The other day I read a post about how people who are healing from emotional trauma and abusive relationships have been practicing social distancing and isolation for many years now. This is the “survival mode” they’ve had to implement to protect themselves from toxic environments and relationships. But what happens when the toxic environment is within us, and what happens when that toxic relationship is with our own souls?
As we struggle to make sense of the trials that are befalling us during this difficult time, we can benefit from self-honesty regarding our spiritual lives and how terribly we’ve been falling short. So let us sincerely consider the strong possibility that this coronavirus trial (no matter where it originated) has much more to do with the toxic state of our hearts and souls than with any toxic virus hidden in the air or in our human bodies.
Yes, we must recognize the physical reality of the coronavirus and the necessity to take every precaution to keep ourselves and others safe. But let us also recognize the spiritual reality of our lives, so that we can take the greatest precaution of all: purifying our souls from the toxic environment of sin and dhulm (wrongdoing), which has become widespread amongst both Muslims and non-Muslims today.
How do we purify ourselves spiritually?
To my non-Muslim sisters and brothers in humanity, I invite you to purify your soul by accepting Islam (sincere submission to the Creator alone). And know, if you accept this invitation, all of your previous sins will be forgiven. (If you have questions about the specifics of this faith, download this FREE eBook: He Asked About Islam).
To my believing brothers and sisters, I remind you (as well as my own struggling soul) to sincerely reflect on your spiritual life up until now. Then be honest with yourself about everything you’ve done to harm your soul—both privately and publicly. I also ask you (and my own struggling soul) to sincerely reflect on the deeds you have supported up until now— both privately and publicly. Then be honest with yourself about those that you know deep inside are displeasing to Allah and thus contribute to the widespread toxic environment of soul-harm on earth today.
I also invite my believing brothers and sisters to sincerely reflect on how the early Muslims understood painful trials of this nature, especially those that caused widespread harm to numerous lives and souls.
The Year of Ashes
When ‘Umar Ibn Khattaab (may Allah be pleased with him) was the caliph of the Muslims, they suffered a severe drought, and this period was called “The Year of Ashes.” At this time, ‘Umar would consistently remind the Muslims to repent from their sins and seek forgiveness from Allah as a means of removing the severe trial. He and the Muslims would cry to Allah, raise their hands in prayer, begging for forgiveness and relief from the drought.
In one sermon, ‘Umar told them, “O people, I fear that this wrath [that has descended upon us] is directed at all of us. So ask your Lord for forgiveness, give up sinning, repent to your Lord, and do good [deeds]” (At-Tabaqaat 3/322, and Akhbaar ‘Umar, p. 116).
He would also recite from the Qur’an the words of Prophet Nooh (Noah, peace be upon him): “I said [to them], ‘Ask forgiveness from your Lord. Verily, He is Oft-Forgiving. He will send rain to you in abundance, and give you increase in wealth and children, and bestow on you gardens and bestow on your rivers’” (Nooh, 71:10-11).
When he led the Muslims in the formal prayer seeking rain, most of his prayer was focused on begging for forgiveness. In this heartfelt supplication, he cried so much that his beard became soaked with tears (At-Tabaqaat, 3/320, 321), and Taareekh Al-Madeenah Al-Munawwarah, by Ibn Shibbah 2/742).[i]
The Day I Cried
It was when they closed the gates of Masjid An-Nabawi (the Prophet’s Masjid in Madinah) that I cried and couldn’t hold back the tears…
I remembered the drive from Makkah to Madinah after completing my ‘Umrah and wondering what the City of the Prophet would be like.
Then I remembered the crowds of believers at my side, my sisters in Islam walking swiftly in groups through the entrance of Masjid An-Nabawi, then praying alongside me in the women’s area. I remembered the surge of the crowd walking toward the resting place of our beloved Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), hearts yearning to offer him their salaams.
I also remembered my uniformed sisters, who were on duty to remind their fellow believers to do no more than this, and to refrain from crying out their supplications to the Prophet and to direct them to Allah alone instead.
I remembered praying in the Rawdah (the area that is considered a piece of Paradise) and then sitting and reading Qur’an, feeling so much peace in my heart.
Moments like these were a stress relief for me while I lived in Saudi Arabia, and I just couldn’t imagine a world without this opportunity granted to every believing soul.
So I cried—and my heart ached with a sadness that could not be soothed.
But what hurt most was the voice beneath that sadness coming from the painful self-honesty of my heart: “But we deserve this,” that voice said. “Wallaahi—by Allah—we deserve this.”
Then I cried more.
Embrace Painful Self-Honesty
Dear believing soul,
Let us reflect honestly on our current spiritual state that afflicts the hearts of so many of us who profess Islam. Because this is the same toxic spiritual environment in which we met this coronavirus trial:
Sin has become a way of life for us more than Islam itself. Submitting to our desires has become more pleasing to us than submitting to Allah. Following our own opinions and behavior codes has inspired in us more conviction than upholding the teachings of Allah. Calling to our own preferences and lifestyles fills our time more than calling to the preferences and lifestyles of the prophetic Sunnah.
By Allah! So many of us call ourselves Muslims, but so few of us believe in Islam.
We take pride in our lineage, skin color, and wealth and boast to the world about our superiority over others. We brag about our worldly successes, lasting marriages, and “exemplary” children, proudly taking credit for God’s work and calling it our own.
We commit open sin and post about it on social media, then shame and humiliate even the smallest voice reminding us to fear Allah. We continuously cry out, “Don’t judge!” yet almost never utter, “Submit to the Judgment of Allah!”
We support clear dhulm (wrongdoing and oppression) when it benefits us—and have even found ways to call this justice. Then we cry out in a fit of rage when that same dhulm benefits someone else. We scorn and vilify the truthful believers and righteous scholars who are imploring us to return to the true teachings of our faith. Then we rush to follow our beloved imams and spiritual teachers who give us permission to change the deen (spiritual way of life) taught to us by Allah.
But we can recite the five pillars like a nursery rhyme, though we adhere to but a few. We neglect and abandon our five foundational prayers, and then claim that true faith is in the heart.
Then we visit the masjids like we do our occasional vacation homes, then return to worshipping our nafs (inner self and desires).
O Allah, have mercy on us! Guide us and forgive us!
Perhaps this is why the gates of Your houses of worship are being closed in our cities—and even in the Blessed City too.
Because so many of us have already closed the gate to Your worship in our hearts.
Repent, Dear Muslims. Repent
Dear believing soul,
Ask Allah to forgive you, and beg this of Him. Then rush to correct your life.
Because you can quarantine yourself in your home, engage in social distancing, and wash your hands and bodies a thousand times over, hoping to protect yourself from the harms of the coronavirus.
But tell me, dear soul, what are you doing to distance yourself from the harms of your own sins, and to cleanse your soul from all traces of the toxic environment of your heart?
You don’t have to struggle alone. Let’s work together: uzuniversity.com
Umm Zakiyyah is the internationally acclaimed author of more than twenty books, including the If I Should Speak trilogy, Muslim Girl, and His Other Wife. She recently launched her “Choosing To Love Alone” series via UZuniversity.com to support struggling believers seeking to nourish their emotional and spiritual health.
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As-Sallaabee, A. M. (2010). The Biography of ‘Umar Ibn Al-Khattaab, Vol. 1. Riyadh. Maktaba Dar-us-Salam.