I was doing my grocery shopping a couple of weeks ago near my home when I encountered a poster titled ‘NEW NORMAL: SAFE SHOPPING’ pasted near the counter.
Indeed, the poster was just one of the many awareness posters that can be found in Singapore in our effort to fight the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).
Inarguably, the Covid-19 pandemic has brought about unprecedented events and changes in our livelihood. The pandemic is regarded as one of the most disturbing crises this generation has ever seen. Not only in Singapore, but people around the world are also compelled to adjust and live with the current situation by adopting the new normal. This is to ensure that we can continue working to earn our daily bread as much as possible while being able to contain the spread of the virus at the same time.
That few seconds glance at the term ‘new normal’ managed to bring me into deep personal deliberation. I started pondering on questions such as “What does this mean in Islam?”, “Are there any examples we could learn from the Quran?” and “Is the practice of adopting ‘new normal’ a recent trend?”
The retrospection made me realise that this 'new normal' phenomenon is part of the changes in life. Especially in today’s fast-paced world, it is imperative to acknowledge that adopting a new normal is part of life. I am aware that change is a constant thing in life and when it happens, we must adapt and adjust accordingly.
When adjusting to change, we often have to let go of some routines and embrace a new one. Take, for example, toddlers who, at their young age, have no commitments and are allowed to play and do activities that suit their level. Some may rest at any time in the middle of the day, whenever they wish. As they grow up and start attending school, they must adapt to a new norm that fits their new environment. There will be specified timings for studying, playing with new friends and resting.
All of us went through this process of change. However, some changes are transitions that we could control and be prepared for, while there are others that develop suddenly. Inevitably, when an alteration in life happens, whether expected or not, departure to a new norm is required. Thus, a 'new normal' is a process of change by adopting new practices. It is part of the many phases in life that one will surely encounter.
As a Muslim, I believe any contemplation must be grounded in divine guidance: the Quran and Sunnah. Thus, my contemplation brought me to look into the Quran for a deeper meaning. Indeed, the Quran is guidance for the believers to take heed and seek answers. It is a book of enlightenment to resolve universal predicaments.
In Surah Ar-Rum, verse 54, Allah mentions:
اللَّهُ الَّذِي خَلَقَكُم مِّن ضَعْفٍ ثُمَّ جَعَلَ مِن بَعْدِ ضَعْفٍ قُوَّةً ثُمَّ جَعَلَ مِن بَعْدِ قُوَّةٍ ضَعْفًا وَشَيْبَةً ۚ يَخْلُقُ مَا يَشَاءُ ۖ وَهُوَ الْعَلِيمُ الْقَدِيرُ
It is Allah Who created you in a state of weakness, then developed (your) weakness into strength, then developed (your) strength into weakness and grey hair (old age). He creates whatever He wills. For He is the All-Knowing, Most Capable.
(Surah Ar-Rum, 30:54)
The verse describes human life transformations, from one phase to another. Scholars such as Imam at-Tabari emphasised that for each phase, humans should reap every possible opportunity available. ‘Amr Khalid notes that the verse highlights the manifestation of Allah’s greatness and the magnificence of His design. In other words, there are lessons for us as the servants of Allah in each phase of our life.
The above-mentioned verse relates well with the current pandemic situation we are in. As Muslims, we believe that Allah has predestined everything in this world. The current pandemic that we face is undeniably severe for many of us. However, we must also believe that Allah The Most Merciful will not let us down. Everything that Allah sends our way is part of Allah’s plan for us to learn and reap the reward from it.
In my opinion, the pandemic is part of nature’s transformation that we, as dwellers of the earth, must go through to rise above it. Certainly, Covid-19 has forced us to change a considerable amount of our usual practices. Regardless, while adapting to the new circumstances, we should also strive to search for the silver lining that would make us virtuous in this world and the hereafter.
My contemplation continued by reflecting upon the stories in the Quran. One of the miraculous stories mentioned in the Quran is Prophet Yusuf's a.s. Described as the honourable (Al-Karim), Prophet Yusuf’s chronicles are told in length in the Quran to the extent that a whole chapter was named after him. It is the best story that one should learn from due to the extraordinary life journey he endured. The chapter discusses the different phases and incidents of Prophet Yusuf’s life in great detail. Allah says in the introduction of the chapter:
نَحْنُ نَقُصُّ عَلَيْكَ أَحْسَنَ الْقَصَصِ بِمَا أَوْحَيْنَا إِلَيْكَ هَٰذَا الْقُرْآنَ
We relate to you, the best of stories in what We have revealed to you of this Qur'an
(Surah Yusuf, 12:3)
If we were to ponder upon the story of Prophet Yusuf a.s. as depicted by the Quran, we are able to extract many lessons and relate them to our daily lives. The Quran tells us in detail the life journey of a great man, enduring multiple hardships in life. It recounts Prophet Yusuf’s different phases of life and how he strived in each phase diligently to his best ability and potential.
As a human, the story of Prophet Yusuf plays with the reader’s emotions, as there are sad and joyous, up and low moments that one could imagine upon reading it. Thus, some scholars assert, if one is overwhelmed by sadness and read about Prophet Yusuf’s life journey, one would feel relieved upon learning it.
In this article, I will highlight three lessons we can learn from Surah Yusuf, especially during the current pandemic situation:
‘Amr Khalid notes that the primary objective of Surah Yusuf is to highlight the greatness in all of His decrees. There are situations in this world that might be painful for us to live through. Certainly, as humans, we feel anxious, especially when things do not go the way we hoped or intended.
For example, Prophet Yusuf a.s. was dear to his parents since childhood and received exceptional affection from them. However, that boundless love became the reason why he was thrown into a well by his siblings.
However, when Prophet Yusuf a.s was helpless in the well and possibly left to die alone, Allah had other plans for him. He survived and subsequently lived in a palace with a wonderful environment and care. Even so, living in the comfort of the palace did not last long when the devious acts of some people led him to be imprisoned. Additionally, who could have imagined that being in prison opens up to his chance of becoming a minister of the country? However, that was the case of Prophet Yusuf a.s.
Today, without a doubt, Covid-19 has disrupted our lives. There are people who were retrenched and lost their jobs. It has compromised our means of living and caused difficulties. Forcibly, it caused many to come to terms with a new situation and adopt new approaches due to unprecedented circumstances. However, we could not deny that this too is part of Allah’s plan for us.
In addition, Surah Yusuf reminds us that it is Allah who manages everything that happens in the world. From our limited human perspective, trying times like the current pandemic is stern and appalling. But as Muslims, we should always try to be optimistic especially towards Allah s.w.t. The Prophet s.a.w. said:
عَجَبًا لِأَمْرِ الْمُؤْمِنِ إِنَّ أَمْرَهُ كُلَّهُ خَيْرٌ وَلَيْسَ ذَاكَ لِأَحَدٍ إِلَّا لِلْمُؤْمِنِ إِنْ أَصَابَتْهُ سَرَّاءُ شَكَرَ فَكَانَ خَيْرًا لَهُ وَإِنْ أَصَابَتْهُ ضَرَّاءُ صَبَرَ فَكَانَ خَيْرًا لَهُ
Wondrous is the affair of the believer for there is good for him in every matter and this is not the case with anyone except the believer. If he is happy, then he thanks Allah and thus there is good for him, and if he is harmed, then he shows patience and thus it is good for him.
This hadith shows that no matter the test that is inflicted upon a believer – be it a blessing or a trial – he will strive to understand and appreciate the wisdom (hikmah) behind it. Let’s continue to be patient, have hope in Allah and believe that He will guide us out from any challenges we face. Most importantly is to never lose faith in Allah, as He is All-Knowing.
Muraqabah is the sense of being watched over by Allah or in the state of mindfulness. The current environment we are in constrains us to practise extra precaution to curb the spread of the virus. Hence, many restrictions and measures were imposed and demand us to observe the 'new normal' such as social distancing measures, wearing masks and heighten personal hygiene practices.
Some of these steps may cause inconveniences to us such as having to put on a mask whenever we leave our house. Perhaps, some of us are bothered by the social restrictions like the limited number of people allowed for social gatherings, be it in public or private. Such is the 'new normal' that we need to live by currently. However, we must understand that the imposed measures are to ensure the safety of the community at large from contamination of the virus.
Unfortunately, since the beginning of this phase, we have seen some cases of people flouting the restrictions. By doing so, they do disregard not only their health but also the safety of other people. As the case may be, those who flouted may escape or act in the absence of the authority. Such examples should not be in the mindset of Muslims because we believe Allah is always watching us. Thus, the sense of muraqabah should help us confidently abide by the current 'new normal'. Whether in public or private, we must act responsibly and be in complete mindfulness that Allah watches over us.
In the Quran, Allah praises Prophet Yusuf a.s. for his devotion to Allah and not falling into the temptation of the women who seduced him. Although the governor’s wife wanted to have a secret affair, Prophet Yusuf realised that nothing is secret in the eyes of Allah. He refused to succumb to the woman’s seduction and sought refuge from Allah for protection. Such is the example of a noble prophet that we should emulate in reliving the sense of muraqabah.
Indeed, we are enduring trying times; however, like Prophet Yusuf, we must not despair of the mercy of Allah. That is the secret of Prophet Yusuf’s success when enduring his life’s challenges. On this note, Allah mentions in the Quran:
وَلَا تَيْأَسُوا مِن رَّوْحِ اللَّهِ ۖ إِنَّهُ لَا يَيْأَسُ مِن رَّوْحِ اللَّهِ إِلَّا الْقَوْمُ الْكَافِرُونَ
Despair not of relief from Allah. Indeed, no one despairs of relief from Allah except the disbelieving people.
(Surah Yusuf, 12:87)
Another positive trait of Prophet Yusuf a.s. is his constant perseverance to do good to his best ability. We can extract this vital lesson from two occasions in his life. First, when he was imprisoned, he spent his time wisely. He preached about monotheism to his fellow prisoners, comforted those who were suffering and helped those who were sick.
This can be understood when the Quran highlights that his fellow prisoners admired Prophet Yusuf and considered him as a nobleman. Prophet Yusuf became a man that other prisoners sought advice from. Because of this, he made strong acquaintances with some of them, one of which was the king’s servant.
Secondly, when Prophet Yusuf became a man with influence holding an important political position within the country, he performed his duties diligently and did not abuse the power he had in his hands. Prophet Yusuf realised that the power he had, though was offered by the king, was ultimately granted by Allah s.w.t. When his siblings came to him and sought his assistance, he did not keep any feelings of animosity although they had thrown him away. Instead, he gracefully provided them supplies to endure the famine season and subsequently arranged a joyous reunion with the whole family.
This is an imperative lesson that we should take from Prophet Yusuf, especially during the pandemic situation. We must not be selfish and think about just ourselves; instead, to our best ability, we should find ways to benefit others. As the saying goes in an Arabic proverb:
أينما أنبتك الله؛ أزهِر
“Bloom, wherever Allah has placed you.”
In the final analysis of Surah Yusuf, the Quran records an essential principle of Prophet Yusuf a.s. himself. A principle that every believer should hold on and deliberate deeply. It says:
إِنَّهُ مَن يَتَّقِ وَيَصْبِرْ فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يُضِيعُ أَجْرَ الْمُحْسِنِينَ
Indeed, he who fears Allah and is patient, then indeed, Allah does not waste the reward of those who do good.
(Surah Yusuf, 12:90)
In our battle against the virus, we are required to endure changes and adopt 'new normal'. Thus, we must be patient in persevering through the pandemic. Hopefully, by having patience, Allah will reward us abundantly and grant us success. Success in this world and success in the hereafter. Insya Allah.
And Allah knows best.
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Amru Khalid - Khowatir Qur’aniyyah, Nazharat fi ahdafi suwaril Qur’an