earth. One could have terrible losses in life, but the way that these losses are handled is what will determine if one is close to God. What is remarkable about the Prophet is that this is a man who experienced one loss after another throughout his life, but always remained free of bitterness and hate. It is not that the Prophet did not experience heartbreak or grief, but what is key is how he dealt with hardship. It would have been very easy for him to think, "God does not love or care about me”, a thought many people feel after loss. The Prophet went through all of this to provide us with a moral education. We may go through a great deal of hardship, but we must strive to keep our hearts pure. What brings tranquility and comfort to one’s heart and keeps it truly pure is dhikr (remembrance of God). Continue doing dhikr until God sends the strength to make you a solid human being that does not turn tragedy into an excuse for evil.
Dr. Abou El Fadl regularly receives emails from Muslims inquiring about negative reports about the Prophet Muhammad. Because Islam spread very quickly, there were many people who entered Islam for purely political or opportunistic reasons, who did not understand Islam or remained hostile to Islam. A great deal of hadith traditions were invented by people who pretended to be Muslim but were hostile to Islam. Over the centuries, such anti-Muhammad traditions were recognized by scholars and put into a cultural quarantine. Islamophobia, Wahhabism, Puritan Islam, extremist Islam, Daesh Islam and ISIS Islam took these hadiths out of quarantine and circulated them among Muslims again. But there is a big difference: in the past, Muslim institutions were strong and could keep such traditions in quarantine.
Without the moral example of the Prophet, Muslims have very little. Today, our Muslim institutions are so weak, that we no longer control the discourse on Islam. We do not have the ability to quarantine things that should be quarantined. However, what we do have is our mind and conscience. When you find that God describes the Prophet as a man of great ethics; that God tells him, "You are a mercy unto humankind"; that God tells him “You are so beautiful that you are in God’s heart”, then that should be the yardstick as to what to believe – or what not to believe – about your Prophet.
When young Muslims send messages to Dr. Abou El Fadl about negative reports, his response is that if that is what they believe, then they should not be Muslim. The Prophet Muhammad was the most beautiful example unto humanity that was ever given. If a Muslim believes something ugly about the Prophet, then their Islam is not right and they need to reexamine their relationship with God. The Prophet was a mercy unto humankind; a mercy does not cause hardship or pain, nor commit ugliness or unethical acts. For the word mercy to be comprehensible to us human beings, it must invoke something that is intuitive and natural. So when we see an imam acting in a way that is cruel, unethical or ugly, and then tells us the Sunnah that the Prophet married a woman in secret and lied to his wife, we don’t need to read hundreds of books to be able to say, "No, I don't accept that. That is not our Prophet.” When God in the Quran tells the Prophet, “You are so beautiful, you are inside my heart,” God has given us so much power in that knowledge that we can know the truth just by that alone.
The coronavirus pandemic teaches us a great deal about ourselves and the morality and immorality of our modern condition. It is a book of philosophical wisdom for those who reflect on it. Whether it is through direct intervention or through the laws of nature, there will be hardship. But the response to this hardship is what truly matters. Tadaru’ is not just supplicating to God to remove the hardship, it itself carries the meaning of humble reflection. Let us humbly reflect upon what a not-particularly lethal strain of organism can do to humanity. We are societies that allowed our leaders to invest money not in health, in education, to feed the poor or help the homeless, but to develop weapons that can wipe out humanity with things far more deadly than the coronavirus. Yet God, through His mercy, saves us from our follies.
Humanity is so interconnected that the eating habits of people in one culture can affect cultures all around the world. Modern humanity tortures and terrorizes animals before killing and eating them. Terror and torture poisons their blood. The dog meat market is alive, with dog corpses hanging in Chinese food markets. Humanity is so interlinked that the immorality of a single market in Wuhan, China, can affect the entire world. We must exist in a world where we can collectively prevent such immoral abuses.
The way humanity treats the environment is a sin. We destroy the natural habitats of animals, forcing them to intermingle with humans, bringing new diseases to humanity. The environment is an Islamic ethical issue. This pandemic is a warning from God, who will hold us collectively responsible for what we do with the environment. Humanity is all responsible for what we eat and what we do to the environment.
The modern world order is extremely unfair. It allows powerful nations to do whatever they please, which includes not taking steps that could have possibly prevented or lessened the coronavirus outbreak. The pandemic is a warning to humanity that the world order is immoral. It also reminds humanity that we live in a deeply racist, classist world. Coronavirus is very widespread among refugees and in countries like Egypt and Sudan, but the world does not care about those who are suffering in dark-skinned countries. Worse, their own governments often do not care. Looking at reported statistics, the deaths in white Europe & America matter, but deaths in dark-skinned countries are vastly underreported.
Racist attacks have been directed at Asian people worldwide, labeling them carriers of the coronavirus. This could not be more un-Islamic; racism is clearly haram. Islamically, we must care for guests and neighbors, even if they are infected. Our Islamic obligation is to put yourself at risk and let God take care of the rest. This pandemic holds a mirror to us and forces us to reflect.
It teaches us the evil of dictatorship. Authoritarian nations greatly underreport their coronavirus statistics, because dictators do not want to admit any flaw. It allowed coronavirus to become out of control in China before their government finally admitted to the situation. Egypt has become a hot zone. They have not taken any precautions to contain the virus, often hiding evidence that shows the pandemic’s extent. The dictatorship of the Egyptian government does not just affect the Egyptian people but exports the disease to the rest of the world. Dictatorship is shirk; it is worse than being an infidel, an unbeliever, or an atheist.
The coronavirus pandemic, like all challenges sent to humanity, is not sent to just wreak havoc, but contains lessons for humanity. Our job as Muslims is not to just simply do our part to contain the outbreak, but also reflect upon what Allah is telling us. We have obligations to take care of our neighbors, the sick, and the less fortunate. If we die doing so, we die a martyr. The Islamic thing is to become God’s khalifa on Earth. We must wake up before we have a great deal to answer for in the Hereafter when God asks us what we did to fight dictatorship, corruption and immorality.