#MW15: Maintaining our Iman in a Pandemic
The COVID-19 outbreak started in Wuhan, China in late 2019. It spread to the rest of the world and was eventually deemed a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as of March 2020. Citizens were told by the government to stay home and to only go out when necessary. Places of worship were closed and congregational rituals were forbidden to prevent the spread of the virus. Muslims could not visit the mosque to come together for jemaah or gather for festive events like Eid ul-Fitr. Inevitably, religious practices were limited to self-practice at home.
With more than a year into the pandemic, we’re sure most of us have been struggling to maintain and even improve our spiritual health, namely, our iman. It can be disheartening especially with restrictions and barriers that separate us from being able to do pre-pandemic activities like going to the mosque for congregational prayers. Do you feel disconnected? Do you feel as though your five daily prayers, done in isolation, aren’t good enough? Everyday you wake up early in the morning to perform your Fajr prayers, then wait for Zuhr, Asr, so on and so forth. It’s the same routine again and again, everyday. After some time the mundanity might have gotten to you, making you feel unmotivated to maintain your five daily prayers. Men, do you miss going for Friday prayers? Going to the mosque every Friday with your friends, catching up with them and praying with them. What about Tarawih prayers? Don’t we all miss being able to break our fasts with an odd sense of familiarity even though we were eating with a group of strangers in mosques? It was nice, wasn’t it? Feeling that sense of solidarity as you’re bringing yourself closer to Allah?
Not only that, do you feel as if your spiritual health has dwindled over the past months? Do you feel discouraged when you experience this? It’s like: you’re praying to get closer to Allah SWT, but you don’t feel closer. In fact, you feel like you’re straying further and further away from Him, and it’s disheartening because you’re trying your best; there’s nothing more that you can do yet it still doesn’t seem enough. It is okay to struggle with maintaining your iman, especially in unforeseen circumstances like the present. But what next?
Objectively speaking, it is near impossible for the community to come together to perform our congregational prayers like we did in the past. As a matter of fact, based on the textual evidence that the Fatwa Committee of the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore quoted, we should be preventing the spread of the virus as much as possible. In summary, there are concessions that should be made with regard to congregational prayers or anything done in groups. Based on religious texts related to plagues in the past, there is a need to take preventive measures and avoid public places, including mosques, to protect healthy people from getting infected. One of the religious citations quoted is as follows:
The Prophet SAW said:
لَا يُورِدَنَّ مُمْرِضٌ عَلَى مُصِحٍّ
Meaning: “Do not place a sickly patient with a healthy person.” (pp. Sahih Bukhari, Book 76, Hadith Number 5771)
To find out more, visit the official MUIS website here.
At times, we might feel like we are in a slump and that there is something missing in our lives. Most of us may have committed to going down to the mosque pre-pandemic, as part of our daily routines to maintain or increase our levels of iman. Having committed to it as part of a routine, it is difficult to adjust to a new routine - just like how it is difficult to kick habits or even cultivate good habits. However, the reality of the situation is that the bulk of your religious activities should be done in isolation. A good step forward would be to acknowledge that present circumstances are the new normal and that we would have to adjust our own personal routines accordingly. Our individual prayers are just as important as congregational prayers. In the end, it boils down to our niyyah (intention): Why do we pray? Why do we commit ourselves to acts of worship?
How can we overcome the detrimental mentality that we are not doing enough?
We know ourselves best and what we want to achieve as Muslims. The Prophet Muhammad SAW said: “God does not look at your appearances and wealth, but rather He looks at your hearts and your deeds (Muslim).”. While this hadith serves as a lesson in more ways than one, in this context, we will be assessed according to our intentions and what we do with such intentions. So what are our intentions now? What do we do, and why?
We all know keeping to a timetable can be incredibly difficult. Just like how some of us make it a routine to perform prayers at the mosque, e.g. Tarawih, we can adjust our own routines to better suit our current circumstances. For instance, you could pray Tarawih with your family at home. You don’t have to do it with your whole family. As long as there are two of you, that’s still twenty-seven times the reward of praying alone.
The Prophet SAW said:
صلاة الجماعة أفضل من صلاة الفذ بسبع وعشرين درجة
"Solat (prayer) in congregation is twenty-seven times more rewarding than a Solat performed individually.”
(pp. Sahih Al-Bukhari and Muslim, Book 9, Hadith 1064)
This practice doesn’t necessarily have to be limited to your Tarawih prayers and it can also be done for your five daily prayers.
Our relationship with Allah SWT is personal, and if we were to say that our iman is lower because the only practices we do are self-practices, maybe we are misperceiving how important such practices are. To elaborate, an individual can be isolated from everyone else and still have good iman. Take for example, Prophet Ibrahim a.s.. He was the only believer of his time, with everyone against him. Yet, he still maintained his iman and was still a firm believer, qualified enough to be one of the twenty-five messengers of Allah SWT.
There are some simple things we can do in the meantime. This includes spending time with our family, or catching up with friends on Zoom. Whilst at home, we can also sign up for online religious classes or just read up on our own to learn more about Islam. Sure, going to the mosque for Fajr or Isha’ congregational prayers is considered to be very rewarding; the Messenger of Allah SAW said: “If the people knew what (reward) there is in the Isha’ and Fajr prayers, they would come even if they had to crawl.” (Sahih). With this option being unavailable, we can substitute it for other equally meaningful rituals like zikr and reading the Qur'an.
Congregational prayers provide some sense of solidarity, something integral to the religion. When we walk through the doors of the mosque and sip some teh tarik with our mosque-going buddies after our prayers, there is a sense of belonging instilled in us and it binds us strongly to Islam. Without this particular practice, it is relatively more difficult for us to get to know other Muslims from all walks of life.
Spiritual health and iman encompasses so much more than merely committing to our five daily prayers and ibadah like going for congregational prayers. Ultimately, whatever Allah SWT has willed will always find its way. It is up to us to make the best of our time and resources. As much as we are worried about our own spiritual health and iman, it is also integral that we keep an eye out for others. If we haven’t already done so, maybe it's time to reflect on our spirituality and think about what else we can do for the community. There are those who struggle to even meet their basic needs, what more their spiritual needs?
May Allah SWT ease and guide us through this short journey we have here in this dunya, inshaAllah.