On the dawn of 9th August 2021, many Muslims around the world will be welcoming a brand new Islamic year, known as the New Hijri Year. On that same day, Muslims in Singapore, together with fellow Singaporeans, will be celebrating 56 years of our nationhood. It is a double celebration for us, Singaporean Muslims.
The Islamic new year is an opportunity for us to reflect, review and renew the journey that we have taken as we move towards the road ahead. It may be paved with many unknowns and uncertainties, but it may also be filled with hope and surprises.
The historical event of the hijrah of our beloved Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. and his Companions from Makkah to Madinah signifies the story of hope, determination and transformation. This event was regarded as the most pivotal period of Islamic history, which led to the year when this event took place to be chosen as the beginning of the calendar of Islam.
This year, we will be welcoming the Islamic new year amidst the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, just like a year ago. It’s been more than a year of lockdown and isolation for many of us. Mosques continue to be in operation but with limited capacity. Religious classes have been held online, and in-person gatherings have been severely reduced. Life has since changed for us, and this new normal can be very daunting for many of us.
However, what we are experiencing is not exactly a sui generis (unique) experience that humanity had to go through in the history of human civilization. The Prophet s.a.w and the early Muslims were forced into isolation prior to his migration to Yathrib - the former name of Madinah. They had to isolate themselves to seek protection from being tortured and killed by the Quraish in Makkah. After years of perseverance, hope shined upon them. They were finally being freed from suffering and found a new oasis to rebuild their lives in Madinah.
The event of hijrah provides us with timeless lessons we can learn as we plan our road ahead in facing the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic. Here are 3 valuable lessons that we can learn from the journey of hijrah:
Two of the often-quoted verses from the Quran are the verses from Surah Ash-Sharh. Allah s.w.t. says in the Quran,
فَإِنَّ مَعَ الْعُسْرِ يُسْرًا. إِنَّ مَعَ الْعُسْرِ يُسْرًا
“So verily, with the hardship, there is relief. Verily, with the hardship, there is relief”
(Surah Ash-Sharh, 94:5-6)
This is one of the many verses of hope that can lift our spirits and give us glimpses of relief as we go through life’s challenges. The Prophet s.a.w. taught us to build strong resilience in facing hardships, and he reminded us of God's promises that there will be relief. This was personified in the story of his life and the Companions who had embraced Islam at the beginning phase of this faith.
All odds were against the Prophet s.a.w. and his followers. Many were threatened, persecuted, boycotted and isolated. The Prophet s.a.w. himself faced personal challenges. His beloved wife had passed on. His uncle, Abu Talib, who constantly protected him from the persecution of the Meccan aristocrats passed away as well. Although the prospect of success seemed limited, the Prophet s.a.w. was convinced that indeed, God is with him. He persevered with his followers. Whatever fears they must have felt were replaced with the feeling of being hopeful, and subsequently the feeling of joy. After years of hardship and suffering, they found some form of healing from the pain of persecution and uncertainties. The people of Yathrib welcomed them with open arms, treated them as their own and made them feel at home.
Indeed, their strong faith in God, their conviction that their sacrifices will not be forsaken, and their determination to rebuild their lives had been the driving forces that led to their liberation from tyranny and pain.
The pandemic that we are facing today is probably one of the most challenging periods of our time. Economically, some of us are affected.
Socially, we have not been able to meet our family members like we used to. Some are separated across borders, with no opportunity to meet their loved ones for more than a year. Spiritually, we haven’t been able to perform our rituals as we used to. We are fatigued with endless virtual meetings and events.
Being isolated from social activities can be very daunting and can take a toll on our well-being. Mental wellness is important to keep us calm and focus as we sail through this challenge together. If any of us are facing any form of difficulties, do not suffer alone. Do reach out to relevant entities to seek appropriate help and assistance.
The early Muslims who were suffering had one another. They supported and uplifted each other, in times of difficulties and in times of ease. In actualizing the values of Hijrah, let us move to be a community of people who take care of one another, help each other and ease the pain and suffering of others. At the same time, let us not flame the fire of hate, online and offline, causing more distress to others. Allah s.w.t says in the Quran,
وَتَعَاوَنُوا۟ عَلَى ٱلْبِرِّ وَٱلتَّقْوَىٰ ۖ وَلَا تَعَاوَنُوا۟ عَلَى ٱلْإِثْمِ وَٱلْعُدْوَٰنِ ۚ وَٱتَّقُوا۟ ٱللَّهَ ۖ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ شَدِيدُ ٱلْعِقَابِ
“...and help one another in furthering virtue and God-consciousness, and do not help one another in furthering evil and enmity, and remain conscious of God: for, behold, God is severe in retribution”
(Surah Al-Mai’dah, 5:2)
From the event of Hijrah, we learn how the early generation of Muslims were determined to co-create better solutions even as they had to struggle with the difficulties that they had to endure. As Muslims, our faith tradition teaches us to strive to make our tomorrow better than today, and today better than yesterday. Of course, this is easier said than done.
The Prophet s.a.w, together with his Companions r.a, built a new oasis of hope and rebuilt a human civilization from the ashes of oppression, tyranny and evil. He emphasised principles of cooperation between people. He facilitated the peace process between the different tribes of Madinah - the Aws and Khazraj. He was the force that unites both the Muhajirin (migrants from Makkah) and Ansar (local residents of Madinah). In his governance, he upheld the rights of religious minorities, the Christians, the Jews and the Pagans as members of the community. He teaches us that we need to live peacefully and co-exist positively.
In Singapore, hijrah and National Day coincide this year. The commemoration of these two important events is an opportunity to reflect on what it means to be part of this nation. Our pioneers chose to stay and build this nation, even though they could have moved to another country where they could have been part of the majority. Instead, they believe in the dream of building this nation that we call our home today. They continued to preserve their identity as Muslims and did not find any contradiction with their identity as Singaporeans. They integrated with the larger Singaporean society and helped shape Singapore into what it is today.
Prior to the migration to Madinah, the Prophet s.a.w had sent some of his Companions to seek refuge in Abyssinia, modern-day Ethiopia. It was a land governed by a Christian ruler. Muslims coexisted peacefully in Abyssinia and practised their faith despite being governed under a system that was different from their belief system. The Abyssinian model clearly demonstrates to us how we can live harmoniously in a plural society like Singapore.
This episode of our rich Islamic history shows that Muslims can live, thrive and contribute to the success of the land they choose as their home. We are told to be proactive and contribute to the betterment of humanity, wherever we are. Rasulullah s.a.w. reminded us that,
خَيْرُ النَّاسِ أَنْفَعُهُمْ لِلنَّاسِ
“The best of people are those who are most beneficial to people”
(Hadith narrated by Imam At-Tabrani)
The pandemic that we are experiencing today can be a catalyst for change and reform as we seek to rebuild our lives. We can use this opportunity to pause, reflect and find ways to move forward collectively. In doing so, it will require major adjustments to the life we used to know, and this can be very challenging. We all yearn for some semblance of normality for society. However, humans are built to be adaptable and make changes where necessary for the survival of humanity.
The hijrah of the Prophet s.a.w. and his Companions was the journey of transformation that led to the birth of a new human civilization. We live in a world where we are not only facing the health pandemic but also face the pandemic of hate and polarization. Let us be the light that shines into this tunnel of darkness, just as how the Prophet s.a.w had enlightened our lives with his teachings of love and mercy.
We seek to transform our lives and the lives of others by staying united, spreading goodness and being resilient in overcoming life’s challenges. In overcoming life’s challenges, we must work with one another and co-create solutions. The Prophet s.a.w reminds us that,
إِنَّ الْمُؤْمِنَ لِلْمُؤْمِنِ كَالْبُنْيَانِ يَشُدُّ بَعْضُهُ بَعْضً
“Verily, the believers are like a structure, each part strengthening the other”
As we work towards transforming our lives and the lives of others, let us continue to remain hopeful and have faith that God will heal this world from this pandemic and heal the wounds of hatred and division. Rasulullah s.a.w provides us with hope in this hadith,
وَاعْلَمْ أَنَّ فِي الصَّبْرِ عَلَى مَا تَكْرَهُ خَيْرًا كَثِيرًا وَأَنَّ النَّصْرَ مَعَ الصَّبْرِ وَأَنَّ الْفَرَجَ مَعَ الْكَرْبِ وَأَنَّ مَعَ الْعُسْرِ يُسْرًا
“Know that there is much good in being patient with what you detest, victory will come with patience, relief will come with affliction, and with hardship will come with ease.’’
The road ahead is a journey full of uncertainties, but we are determined that it is a road full of hope and opportunities. We dream of a better world, and we work towards achieving that together as one, Insya’Allah.