“Embracing the Calm in COVID-19”
Amjad Mahmood Khan, Los Angeles, California, USA
I struggle to remember what life was like just a month ago. Four flights in four weeks; court appearances; Capitol Hill programs; external Jama’at programs in many U.S. cities—my March was booked. Then it disappeared. All of it. A total blackout on leaving my home and conducting planned activities. It was as if the treadmill stopped, and I had fallen flat on my face. My mind immediately raced to revive my plans—figuring out how to save events, reschedule flights, and maintain client services. I had to “beat” the virus and persevere in living the life I was leading. As I sat feverishly writing an email to keep the proverbial train roaring, my 5-year-old daughter quietly walked into my home office, placed her head on my lap, and softly asked: “Will you be my teacher now?”
Her question made me freeze. It had the force of a ton of bricks on my body. It confounded me. It frustrated me. It shamed me. While I regularly speak in court, I could not respond to my daughter. She scurried away, but not before she had penetrated my heart and soul in a way that I had never felt before. A new reality set in for me at that moment: this was not merely a public health emergency; this was a life-altering pandemic. My children—anxious and confused—were at home, with school suspended, looking to me for an answer. And not only did I not have an answer, I did not even expect the question.
As a pandemic goes, one’s immediate instincts turn to survival—the stocking of groceries, the monitoring of symptoms, the availability of medicines, the review of finances, the checking-in on loved ones. I had set all of that in motion. But I had failed to set in motion how to deal with a far more dramatic effect of the virus: its ability to force me to examine the state of my own spiritual health. What kind of spouse, father, and man had I been, and what kind of spouse, father, and man must I now be?
COVID-19 has ravaged our world; in America alone, we now have twice the number of deaths than from the 9/11 attacks in 2001. Our health systems are overwhelmed; our supply chains shredded; our leadership crippled. The economic edifices touted as “strong” and “invincible” but weeks ago are rapidly imploding. And yet as the virus inflicts a staggering toll on the body politic around me, it also provides me (and all of us) with an elixir: the opportunity to confront an unprecedented trial and improve our moral cores because of it.
If one spends every few minutes checking one’s social media feed, as so many of us do, it is impossible not to imbibe the impending doom of COVID-19—the string of tweets, posts, and likes traps the tempest in the teapot and never allows one to experience the calm of the storm. But that’s where we unravel as human beings. COVID-19 is destroying our past paradigms—what we may have perceived as the “right path” is what we had tricked ourselves into believing to be true. Gardens of spiritual fruits that can nourish us exist in between the forced physical spaces that now separate us as human beings—but only if we take the time to see them. We can partake of these fruits if we unplug from this world and shift our focus towards sharpening our spiritual acuity. As thousands of people succumb to this virus, the world around us also ironically heals—with precipitous declines in pollution and bombardment. What were perhaps a few hours, at best, with our children and spouses have now become full days—not fleeting conversations, but Socratic dialogues. And what were perhaps a few sporadic congregational prayers together with our families have become five precious opportunities a day to bare our hearts as a single-family unit to Allah. In an unexpected way, COVID-19 has actually transformed our lives for the better.
For so long, we have read and heard about being ready to confront trials and tribulations. Well, we find ourselves engulfed in one now. The Promised Messiah (as) has given us a prescription for confronting today’s reality: remain steadfast. “Blessed is he who has trust in the word of Allah and does not fear the intervening trials,” he said. “Remember that it is essential for trials to come, so that Allah may thereby distinguish which of you is true in his covenant of Bai’at and which of you is false…The earth can do you no harm as long as you have firm ties with heaven.”
The Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, His Holiness, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad has repeatedly reminded us of the virtues of remaining steadfast and “seeking Allah’s help with patience and prayer” (Qur’an, 2:154). “The virus has forced people to think about returning towards God,” His Holiness recently said. “The true God and the Living God is that of Islam. He is the One Who has announced that He will guide those Who make an effort in coming towards Him. He has stated that He will come fast towards those who take even one step towards Him and has said that He will take them into His shelter.”
It is difficult to remain steadfast when no apparent trial exists before you. And now that the trial is here, it is difficult for one to remain patient while the trial inflicts unspeakable misfortune on humanity. During this pandemic, while we turn to Allah with greater fervor and self-effacement, we risk thinking that our prayers will be immediately answered. But this mentality is the real virus: our inability to endure the journey towards Allah during a trial.
Indeed, the Founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, the Promised Messiah (as) reminds us: “The perfection of steadfastness is that when one is encircled by calamities, and life and honor and good name are all in peril in the cause of Allah, and no means of comfort are available, so much so, that even visions and dreams and revelation are suspended by God as a trial, and one is left helpless among terrible dangers, at such a time one should not lose heart nor retreat like a coward nor let one’s faithfulness be put in doubt in the least. One should not let one’s sincerity and perseverance be weakened, one should be pleased with one’s disgrace; one should be reconciled to death; one should not wait for a friend to lend one his support in order to keep one firm; nor seek glad tidings from God because of the severity of the trial. One should stand straight and firm despite one’s helplessness and weakness and lack of comfort from any direction. Come what may one should present oneself for sacrifice and should be completely reconciled to divine decrees and one should exhibit no restlessness nor utter any complaint, right till the end of the trial. This is the steadfastness which leads to God. This is that the perfume of which still reaches us from the dust of Messengers and Prophets and Faithful ones and Martyrs.”
One month into this pandemic, I still feel unqualified and ill-equipped to be my daughter’s teacher, but at least I now have an answer to her question—and a lesson plan.
(Amjad Mahmood Khan is National Secretary for External Affairs of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA)