By Syed Sharfuddin
عَنْ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ عُمَرَ أَنّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ قَالَ يَا مَعْشَرَ الْمُهَاجِرِينَ خَمْسٌ إِذَا ابْتُلِيتُمْ بِهِنَّ وَأَعُوذُ بِاللَّهِ أَنْ تُدْرِكُوهُنَّ لَمْ تَظْهَرْ الْفَاحِشَةُ فِي قَوْمٍ قَطُّ حَتَّى يُعْلِنُوا بِهَا إِلَّا فَشَا فِيهِمْ الطَّاعُونُ وَالْأَوْجَاعُ الَّتِي لَمْ تَكُنْ مَضَتْ فِي أَسْلَافِهِمْ الَّذِينَ مَضَوْا وَلَمْ يَنْقُصُوا الْمِكْيَالَ وَالْمِيزَانَ إِلَّا أُخِذُوا بِالسِّنِينَ وَشِدَّةِ الْمَئُونَةِ وَجَوْرِ السُّلْطَانِ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلَمْ يَمْنَعُوا زَكَاةَ أَمْوَالِهِمْ إِلَّا مُنِعُوا الْقَطْرَ مِنْ السَّمَاءِ وَلَوْلَا الْبَهَائِمُ لَمْ يُمْطَرُوا وَلَمْ يَنْقُضُوا عَهْدَ اللَّهِ وَعَهْدَ رَسُولِهِ إِلَّا سَلَّطَ اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِمْ عَدُوًّا مِنْ غَيْرِهِمْ فَأَخَذُوا بَعْضَ مَا فِي أَيْدِيهِمْ وَمَا لَمْ تَحْكُمْ أَئِمَّتُهُمْ بِكِتَابِ اللَّهِ وَيَتَخَيَّرُوا مِمَّا أَنْزَلَ اللَّهُ إِلَّا جَعَلَ اللَّهُ بَأْسَهُمْ بَيْنَهُمْ
Translation: Ibn Umar reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “O Muhajeroon, there are 5 things with which you will be tested with and I seek refuge in Allah that you will live to see them. I) Promiscuity will become widespread among people and for that, they will be afflicted by plagues and diseases that were unknown to their forefathers. 2) They will cheat in weights and measures and for that they will be struck with famine, calamity, and the oppression of rulers. 3) They will withhold charity from their wealth and for that rain will be withheld from the sky, and were it not for the animals, there would be no rain at all. 4) They will break their covenant with Allah and His messenger and for that Allah will enable their enemies to overpower them and take away what is in their hands. 5) Their leaders will not rule according to the Law of Allah and derive no benefit from what Allah has revealed, and for that Allah will cause them to become enemies of each other.” [Source: 1.KItab Al-Fitan, Sunan Ibn Majah 4019. 2. Al Muhaddis Al Bani Khulasa Hukum Al-muhaddas Sahih fi Sahih Al Jame: 7978].
This Hadith is supported by Surah-Al-Suaara in the Quran where the social habits and commissions of eight different nations have been narrated which were akin to the above transgressions in different measures. Allah’s sent His Messengers to guide each nation, but most of them refused to accept the divine guidance and instead chose to face the consequences which led to their destruction and end.
It is not a secret that in the global Muslim community all of the above signs exist with such great clarity that no explanation is required to elaborate on the condition of the Muslim community living in Islamic countries. Ironically this community has the world’s greatest manpower, natural and mineral resources and a rich cultural heritage. Yet, nearly all the on-going conflicts in the world involve Muslims, either as aggressors or partners of aggressors, or as victims of conflicts, whether as refugees or communities caught in the crossfire. Intra-Islamic conflict costs Muslims thousands of lives and dollars every year with no end in sight. Leaders in the Islamic world remain autocratic or are terribly inefficient when elected in democracies. The economic condition of these countries, despite abundant resources, is dependent on external forces.
There is rampant under-development, unequal distribution of wealth, enormous disparities in welfare and social safety nets, and absence of justice and opportunity for the common man. Most of the Muslim leaders are not truly independent as they depend on external powers for political legitimacy and control. And finally, in the health and food security sector Islamic countries are often hit by famines and locust swarms, rendering millions at the mercy of international aid agencies. As if all this was not enough, the coronavirus pandemic is knocking on their doors after taking nearly 100,000 lives in China, Europe and the Americas.
I am not a doomsday advocate but I can say for sure that the pandemic of coronavirus has changed our world in a way we never imagined in our wildest dreams. How could anyone predict that a tiny little virus, which does not have a life of its own, could force a global lockdown and send the economies of many developed countries nosedive into recession at a level not seen since the Second World War.
On the ethical level, the pandemic of coronavirus is the reality of the world we have constructed since the last major pandemic, known as the Spanish Flu of 1918. In our cultural advancement and technological revolutions, we are helpless when confronted with the mysteries of nature. We pay lip service to human solidarity but at the same time we like the idea of nation-state to be divided into races, faiths, ethnic identities. We just don’t stop there; we also like to classified into nationalist groups, social orders and gender types. After doing away with the Berlin wall, which symbolised division, we embarked upon the grand project of constructing walls on our national borders in order to prevent the less unfortunate come to our homes and share our cakes and ale; and we have named our project a necessary measure for national security and economic prosperity.
We have divided ourselves into groups of rich nations and poor nations; those who have veto power at the UN on matters of global peace and security and those who have to comply with the decisions made by a minority over majority; and we decide in select chambers who would have peace and who should face conflict and destruction. We have built warships and air shields to defend ourselves from nuclear threat but we have not learnt the lesson from the past hurricanes that devastated the Philippines or earthquakes which raised to ground Haiti that when disaster strikes, it does not differentiate between people: black or white, rich or poor, young or old, sick or healthy, the faithful or those having no faith. Our problem is that as long as a UFO does not hit us, it does not exist. When China was fighting the coronavirus in the end of 2019, the rest of the world did not care. Business was as usual until it became unusual on our turf three months later in 2020.
On the religious level, the Pundits, Priests, Rabbis and Imams have been saying that we should not accuse coronavirus of harshness. For the orthodox communities, coronavirus is simply following the orders of the Supreme Lord who released it to teach humanity a lesson for discarding His message of compassion, peace, mercy, kindness and good behaviour. The world had steered away from the divine script and sought to change the laws of nature by tinkering with the genetic code of life of humans and animals; developing harmful weapons and chemicals; polluting our earth and space with industrial effluent, toxic waste and dangerous gasses; installing countless satellites in space and creating infinite electro-magnetic fields and rays which penetrate human body seemingly doing no harm to it externally; rewriting the codes of social behaviour and taking end of life decisions based on economic forecasts and actuarial algorithms. In April, during the commemoration of Passover, Good Friday and the start of Ramadan, thousands of faithful begged to the Lord Almighty in individual and congregational prayers to forgive the commissions of man and save the world from further destruction and collapse.
On a scientific level, virologists and epidemiologists said this is a phenomenon which repeats itself in cycles in all epochs; more recently it was SARS, then came MERS and now covid-19. As soon as a vaccine is found, it too will become extinct. Humanity pays a price for every learning curve and the present death toll is unfortunate but an inevitable part of human advancement. As of writing this piece, several countries have begun research on different vaccines, which will enter human trials as soon as the necessary regulatory approvals have been secured.
On a political level, world leaders were focused on the coronavirus in the context of saving the lives of their nationals and reversing the steep decline of their national economies. According to estimates, the global economic growth forecast is registering between 4 to 6% decline in the GDP of Europe and other countries by the end of the first quarter of the year threatening a global recession. Every country is counting its dead daily as if keeping a track of the goals scored at the football world cup. How long this macabre scene will last, no one knows.
It is becoming clear that in a post covid-19 world, a new international order will be redrawn by the powerful countries taking into account the lessons learnt from the performance of totalitarian regimes and free democracies in dealing with the current pandemic. But let it not be a repeat of the post world war 2 arrangement where only the victors decided an international order for the rest of the world and imposed their conventions on every state to follow without consulting their peoples. It is interesting that the Bretton Woods System and the establishment of the League of Nations, the precursor of the UN, predate the independence of many Afro-Asian countries which became independent as part of the decolonisation process and had to accept many international conventions and protocols which pre-dated their independence.
We should not forget that the country most effective in containing the coronavirus disease is not a free democracy (China) and that the democracies which take pride in their liberal institutions (the US & EU) have not done well in stopping this disease, nor the global recession that is predicted to engulf the world in the remainder of 2020. Therefore the creation of a new international order will need to take into account the fine balance between political totalitarianism and free market economy as both have shown to have different strengths. China saved its nationals from coronavirus deaths to a considerable level despite being the most populous nation on earth, while Italy, the US, Spain, France and the UK could not do so with equal haste and efficiency.
In the new international order the role of international institutions should also be critically reviewed. Rules need to be redrafted to make these institutions more credible and more democratised. The inability of the UN to prevent conflicts, refugee flows and disaster mitigation, and of the WHO to predict and prevent this pandemic have already come under strong scrutiny. Part of the reason for their underperformance is that the rich and powerful countries have stopped taking global institutions seriously. Some developed countries, notably the US, have used their high contributions as a tool to politicise multilateral decision-making in their favour.
A unipolar world will not suit the new international order. It should not be an order where a country decides to limit export of a medicine needed by its population to treat the symptoms of a disease but reverses its decision after receiving a phone call from another powerful country threatening of ‘consequences’ if the shipment of the medicine were stopped due to its national interest. It should not be an order where the owner of a natural resource in not the country where it is based, but another more powerful country which has the ability to destroy it, if its terms are not accepted. It should not be an international order where the raw material from a country is exported in cents per metric ton but after processing, it is imported by the same country in Dollars per metric ton.
Countries should put together their own protocols and policies based on thought provoking ideas and social requirements. The world has changed and especially the poor and disadvantaged will suffer most in all aspects of their daily lives. We are all in the same boat no matter where we come from and what we believe in. In a strange way, isolationism has become the key word for human survival in a globalised world.
The lesson from the coronavirus disease is poignant. It is the new mantra of “survival of the fittest” in humanity’s post-modern evolution. It implies that if you haven’t got the strength as an individual or as a nation to beat the new pressures that confront you, the lease for your survival in a highly competitive world will soon run out. Is the world prepared for this grim scenario? Certainly not, because humanity demands that in the march of civilisation we take our weak and vulnerable along with us, even if we have to pick them on our shoulders.
اللهم إني أعوذ بك من السلب بعد العطاء ومن الشدة بعد الرخاء ومن الفقر بعد الغنى ومن الكفر بعد الإيمان
Say: O God, I seek refuge in You from taking away the goodness after you have given, from hardship after prosperity, from poverty after wealth, and from unbelief after faith.
April 9, 2020.