From Darkness Into Light: COVID-19 and its deafening silence

Much of my thoughts are non-linear, I often jump from one idea to another, too often. It is why my blogposts will never have a seamless flow. So I do apologise if this reads like a maelstrom of scattered thoughts. Image above: instagram user @morysetta 

The Philosophy of Silence

‘I felt in need of a great pilgrimage, so I sat in silence for three days’ (Hafez)

As we traverse through this complicated journey that is life, we are invited to practice a beautiful form of patience and gratitude, one that grows stronger with the passage of time and one that aligns itself with the will of God. The outbreak of the coronavirus has done exactly this. It beckons us towards patience, gratitude, solidarity with the vulnerable members of our community and a reassessment of our assumptions, our worldview and our reality. 

The coronavirus has signalled an abyss of darkness for countless communities around the world. Whilst we witness states imposing almost draconian lockdowns in order to contain the virus – we have found ourselves at odds with our own selves. We are finding it difficult to remain in isolation, because this would mean we will be placed head-on into the battle against the Self. We are afraid of our own thoughts, we are afraid of the message the Self is trying to convey. 

He knows countless chapters of the sciences

But that wrongdoer does not know his soul

He knows the properties of every essence

But can he tell his own essence from an ass?

‘I know what is licit, what is illicit’

But what about your Self? You cannot say

If you are licit or illiterate 

You know religion’s grounds and rules, and yet

Look to your roots, are they sound or not? 

Maulana Rumi, Masnavi 3:2648-56 

There is a form of language that extends beyond words and expressions but delivers a wide-reaching and powerful message. It is the power of silence – it is the acknowledgement of all that mankind is able to achieve once we delve into our psyche, understand our capabilities and more importantly, the holes in our edifice that have amounted to this dark stage of the human condition.

Where words fail, silence prevails. Such is the case for our pious predecessors, such is the example we follow. For it was through silence, that the Prophet Yusuf draw closer to his Lord, confined in the prison cell with nothing but his thoughts and conviction. It was through the deafening stillness that Prophet Yunus was delivered from evil. It was through the vow of silence that Zechariah was gifted with a progeny that would inspire and create a revolutionary movement. It is through the silent rumination of Al-Habib Allah (eternal peace on his soul), that Allah drew him to the command to ‘read, in the name of your Lord’.  It is in silence that we are able to hear the word of God, hear the song of the nightingale yearning to be heard by all those who have the courage to listen.

Al-Ghazali, in his Alchemy of Happiness, writes that God has created us in His likeness. Within us, a miniature kingdom, an infinitely reduced copy of His own. A Part of His Divine Essence is represented by the soul, the Archangel by the heart, His throne by the brain and His tablet by the treasure-chamber of thought. As God governs the universe, so too, does our soul govern our body. Such a lofty position – such immense power!  If we were to reflect upon this God-given status, embody the attributes of our Lord and create a piece of His paradise on this Earth through our actions, there is no telling what we would be able to achieve. 

The initial stages of silence and contemplation will  enable us to awaken the revolution of the Self and to recreate ourselves, become the version of ourselves that aligns with the essence of the Divine. The virus is a test, a test that is urging us to remember the ephemeral nature of mankind. A tribulation which we shall overcome, in due time. At present moment we must focus on ways of ‘becoming’ rather than ‘being’, to foster our ideas into affirmative action.   

As the world plummets into an unusual kind of fire, I was reminded by an instagram user (@brotheromid) of the story of Prophet Ibrahim (eternal peace be upon him), who was plunged into fire. According to some accounts, whilst those around Prophet Ibrahim witnessed the fire engulf him, Ibrahim experienced a cool mist that shortly transformed into a garden of flowers. Thereafter, Ibrahim became an intimate friend of the Lord as a reward for his perseverance. Our reward for perseverance and conviction, is proximity to the Lord. If he emerged from the fire becoming the friend of Allah who embodied kindness, awareness and humility, we too, may turn this darkness into light.

It is my deepest invocation that our isolation will evolve us, take us into the meaningful and much needed journey into the secrets of the Self. Once we realise the power of our metaphysical self, our idea of ‘becoming’ will be adorned with a sense of direction. Since our silence has enabled us to traverse through the first and second modes of being*, we may enter into what Allama Iqbal frames as ‘discovery’. Here, the Self achieves a free personality by discovering the ultimate sources of Divine law within the depths of his own consciousness. 

The outbreak of the coronavirus has forced us into asking ourselves the question that burns within, are we truly fulfilling the role of being God’s vicegerents on Earth? Have we done enough to have our lofty positions restored and does our opinion of our Self align with that of God? Our thoughts, our actions, whether we are taking advantage of the sudden stagnation in our daily activities will weigh heavy on the scale of self-reflection. 

Imam Reza (eternal peace be upon him) is reported to have said, ‘among the signs of being learned are forbearance, knowledge and silence. Silence is one of the doors of wisdom. Silence is a means of attracting Love and attaining Heaven and is a guide to every good’. 

Perhaps our good Lord is asking – no, demanding us to be silent and listen to the call of the universe as we proceed into the next stage of human development. This, of course, in no way negates the power of our voices, of collective action and of communal spirit. I am also conscious of romanticising this isolation period, which only reflects a dangerous form of class privilege and will do little for the evolution of the Self. 

*The first mode of being (according to Allama Iqbal) is ‘Faith’ (an unconditional submission to the will of God and so His Divine sources of Law) then comes ‘Thought’ (reflection and contemplation enabling us to justify our submission), followed by ‘Discovery’.

The Virus is Capitalism

‘The bourgeoisie…has pitilessly torn asunder the feudal ties that bound man to his ‘natural superiors’ and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous ‘cash payment’. It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation’ 

Karl Marx, Communist Manifesto 

Global pandemics, as they have emerged in the past and as they have arrived at our doorstep now, have a great lesson to teach mankind beyond the idea of pain, suffering, death, and dying. These images and reminders are all too important, and beckon us towards the only feasible conclusion we must all be making – that capitalism is the virus. From Iran to China, Italy, the UK, Australia to the United States, we have entered a new era of political and economic turbulence but one that demands radical transformation of a corrupt and exploitative system. 

Time and again, God has unveiled to His people, the crisis of capitalism and its sheer failure to revive a nation from public emergencies. The coronavirus emerges to dismantle any previous assumptions that a capitalist-driven economy poses any benefit to the masses. Undoubtedly, capitalism is the plague that seeps through society, it infiltrates it and sets the progressive society ablaze as it sadistically observes from a distance. Wealthy corporations and politicians do not care if we suffer, so long as they continue to generate profit at the behest of those who pay their debt of living with blood and tears. The modern State which promotes the idea of a free market (whilst obliterating all competitors), globalisation and liberality is drowning in its own falsehoods – a reality that is beginning to unveil itself through its appalling response to crises. 

From the time the first COVID-19 case was reported, we have witnessed a high-scale mismanagement of our countries resources, putting to risk the most vulnerable people in our community. The capitalist system has been stripped of its self-proclaimed dignity, its ghastly nakedness a testament to the necessity of a revolution. The holes in our welfare system are rife, and are beginning to reveal itself to the masses through the various reports, utterly confusing press conferences and so-called ‘welfare’ packages announced by the global right-leaning regimes. Approximately 1 million people have lost their jobs in Australia, including international students and migrants who are under immense pressures to keep up with their daily expenses. 

Social distancing and isolation play a significant role in limiting the spread of the virus however this must be done in conjunction with a governing party that makes adequate decisions to the benefit of all individuals in society. Currently, in the majority capitalist states, there is an immense shortage of health supplies including PPE for health workers, medical facilities such as hospitals, hospital beds and ventilators. Whilst wealthy citizens are given first class treatment in privatised health facilities, the common-folk are feeling the brunt of the pandemic. This is just a small aspect of the many failures of a capitalist system of governance. 

What is clear amidst the outbreak is the only ones who are truly impacted by the coronavirus are the weak, the elderly, the immunocompromised, the imprisoned, the working class. Basically, all except the small percentage of the elite, ruling class that have confined themselves in a bubble that refuses to hear or see the cries of the populace. How much longer will the elite remain in this bubble before those who remain on the outskirts demand attention? We have already lost our jobs, must we lose our dignity, our livelihood, our lives at the hands of power hungry leaders and corporations that feed off the struggles of the working class?

What is also clear amidst the outbreak is that we are stronger together – we are bound to one another by our pain and our hardships. The healthcare professionals who are risking their lives to save the community, the people working in general service stores caring for our basic needs who (whilst struggling with health and financial issues) again step out into the unknown to provide temporary relief to the community. We, as a community, are selling our labour to a capitalist infrastructure that will do away with us as soon as we are no longer able to aid corporations in their unjust accumulation of profit. These nation states have never had our best interests at heart and it is high time we open our eyes to the injustices that we should not accept as our reality.   

Earlier this week, the WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus addressed the global community and said ‘solidarity is the key to defeating COVID-19. Solidarity between the states and the people’. In an attempt to champion the notion of humanitarian solidarity, Cuba have sent medical brigades to combat COVID-19 in Italy, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Jamaica and Grenada. China have followed suit, with medical brigades also being sent to areas deeply affected by the virus. 

This is not to say that these states are perfect (far from it, but this requires a separate analysis), but it is to draw our attention towards the power of the people. It is to draw attention towards the limitless possibilities of awakening from our colonial slumber and rising up against the rich and powerful in a practical and feasible way.

In times of crises we, the people, are our only hope. Our anti-capitalist politics and communal organisation will deliver us from this evil. We need not a national, but a political and social consciousness – one that recognises the power of solidarity and the damaging effects of elitism, capitalism and corporatocracy, etc. It is incumbent upon us to recognise the enemy within and develop strategies to instigate a radical revolution towards justice, equality and liberation. 

‘The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Working men of all countries, unite!’

Further reading:

Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali, Kimiya-e-Sa’adat ‘The Alchemy of Happiness’ (Martino Fine Books, 2017). 

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto (Pluto Press, Chicago).

Muhammad (Allama) Iqbal, The Reconstruction of Religious Thought In Islam (Stanford University Press, 2013). 

Usul al-Kafi, vol.2, pp.114-131.

 

 

 

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