Coronavirus: Purify Your Heart, Not Just Your Hands!
Written by Dr. Marwa Assar, PsyD
How are you dealing with the news of the Coronavirus?
And how have you responded to this news so far?
Like many of us, your physical response was probably running to the store to stock up on disinfectant sprays, hand sanitizer, more soap and toilet paper (if there was any left)!
But what about your psychological response?
Do you find yourself responding in a way that positively impacts you mentally and emotionally? Or do you find yourself stressed and overthinking about all the ways you can get the Coronavirus and filled with fear because of it? Have you been consumed with worry about what the future holds for your health and the health and security of your loved ones?
Now take a moment to reflect on how you responded spiritually!
Or do you find that all of this energy you put into your physical and psychological responses has distracted you from focusing on the most important response of all: your spiritual response!
If so, it is time to prioritize and give attention to your spiritual response, and not just your psychological and physical responses, for what we witness in the world ultimately serves to direct our mind and heart to God, to what He is teaching us, and to renew our relationship with Him.
It is not enough to physically care for ourselves and our health while neglecting our spiritual health. This pandemic serves as a serious reminder to purify our hearts, not just our hands!
So far, since we first heard of the Coronavirus, we have witnessed the following:
1. People of varying ages and from all over the world experiencing sudden sickness after health!
2. Advanced countries and their leaders helpless at the hands of a virus they have no cure or solution for!
3. The rich and the elite being afflicted by this virus!
4. Basic resources diminishing in places where they have always been in supply and so easily available to us!
5. A lack of access to necessities in a time when we have been accustomed to instant gratification and buying what we want and need with such ease (especially with online shopping)!
6. Trips to Makkah cancelled for many people all over the world!
7. Jumuah prayer cancelled all over the world!
What is happening is not a coincidence and not without purpose. And while we should never speak for God in absolutes by saying things like "God is doing this to punish us," we should still be wondering and reflecting about our relationship with Him, and how He is perceiving our spiritual condition as a society (collectively), but most importantly as individuals!
We see this in the example of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) after he witnessed great hardship in the city of Ta'if. This was a day he (pbuh) later described to his wife Aisha (rA) as a day that "was worse for me than the day of Uhud; and was the most difficult point of my life." It was during this day that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) made the following dua (supplication), after the hardship he witnessed:
"To You, my Lord, I complain of my weakness, lack of support and the humiliation I am made to receive. Most Compassionate and Merciful! You are the Lord of the weak, and you are my Lord. To whom do You leave me? To a distant person who receives me with hostility? Or to an enemy You have given power over me? As long as you are not displeased with me, I do not care what I face. I would, however, be much happier with Your mercy. I seek refuge in the light of Your face by which all darkness is dispelled and both this life and the life to come are put in their right course against incurring your wrath or being the subject of your anger. To You I submit, until I earn Your pleasure. Everything is powerless without your support."
We learn from this supplication how tests and struggles should point us to reflect upon where we stand with God and how the struggle itself is a means to directing our heart to Him! We also learn the importance of spiritually responding in a way that allows us to carry the greatness of the test to the One who is greater!
God doesn't test us so we fixate on the test or on this world we are passing through, but so we remember the Owner of the test and the world we are returning to!
And so while it is crucial that we take the necessary steps to ensure our physical health, in our homes, mosques, and communities, and to also ensure our psychological health (i.e, practicing mindfulness techniques or going to therapy to manage heightened anxiety during this time), we have to also prioritize taking the necessary steps to ensure our spiritual health and success!
We will actually find that it is through prioritizing our spiritual response that our other responses become positively impacted as well. It is by directing our heart to God that He opens us to what He is teaching us through our struggles and equips us with what we need to respond effectively, not only mentally and emotionally, but also physically as well (like not taking more toilet paper than what we need and thinking more of others)!
But above all, it is by prioritizing our spiritual response that we do not miss this opportunity to turn back to God, repent, and renew our relationship with Him! It is during these times that we have to engage in muhasaba (self-accountability) and evaluate if earning God's pleasure, obeying Him, meeting Him in a good state, and if working towards Jannah (heaven) have truly been our priority!
We have to individually call ourselves to account because it is our individual condition that impacts our collective condition. God reminds us of this truth in the Qur'an:
" Verily, God does not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves." (13:11)
Calamities like the Coronavirus call upon us to purify our hearts, to make necessary changes in our lives, to prioritize God and the hereafter (akhira), and to remember how temporary this world is, how fragile we are, and how nothing we are given is guaranteed, not our resources, not our security, and not our next breath!
In such a short period, we have witnessed how fast God can change our situation in a blink of an eye regardless of our current wealth, status, health, security, or resources. He is in control of it all, and it is He who gives it and takes it away.
We have also been reminded that He alone is the one who invites us to His houses. Whether it is Makkah or our local mosque, the ability to go and worship at His houses (wherever they are) is a blessing, a privilege, and a gift that He alone can give and take away. And now we are living through a time in which many of us are not invited to His houses, in Makkah and all over the world!
This is not to be taken lightly, and is most definitely not something we should just pass through without assessing where we stand with God!
And so I leave my heart and your heart with the following reminders to keep in mind while dealing with the Coronavirus or any hardships we witness in this world:
1.Let what you witness in the world and the hardships you face be a means to your spiritual elevation! Everything we witness in this world is a means to the purification of our hearts and calls us to do the inner work that will free our hearts from the shackles of this world. Begin doing this work by assessing your relationship with God and the steps you will take to become closer to Him!
2. Remember that the day of judgement is a reality and one that we are not guaranteed won't fall upon our time! If the prophet (pbuh) was preparing the companions for it as if it will come in their time, how can we not prepare for it in our time, especially with the prevalent signs existing today? Remembering these truths often is what will awaken our hearts to maximize our life and not live it on cruise control!
3. Prioritize the hereafter (akhira) over this world (donia)! Do not neglect or ignore your health, responsibilities, happiness, and affairs in this world, but make the next world a greater concern in your heart! Ask God for protection and a solution to this virus but do not forget to ask Him for forgiveness and to make sincere tawbah (repentance) to Him! May God not make this world our biggest concern!
4. Do not let what is happening taint your view of God or paint the world as a dark, scary place! Let us remember that God's plans are always in motion. Do not let what you see make you lose faith in what you cannot see. Let us not forget that God cares for His creation and His world in ways we cannot fathom. The ghayb (unseen) is a reality. God's plans are a reality. And His goodness is always a reality.
5. Remember that God Has All Power and All Control! As we begin to worry and feel anxious about all the "what if's" that could happen, let us remember that God is always in control, and nothing can touch us or harm us, if He does not will it. Let us also remember that Shaytan (Satan) wants to incite fear in our hearts. Fear is one of his greatest tactics. Shaytan and those who follow his ways will use fear to cripple people, keep them stagnant, feel unsafe, and keep them from maximizing the beautiful life that God put infront of them. But remember that God always promises us with hope: hope of His mercy, protection, reward, and promises. Hold on to that. Fill your heart with God's promises. And do not give your heart to Shaytan. Give it to God. He will provide you with a security you never imagined.
“It is only Shaitan (Satan) that suggests to you the fear of his supporters; so fear them not, but fear Me, if you are (true) believers”
(Quran, Surah Aal-e-Imran: 175)
"Satan threatens you with poverty and orders you to immorality, while God promises you forgiveness from Him and bounty. And God is all-Encompassing and Knowing."
(Qur'an, 2: 268)
6. Remember God's Mercy Encompasses All Things! As we become overwhelmed with all the negative stories we hear of in the world, let us remember that the media will tell you about the horrific things but will not tell you about all the goodness and positive outcomes that are happening daily. God's mercy is very much alive in this world and in the hearts of His creation. We won't hear of them all, but they exist every day. So monitor your absorption of the negative stories in the media and remind yourself that they never reflect the entire reality of God's world.
"My Mercy Encompasses All Things"
7. Remember the reality of this world, that it is a place designed to test us and our claim that we have faith! It does not mean that it won't hold beauty for us, but our path towards God contains both blessings and tests, hardships and ease, happiness and pain. Let us remember everything God allows us to witness serves a purpose to remind us of Him, to direct us to Him, to remind us of the temporariness of this world and the reality of our final destination. Let us not let this test keep us from seeing our purpose and what God promised us. Let us utilize this test as a means of turning to God and renewing our relationship with Him. Because if this test and what we witness in the world bring us farther from our Creator, that is the greater loss.
"Do the people think that they will be left to say, "We believe" and they will not be tried?"
“And we will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and life and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient. Those who when disaster strikes them, say, “Indeed we belong to Allah, and indeed to Him we will return.”
Al Baqarah, 2:155/156
8. Finally, use this time to seek knowledge and remind yourself of God, His promises, and His truths. It is through connecting with His truths that we are strengthened on all levels! If you find yourself spending more time at home because of the virus, choose reading the Qur'an, listening to a reminder about God on YouTube, or finishing that Islamic book you bought years ago, instead of binging another show on Netflix. Use this time wisely to fuel and serve your heart and not your nafs (or desires)!
May God forgive us all, help us purify our hearts, bring us closer to Him, and empower our spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical health!
"Has the time not come for those who have believed that their hearts should become humbly submissive at the remembrance of Allah and what has come down of the truth?" (Qur'an, 57:16)
Use This Time Wisely!
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About the Author:
Dr. Marwa Assar is a psychologist, educator, writer, and founder of The H.O.M.E Institute. She is dedicated to providing psycho-spiritual education and empowerment through an Islamic psychological lens. Click here to learn more about Dr. Marwa and her work!