The coronavirus has stopped everyday life in its tracks. In 2017, the then Prime Minister Theresa May gleefully yet coldly told a nurse who hadn’t had a pay rise for 8 years that there was no “magic money tree”. The Conservative Government had since derided and mocked the opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn for his plans to look after the people, improve the healthcare and transport systems, and improve social care amongst other pledges. He had sought to lead the country towards a fairer society for all.
The ‘magic money tree’ jibe was used for the next three years as a message filtered down to the people that this man Corbyn was going to bankrupt the country, and that we simply could not afford to do what he was proposing. This Government had stripped down the NHS by slashing staff levels and causing others to become so disheartened they left, some even leaving the country. They had stripped down the police force to the extent that lawlessness grew alongside a justice system that barely punished nor deterred offenders. The result was an increase in social disorder and burglaries, which, coupled with the lack of response during and after such incidents, traumatised many families. They stripped benefits and social care from even the neediest of people and they plunged many into poverty. Teachers had taken it upon themselves to feed children who were coming to school hungry with no breakfast available for them at home. Homelessness had become rife in most communities, and foodbanks were filled with people who had homes but no food.
Despite all of the above, the overriding message portrayed by the media (owned of course by the wealthy) was that the Conservative Party was the only party fit to look after the country. They were indeed re-elected with huge gains. It dawned on many Brits with different ideologies of a better society that capitalism was the only ideology that would be allowed to survive. Those who believed in socialism had experienced four years of constant lies and tainting of their leader to such a degree that the misinformed masses – who had unwittingly rejected a better life for themselves – had felt they had made an informed choice in electing the Conservative Party.
If Mr Corbyn, a white, elderly English gentleman, who had a track record of honesty and standing up for justice and peace (May Allāh guide him), had been subjugated to such campaigns, then what chance does a brown, Muslim immigrant have to champion something new? How would one fare proposing a different ideology, a better system, a fairer way of life, such as under an Islamic Khilāfah in the Muslim lands? The Islamic Khilāfah had looked after its people as well as caring for others, such as sending aid to the Irish during the potato famine despite our Queen Victoria begrudgingly doing so to a much lesser degree. It is incumbent on us to allow discussions of different ways of life without being labelled extreme or a dangerous threat just because it is not capitalism. Is it really so awful to wish for a better system and a better way of life?
Now COVID-19 is with us and the British public are experiencing the effects of neglecting the NHS for so many years. They now feel the lack of resources and under-staffing, which only six months earlier had not been deemed a critical enough issue to elect a government on. The Government have suddenly found an orchard of magic money trees. We now realise that those in the caring professions are those who we most need and the people society needs to count on. Jeremy Corbyn, who has championed the cause of the “low skilled” as described by the government, made a statement in the house of commons recently: “They are often dismissed as low-skilled. But I ask, who are we least able to do without in a crisis – the refuse collector or the billionaire hedge fund manager?”
Businesses are on their knees, and many wealthy people are turning to the Government for financial help whilst retaining their own individual wealth. Richard Branson, the Virgin billionaire with a personal wealth of £3.6bn, asked staff to take 8 weeks unpaid leave. It was calculated that had he paid his staff £500 per week over this period, it would have cost him less than 1% of his wealth. Were he a practising Muslim then he would be giving away 2.5% of his wealth EVERY year to support the poor and not just in a global pandemic. Islam obliges every Muslim to pay 2.5% of their wealth every year as a means to “cleanse wealth” and to achieve spiritual reform by releasing one’s attachment to money. Following Islamic values today, if people throughout the world paid Zakah then there would arguably be no poverty or debt to the World Bank. Our own Zakah – a poor tax paid solely by Muslims – is being used to help people in the UK survive this crisis. What a practical and wonderful example of Allāh’s commands at work.
Even beyond Zakah, Muslims are taught that the love of wealth and possessions will not avail us, and that it is only temporary and is of no use in the next world. ʿAbd Allāh b. Masʿūd (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) reported that the Messenger of Allāh (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) slept on a straw mat until marks were left on his body. Ibn Masʿūd (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) said: O Messenger of Allāh! Shall we spread out a soft bedding for you?’ He (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) replied,
“What have I to do with the world? I am like a rider who had sat under a tree for its shade, then went away and left it.”
There have been reports of hoarding food and long queues for meat, and many Muslims are as guilty as non-Muslims. Whilst we live in a capitalist society, it is inevitable that greed and selfishness is going to impact us. COVID-19 gives us an opportunity to reflect, whilst others show the best of their religion in feeding those in need as well as NHS workers. A Bolton mosque is currently preparing their unused space as a hospice and to provide end of life care. This is being done to relieve the strain on the NHS with many in the community volunteering to help.
This is also a time of uncertainty with reports of unrest and looting. Following breakdown in other societies abroad, the fear of a similar fate in the UK provides an opportunity to discuss a society governed by Islamic laws which include corporal punishment. This is not derived from a sadistic desire to cause pain, but of one which raises society to behave in an orderly and moral manner in regards to life and property and the subsequent wellbeing of its residents. A justice system that deters criminality and opportunism for fear of punishment is one that works for the greater good as opposed to protecting the supposed rights of the criminal minority who wreak their havoc and leave good honest people and their children traumatised.
We should encourage a better society and way of life. A number of Muslim NHS doctors have returned to their Maker due to treating COVID-19 patients. They will – God willing – be considered martyrs. They have also shown during this crisis that they are as much a fabric of this society as anyone else; they are not simply foreigners, as considered by racists and many Brexiteers. Allāh tells us in the Qur’ān:
“We have made you into nations and tribes that you may know one another…and the greatest among you is the greatest in piety.”
We are all equal in the eyes of Allāh, whether we are black or white, man or woman, but closeness is only measured in terms of taqwā (piety or fear of Allāh). We should be discussing with non-Muslims how our behaviour is guided by our keenness to please Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā).
COVID-19 offers the Muslim community an opportunity to showcase the qualities which exemplify our beautiful religion, and in turn give pause for thought on life for those who do not believe in a Supreme Creator who has control of all matters. Has there been a better time for da’wah? Even during this pandemic, with a global lockdown and huge loss of life, Islam provides a context. As a complete religion we are not amongst those who ask, “If there was a God then why would He allow this?” We know our purpose on this earth; the test this life provides and everyone will be tested throughout their lives. This life is not meant to be Heaven; this is an existence that features life and death, happiness and grief, prosperity and poverty. For Muslims, the question of “why would God allow this?” simply does not arise. In fact we find much comfort and relief from mental anguish in the Quranic āyah:
إنا لله وإنا إليه راجعون
“Verily, we come from Allah and unto Him we return.”
We are also blessed that in this downtime we have an opportunity to connect and spend time with our children and our spouses, to pray salāh in congregation with them, to give them a context to what is currently happening and that this is what Allāh wills. We can teach them to alleviate their anxiety and fears through recitation of the Qur’ān and du’ās. We can hold them close and put them to sleep without the pre-pandemic norm of many of us coming home from work late to find them already asleep.
We have a chance to pause and treasure our dear parents and their increased vulnerability for which we need to take greater care and for which we will treasure them even more. We must empathise with those who are undergoing trials of illness and death in their families and to offer prayers and du’ās for their welfare. We should cherish the chance give charity as a means of sadaqa in times of illness.
Above all, we should be grateful that we are Muslim. In this time of crisis, we can pray to appreciate what our deen provides us with. We can pray that our last days are filled with imān and that the Lord is pleased with our time in this world.
Above all, this time of reflection must result in an intention to work for a better society beyond this pandemic – locally, nationally, and globally. One piece of good news this week was that the high street store Bright House has gone bust. After the pandemic we must challenge the fairness of a society which allows a company like Bright House to profit by charging twice or three times as much as the retail price of a sofa or a TV simply because the poor person could not pay for it up front and had to pay for it weekly.
It is not just the private companies; we also need to challenge the government who also think it is acceptable to charge more for road tax for people who do not have the money to pay for it in one lump sum. Especially considering that payments are now made electronically, the difference in admin costs should be negligible. In many situations, the poor generally pay more.
Supermarkets seek to make bigger profits by employing fewer people and having electronic checkouts, but nobody cares about this. Perhaps each electronic check out area signifies one less working mum unable to feed her kids. Half the Premier League clubs have gambling companies as sponsors. This supposed liberty to gamble wrecks families and lives; statistically, more poor people try to gamble their way out of their unfortunate situation. Again, this is an opportunity to discuss Islam’s ruling on gambling and the reasons why society must not allow the poorest to suffer whilst someone else gets rich off their misery.
The UK was going to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II this summer. Not much thought was given to the fact that whilst we have had 75 years without war imposed on our land, we have imposed war on countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya, which are now skeletons of the society they were before. Have we done as much as we can to implore our governments to end the decade long war in Syria? As civil societies, had we constantly, en-masse called on our respective governments around the world to make it their top priority to end the war in Syria, then it surely would have been done.
The COVID-19 pandemic is giving us a taste of fear and insecurity as well as an uncertain future. It is in shā’ Allāh making us empathise with war-torn countries and of oppressed minorities elsewhere. We must recognise what is important and work towards making better societies, following the example of our holy Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) and the Qur’ān as our guiding force. We should be leading on matters of peace and justice, the environment, animal welfare, and homelessness. There will be many wrongs during this pandemic and we must be there both during and after the pandemic to stand up with those who need support. Over the years we have been thinly spread in terms of activists and campaigners, and, in shā’ Allāh, this pandemic will change that mindset.
Let us endeavour to emerge out of this pandemic, in shā’ Allāh, as less materialistic, with increased taqwā, with changed outlooks, and as Muslims worthy of the label and as beacons for society.
 Al-Qur’ān, 49:13
 Al-Qur’ān, 2:156