Since the past few weeks, I have resisted the urge to pen down my thoughts here. The main reason for this was that I did not want to come off as if I’m gloating. Because I am not gloating at all.
Yet, the situation is, from my point of view at least,…. how do I put it …. highly ironic.
I have a policy regarding my reaction whenever mankind is afflicted with any kind of fitan (trials and tribulations). First, a reminder that I’ve been giving for years: in the forthcoming decades, the frequency, severity, novelty, and intensity of the tribulations that will be sent upon mankind, will only increase. This is what our Prophet Muhammad ﷺ prophesied. May Allah save our faith from being corrupted or undermined by these tribulations. Aameen.
So, regarding my “reaction” policy: whenever a new fitnah descends upon earth, I try to consciously hold my tongue. I guard it with immense, proactive care. Because this is also what our Prophet advised us to do viz. not to jump into the midst of the tribulation and get caught up in it.
So I abstain from joining in the many, many, many, many verbal and written discussions about the fitnah, which are vehemently going on across all kinds of settings, forums and media. I prefer to observe mutely, and keep my thoughts to myself. I pray to Allah that He makes the reality of things dawn upon me with utmost clarity. To not let me get fooled by what appears to be the truth; but to show me the truth as what it is, and all the falsehood (i.e. the hype, lies, fake news, propaganda and deception) as what it is.
Fitnah is, as it is, not a time for discussions. It is a time for every believer to turn to Allah in earnest, exclusive communion and to beg His forgiveness for their sins.
A note regarding asking Allah for forgiveness during fitnah: if you intend, even slightly, to resume the sins for which you are supposedly asking for His forgiveness, once He removes the tribulation (i.e. the fitnah is over), then your repentance is not sincere, and hence, likely to be rejected.
So ask yourself: do I want this virus to be destroyed just so that I can resume all those sinful activities that I loved going about doing, before it struck? Am I asking Allah to “forgive” me and kill this virus, just so that I can get my old life back?
Or do I really intend to turn over a new leaf this time, and become a true Muslim?
Do you think Allah does not know what is really in your heart?
A look into the reality of things before Covid-19 hit
Let us take a step back, first. Go back 6 months or a year, or more, and try to see what was happening around the world from an aerial, “bird’s-eye” perspective.
If you employed even some wisdom, you would see that the people around the world were getting increasingly “frenzied”, to say the least. Their lives were a flurry of unnecessary activity and constantly running to and fro. Just off the top of my head, I am listing a few things that were becoming increasingly common, and beginning to go way out of balance. Each of these, mind you, was being fueled to spirally grow in intensity by the increasing, 24/7 use of social media. Some of these things might not be sinful or harmful individually, per se, but when blown out of proportion and taken too far, they can yield negative consequences:
- Working out/physical fitness, whether at the gym or anywhere else.
- Mega events attended by huge crowds, whether related to sports, fashion, religion, culture, academics, or a combination thereof. PSL in Pakistan is an example.
- Corporate conferences and retreats.
- Over-scheduled children’s activities, from play-dates to school runs.
- Travel without a genuine need; merely for the sake of traveling.
- Oversharing of (very, very) personal information with thousands of absolute strangers around the globe.
- Public relations in any form: political, personal, corporate, digital, professional, or even religious.
Combine all of the above points with the individual family unit, and what you get was what was actually being normalized by everyone around the globe: utter chaos.
People were just shuttling to and fro all the time, even the babies. Putting on a regular virtual “show and tell” performance for their online audience was becoming the norm for most, no matter what their age. Even the religious people were not spared from the fitnah of always giving regular personal updates about themselves: what am I eating today, what am I wearing right now, what my baby just did (even if it was still in the belly), where I am off to next, what I am thinking while lying in my bed, what I just said to my wife/husband/mom etc. etc.
The only exception was — excuse the off-putting example — sharing our toilet-dump shots! (“Oh look! Today it is _______ [insert adjective]!”). I know that this example is extremely off-putting and disgusting, but I said it just to get my point across: around the world, everyone was beginning to engage in 24/7 oversharing of personal information, and making life-affecting decisions on an individual, professional, familial and communal level that were fueled by what to share next with their followers and ‘friends’ on social media.
For this purpose, they were almost always on the move, in order to generate more content, network with others, build their brand/business, generate leads, get investor support for their new idea, and so on.
That is, they were beginning to do things just to be able to grow, to tell others about it, or to make it lead to the next step in achieving their vision.
And society, as a whole, was pushing them, cheering them on to do it, more and more.
Like I said, in theory, not all of this is wrong on an individual, moderate, balanced level. But it was the balance that was missing.
It was just going too far!
The homes we were living in were beginning to serve the purpose of mere hotels: we (the grandparents, parents, and children, all of us, without exception) went back to our “homes” just to change our clothes, maybe eat one quick meal, bathe, and sleep. We did not have the time for meaningful family conversations.
Even the fleeting time that we did spend at home, we tried to capture its moments for those glamorous, brand-boosting social media shares, instead of just living in those moments privately, or bonding with our home-mates. The picture-perfect bowl of our morning oatmeal brekkie, the new yoga pose we just mastered, the trees lining our evening walk, the cactus plant on our desk, or the cute book nook in our little prayer corner.
… before getting up in a frenzy to jet off, on our next jaunt in the morning.
Just being at home, with nothing much to do, might have felt like “prison” to us. We only stayed in when we were sick.
Or out of work.
Or stood up by our gym buddy.
Or snowed in.
Staying at home and loving it was, in our book, only for losers.
There was a time when the adage, “home is where the heart is” was widely believed and followed.
The adage that the current generation of always-on-the-run, trainers-wearing, camera-wielding, kale-smoothie-drinking, calorie-counting, frequent-flying, gym-hitting, job-hopping, mantra-quoting yuppies believe in, seems to be:
Home is where the “old fart” is.
The exceptional ones were very few
The FOMO (“fear of missing out”) factor was beginning to gnaw away at everyone, even the elderly. Even those seniors who were not on social media drooled with desire or turned green with envy while viewing the exotic travel and vacation photos shared by their contacts on….sigh …. the ever-present WhatsApp. If their half-a-century-old buddy got to hold his latest grandbaby during his recent trip to the US/UK/Canada, they have to meet theirs too. Period!
So much so that if a person, of any age, showed immunity to the prevalent rat-race culture fueled by this oversharing of information with others i.e. they refused to get sucked in by the trend of being obsessed with who just did or acquired what, and vice versa, they were considered weird or outcast. A person who was still choosing to live a life that was considered a very, very normal life less than 2 decades ago e.g. staying mostly at home, going out just for necessity, then coming back, cooking and eating a simple meal (or ordering in), spending quality time with their family, and then going to sleep early; viz. an honest, no-frills, simple and decent life routine, sans screens and glamor, he or she was considered somewhat socially weird, maybe even a “loser”, but definitely a misfit.
Tell me: if today someone chooses to not get photographed, has given up using social media (including WhatsApp) despite having been on it for years, does not share their personal life details with everyone, and does not go out to glamorous places in large groups comprising of their (so-called) ‘friends’, do you not consider them weird? Especially if they are still young? And maybe even uber-talented, good-looking, and possessing a charismatic personality?
Why is it that you think that about them, I ask you?
Do they not have the right to choose to live simply? Unlike everyone else in their family, neighborhood, friends’ and colleagues’ circles? Why should they, too, be consumed with #FOMO i.e. the fear of missing out on all the fancy Instagram shots, exotic retreats, conferences, mega family events, vacations/staycations, fitness regimens, meditation/wellness routines, seminars, festivals, and workshops — all documented by flashy selfies?
Descent of the Divine clampdown: enough is enough!
Whenever mankind goes too astray, history is a witness that Divine punishment descends. When mankind became too obsessed with virtual connections and started to grossly undermine and neglect real, authentic, close, in-person relationships and interactions (that actually mattered more), Allah most High sent a tribulation upon all human beings that restricted their movement outside their homes, and also their physical interactions with others in crowded settings.
But what I am so bemused about is the fact that we, on a global level, are referring to our current situation as “isolation”. Brothers and sisters, this is not isolation! It is just a restriction of our movement, outside of our homes and basic workplaces. It is a lifestyle that I have personally adopted since many, many years. Alhamdulillah. (But forget me for now, maybe I will come to myself later).
What I am saying is, you being cooped up, safe and healthy, with all your family members in your own little comfortable, personalized space, with all basic amenities available, and adequate food supplies at hand, having 24/7 access to Internet and digital “entertainment” (people call it television/films, which I do not endorse as entertainment), and the ability to communicate digitally or verbally with anyone across the globe, — this situation of yours, is not “isolation”.
Please do not undermine/insult the unfortunate people who are forcibly locked up, for no fault/sin/crime of their own, inside solitary confinement, stifling prison cells, and concentration camps, by calling your situation, “isolation”. The sick patients quarantined in hospitals, who are finding it difficult to eat/drink and breathe, who haven’t seen their loved ones, in person, in days…they are in isolation.
Your comfortable, at-home situation is not isolation. 🙂
It is merely a physical restriction of your outside movement and physical interactions with others, that is all. A jarring and much-needed wake-up call from the One above, Who actually wants the best for you: Allah most High.
He has slapped this situation upon you, in order to ground you, give you a much-needed reality-check, and to bring you crashing back down to ground-zero.
Facing our demons
I once mentioned in one of my previous blog posts, how most of us use many different avenues to “escape” from familial and personal situations that we are too scared or unwilling to face, especially at home.
It is called “escapism”.
When families who have serious, and I do mean very serious, interpersonal and communication issues that they regularly use escapism to sweep under the carpet, and scrupulously avoid any honest, heart-to-heart, open talk/confrontation about with each other, they find it absolutely impossible to spend even more than one day at home, without going out somewhere.
Especially if their “loved ones” are also at home. 🙂
This is because being around the people you have so much bottled-up emotions, thoughts or feelings towards, makes the awkwardness while you are at home, with them around you, cut through your comfort level like a sharp knife.
So you plan your daily escape.
Many, many of us come from such sad, miserable homes. We eagerly rush out every day (every, single day) to school, our workplace/job, on unnecessary grocery runs, for window-shopping, on play-dates, to the mall, to a cafe to just hang out with so-called “friends”, or for a treadmill or gym run, just because we cannot spend more than one full day at home.
Around our so-called “near and dear” ones.
This is because our home is not a haven. It is more like a hotel (the B&B kind) at best, or a prison at worst.
And it is a very, very sad situation, that we have such twisted and weird relationships with our own close families.
Allah most High has, in His infinite mercy, clamped us down inside the very homes that we used to find so stifling, forcing us, in all practicality, to face our individual, interpersonal and spiritual “demons”.
It is His mercy upon us, that He has forced us away from our trivial, unnecessary, out-of-the-home pursuits, occupations and hobbies.
Like I say to my children often, we can now experience what people used to live like two or more centuries ago, when traveling was considered something high-risk and dangerous; and was only need-based. It was not for the faint-hearted, and definitely not undertaken merely for leisure, or for a change of scene.
Across the vast landscapes, traveling long-distance was, once upon a time, possible only upon horse-, camel- or elephant-back (or in carriages/chariots drawn by the same).
And, across the seas, it was only undertaken upon precarious ships, with voyages lasting weeks or months.
Travel fatalities were high. So it was never undertaken without a valid need.
Furthermore, the first camera came into existence less than 200 years ago (in the year 1885, reportedly). The first airplane, some years later.
Gives a little perspective, does it not? Especially for those of us who grew up hopping onto an airplane for mundane reasons every few weeks, or learnt how to shoot our own photos and videos before we turned 10 years old.
We all need to ponder upon one thing:
How did people spend their time before the industrial, technological, and digital (Internet) revolutions drastically changed the way we lived and interacted with each other?
How did average people spend their time more than 200 years ago?
So, how are we doing?
Our family is just fine, thank you, alhamdulillah.
Like I said at the start of this post, I do not want to gloat. However, the fact is that our flexible, dynamic, unstructured lifestyle as unschoolers really made it easy for us to adjust to the changes in life caused by this pandemic.
This is, as they say, “our time”. As unschoolers.
As families across the world whine, complain, crib and conflict with each other because of being cooped up together in a small space (this was their “home”, remember?) all the time; as husbands berate their wives and children, in an attempt to work fruitfully from home amidst the incessant din; as frazzled wives anxiously scramble to perform additional household chores due to everyone being at home all day, and all parents around the world desperately turn to homeschoolers’ online resources to keep their children occupied,……alhamdulillah, you won’t hear a peep from our home.
For us, it is business as usual, just without the errand runs and dinners out.
“But you eat out at restaurants so often?!”
Yes, we do (did). But, like I said, we adjusted. I had always warned my children that any blessing can be taken away any day, in an instant. We live day-to-day, with the Qur’an as our main guide and focus in life. I keep advising my children that they should always expect the unexpected in life, and be ready to adjust to sudden changes in circumstances, and to adapt themselves to new happenings, with patience and trust in Allah.
I have always warned them that bad times such as death, illness, loss of livelihood/material blessings, and natural disasters, do not come to us on a scheduled visit, or an invitation. They just strike suddenly, out of the blue. And, like the stories of the Prophets in the Qur’an teach us, we should be prepared to be patient and to adjust to straitened circumstances, showing pleasure with the decree of Allah, but also turning to Him in increased humility and earnest worship, so that He grants us relief.
If it is one thing we, as an unschooling family of 5, are good at (especially because of being flexible in our approach to learning), it is adapting to sudden changes in our life.
Alhamdulillah, all guidance and strength is from Allah.
So, yeah, we are doing just fine alhamdulillah, even without eating out at restaurants.
I can cook, too. Duh. You know. 🙂
It’s just that I never consider cooking to be an extraordinary skill, or tout-worthy achievement. Anyone can do it, if they put their mind to it.
Apologies to the cooking-obsessed Pakistani “auntysphere”!
Turning your home into a haven
About this pandemic. I would just like to repeat the cliche: this, too, shall pass.
This pandemic came to grant martyrdom and high ranks to the sincere Muslim believers, and, hopefully, a chance to turn back to God, to the non-believers. Those Muslims who died due to Covid-19, are in a better place already, insha’Allah, and for those who were afflicted with it and recovered, Allah has hopefully erased their sins through it, and made them stronger (physically more immune, and psychologically more resilient) as a result.
As for the rest of us who are healthy and safe, but anxious and frustrated due to being restricted in our movement outside our homes, I invite you to change your mindset about your home.
At this point, I would like to mention two of my past blog posts on this topic:
- Homely Homemaking Homebodies? Why the Quran Commands Muslim Women: “Stay in Your Homes” | MuslimMatters.org
- My Home: My Sanctuary of Solitude, Not an ‘Open House‘
Today, both of these blog posts exist as chapters in two of my books. The first one is in “Traversing the Highs and Lows of Muslim Marriage“, and the second one in “Into the Qur’an: Let it Enrich Your Soul and Your Life“, both books having been published by IIPH.
At the time that these two blog posts were published online, however, many years ago, they garnered more than their fair share of criticism from some readers.
People criticized me for promoting the idea of a Muslim staying mostly at home and not going out without genuine need; of turning their home into a place where the heart stays connected; where sincere, loving, and close family relationships are nurtured; a place where you feel safe and secure, with your privacy intact and unviolated; a place where you can worship Allah with full concentration and focus, without distractions; a learning and resource center of sorts; a training ground and “launchpad” for creative projects and ventures; and, of course, a haven of mercy (akin to a mother’s womb).
Many readers, sadly, were not so understanding or accepting of my ideas. Especially some ladies. It was as if I had committed a major offense just by alluding to the fact that their staying at home might be better for their own spiritual well-being, than going out every day, for one trivial thing or another. They also found it somewhat offensive that I admitted to not being an eager and willing hostess i.e. not being a fan of hosting large parties, lunches, high-teas/dinners, or of receiving uninvited guests at my home.
Anyhow, even long after these two blog posts were published, as the years passed and I eventually became an unschooling parent, then my children started growing older, I did not change my stance.
I still loved being at home, but only, now, its younger residents were no longer so little; they were turning into tweens and teens, masha’Allah.
But I still loved the solitude of my home.
The criticism for this choice, however, continued from most fronts. Some of the remarks and taunts were downright offensive, might I add. Such as people hinting that I perhaps suffered from mental illness and/or a social phobia; warnings of imminent vitamin D deficiency; accusations of “suppressing” my children/ruining their futures/turning them into social misfits, and, — the grandest cherry on the cake, — cutting off of family relations etc.
All because I had erected boundaries to safeguard my family’s privacy and refused to get sucked into the whirlpool of the oversharing of personal information across the numerous forms of contemporary media, which had become the norm for most people.
Anyhow, at the times when my tears fell because of these accusations, Allah was undoubtedly witnessing it, and also noting my patience in not responding to my critics. Like He says in the Qur’an, He does not waste an iota of a Muslim’s effort or sacrifice. Yet, even I did not expect that He would reward me so, so tremendously! He rewarded me in ways I had not imagined.
Over the years, more of my books got published, and, as my children blossomed, the critics, all of them, rather eerily and conspicuously, fell completely silent.
And I do mean, absolute crickets.
When people now beheld my children in person, after many years, I saw something amazing happen. I cannot quite put my finger on exactly what to call it. I just know this: Allah silences everyone in an uncanny way as soon as they cast just one glance upon my children, in person.
Weird, eh? 🙂 I still haven’t figured it out.
Anyhow, as this pandemic grows and encompasses the global population, I invite everyone (even my past critics and haters) to have a go at living the way that I have been living for the past decade or so; i.e. to give their homes a second chance at being havens of peace and productivity.
A chance at becoming what mine has been for me, alhamdulillahi rabbil a’lameen, since the past many years: a sanctuary of peace, security, solitude, worship and remembrance of Allah (very important), and a resource/learning center, where talents are nurtured and amazing creativity is unleashed.
Do not treat your home like a hotel: where the tenants come in merely to eat, drink, bathe, change clothes, and sleep, between their trips to their workplace, school, gym, grocery store, coffee shop, mall, or entertainment/recreation venue.
Do not make your home akin to a motel or guesthouse, either: where anyone can just drop in uninvited at any time, for tea/coffee, lunch or dinner, bringing with them boisterous repartee that continues into the wee hours of the night; undermining not just your privacy and peace of mind, but also, sadly, removing the blessings of the presence of angels from your home, and obstructing your obedience to Allah.
Rather, make your home a place where your heart and soul remain connected. Where, as a Muslim, your faith is rejuvenated, not undermined. Where you find a perennial, blissful feeling of peace and serenity, and are able to worship your Creator easily, whenever and however you want.
I assure you, this pandemic is a blessing in disguise for the situation inside our homes, my brothers and sisters in faith, so please capitalize on it.
Pray together, laugh together, cook and eat together, recite and listen to the Qur’an together, read beneficial books together, play halal games together, and support each other in propagating Islam online, together.
Give it a try!
As they say, now or never. Strike while the iron is hot.
Insha’Allah, you will not regret it.