In the wake of coronavirus (Sars-CoV-2) and the disease it causes, Covid-19, fear is sweeping the globe. With thousands of deaths already, and many tens of thousands of people infected across the world, this is one of the biggest events of the 21st century. And public health authorities are warning that the disease will probably soon start spreading locally regardless of where you are on the planet.
I’m not a medical practitioner nor is this medical advice, rather, I want to focus on how we deal with fear from an Islamic perspective.
The problem with scary things is that we aren’t very good at reacting to them. Currently, there is panic-buying on everything from toilet paper to ibuprofen. Hand sanitisers normally retailing at £2 are selling for more than £20 on eBay and people are dragging face masks off the shelves like there’s no tomorrow. Some supermarkets have empty shelves as consumers are stocking up on food. Schools are considering closing, as are maktabs. The health advice is also a little unsettling as it talks mostly to things that other people have to do – wearing masks when they’re sick. Staying home if they feel unwell. Covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze. Seeking medical care early. The lack of control over others actions is something that none of us likes. Yes, you should wash your hands and stop touching your face, but neither of these feel like an intervention. They don’t make us feel safe.
And really, that’s what this panic is all about. Coping with the fear. Fear is natural. We’re all afraid and even the experts admit that there are a huge number of things about this outbreak that we just don’t know yet. Just don’t let the fear control you. Fear is a very powerful emotion. It can motivate or it can paralyse. It can be productive or it could be destructive depending on who or what you fear and why you fear.
Sadly, there are many things which may intimidate you – online trolls and haters, Islamophobia, racism, statements that you aren’t good enough. My dear brothers and sisters, one of Shaytaan’s greatest lies is to make you feel that you have no hope with Allah(SWT). Know that the remedy to this is to trust in the most sturdy handhold, Allah (SWT).
But Allah(SWT) tells us the truth of this matter:
That is because Allah is the protector of those who have believed and because the disbelievers have no protector. [Surah Muhammad 47:12]
The psychology of fear
As humans we all experience fear, even some of the most successful and confident people experience fear. Fear can be a good thing because it prevents us from taking steps that can harm us, but quite often our fears are based on exaggerated assumptions and can be obstacles to our goals & success, and can manifest in the form of different anxiety disorders or phobias.
If we study human behaviour, reactions, and psychological illnesses closely we will find fear to be the underlying, root cause of all negativity. As individuals, we are afraid of loss, afraid of public opinion, afraid of what the others might think or say, afraid of failure, afraid of rejection, afraid of not being able to perform our roles up to the standards set by society, all of which may ultimately lead to clinical depression or anxiety, or in other words, sorrow. On collective levels, foreign policies are almost entirely based on fear.
The concept of fear is mentioned more than 1,000 times in the Quran. As well as describing fear, Allah(SWT) also repeatedly mentions in the Qur’an the hearts of those who “shall have no fear, nor shall they grieve.” Its important to understand the quality of those who will not be afraid in the Hereafter so we can emulate their characteristics. To mention some of their qualities:
1. Put things into perspective
“Indeed: everyone who surrenders his whole being unto Allah, and is a doer of good, shall have his reward with his Sustainer; and all such need have no fear, and neither shall they grieve.” Al Baqarah 2:112
Many times, the thought of fear itself is greater than what it is we fear. The reason for fear of the unknown is often because our perspective of a situation is skewed by incorrect assumptions. By correcting these assumptions we can get a proper perspective on our situation with some key questions:
- What is the worst that can happen if my fear came true?
- What is more likely to happen if that fear were to be actually realised?
- What is the best outcome possible for me, if I acted in spite of my fear?
Once you’ve answered them, discuss these questions with a close friend. Getting another point of view on the situation will help in getting a proper perspective. You’ll realise that:
- The worst possible outcome isn’t so bad, and is something you can handle.
- The best possible outcome is very rewarding.
Prophet Dawud (AS) was a young child when the descendants of Prophet Yaqub (AS) faced Jaloot (Goliath). And while all of them feared to face this unbeatable giant warrior, Dawud(AS) the youngest of three sons, who was only there to herd the sheep, stepped forward and took up the challenge. No-one could believe it. They all looked at this giant of an opponent and said “He’s so big. How can we ever defeat him.” Dawud (AS) also looked at the same giant and said “He’s so big. How can I ever miss him.” And with the name of Allah(SWT), he surrendered his whole self to Allah(SWT) and stepped forward.
He considered things in perspective – the worst that can happen is that I am Shaheed and I return to my Lord having trusted upon Him(SWT). The best that can happen is that our people are saved and we can spread the word of Allah(SWT), having overcome this tyrannical superpower.
2. Replace Fear with Curiosity
“But Allah will safeguard all who were conscious of Him, [and will grant them happiness] by virtue of their [inner] triumphs; no evil shall ever touch them, and neither shall they grieve.” – Az-Zumar – 39:61
When you’re fearful you create a barrier of separateness between yourself and the world/other people. This perception of other becomes a threat, and you have thoughts like “What will he think of me?”, “What if it doesn’t work out?”, “What if I fail?”. These thoughts close a person from taking action.
But when you’re focused in your thinking- mindful, fully-conscious and curious, it opens you up and brings in enthusiasm. Thoughts of fear are replaced with thoughts of curiosity.
So to be more curious, replace the negative thoughts of fear like “I’m afraid they’ll not like my idea” with “I’m curious to know what others think”. Become an interested person who’s open to new ideas & experiences and see Allah’s guidance and lessons in your life with every situation you go through – that’s real consciousness of Allah(SWT). Be grateful for every trial that pushes you closer to Allah SWT.
3. Don’t get too attached to things
“Those who spend their possessions [for the sake of Allah] by night and by day, secretly and openly, shall have their reward with their Sustainer; and no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve.” Al Baqarah – 2:274
The more in love we are with something, the harder it is to lose it. Just think about what happens when you lose your beloved phone – even if you forget to take it out and you’re on the bus or on the way to work. Your heart starts palpitating. You think about all your beautiful pictures. Your contacts. Your connection to the world – social media!
Allah(SWT) tells us to give away that which we love – money, time, food – secretly and openly so that we don’t get too attached with it. Rather, we are just sending it forward for collection when we meet Him(SWT).
4. Stay firm to your identity as a believer in Allah(SWT)
“For, behold, all who say, “Our Sustainer is Allah”, and thereafter stand firm [in their faith] – no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve.” – Al Ahqaf – 46:13
Ignorance leads to fear and fear can lead to hate. In times of fight or flight, we don’t know how to respond and its at those times you need something firm to help you stay cool. Rather than abandoning our faith when we are tested, we need to recognise that real loss is when we are afraid of the light. People feared electricity when it was invented, didn’t they? People feared coal, they feared gas-powered engines.
In our case, we have a light from Allah(SWT) – His Word, His Messenger and His Promise. It’s key that we take pride in that and remember the Sustainer for everyone and every thing is Allah(SWT) and then stand firm on this until we meet Allah(SWT). If you believe from the depths of your heart that the Creator of the universe wishes the best for you, then no matter what happens, you won’t be worried. As long as you know you’re taking the right action then no matter what the outcome is, you’ll surrender to it with peace. There’s nothing to be afraid of, because there is nothing better than being content with the knowledge that the Creator of the universe is doing what is best for you. Be fearless – Be Muslim.
5. Have trust in Allah
“Verily, those who have attained faith and do good works, and are constant in prayer, and dispense charity – they shall have their reward with their Sustainer, and no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve.” Al Baqarah – 2:277
If you have trust in Allah Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala, then you can overcome anything. Allah reassures us
“If Allah helps you, none can overcome you: If He forsakes you, who is there, after that, that can help you? In Allah, then, let believers put their trust.” Aale Imran – 3:160
The most courageous of mankind
Anas ibn Malik (RA) related that the Prophet (SAW) was the best (ahsan) of all mankind, the most generous (ajwad) of mankind, and the most courageous (ashja) of mankind. One night the people of Madinah were awakened by a terrifying noise and they thought the city was under attack. [Al-Bukhari and Muslim] In a situation like that, you would expect that everyone would surround the Prophet’s (SAW) house and seek to protect him but when they left their homes, they saw the Prophet (SAW) already on his horse circling their homes to deter any enemy with his sword at hand, and when he saw them he (SAW) said lam turaa’oo (don’t be afraid).
Ali(RA) said when the battle would become hardest, in the heat of the day and when the people were exhausted, they would hide behind the Prophet(SAW) in the battlefield. He was the nearest to the enemy. Al-Baraa said the bravest of us would only be standing next to him.
The key to coping with fear
What was it about the Prophet (SAW) that gave him such courage and such composure in the face of things that would usually cause dread? The Prophet (SAW) foretold that the nations will gather against you and feast upon you, just as diners set upon food. At that time, fear will be placed in your hearts and its not because you are small in number, ather, on that day you will be many, but you will be like foam on the river. And Allah will remove the fear of you from the hearts of your enemies and will throw wahn (weakness) into your hearts.” Someone said: “O Messenger of Allah! What is wahn?” He said: “Love of the world and the hatred for death.” hubbud dunya wa karahiyatul mowt – to love the world too much and to hate death too much. [Abu Dawud 4297]
It is said that if you haven’t found something worth dying for then you’re not really alive.
Ibn al-Qayyim reported: Shaykh Ibn Taymiyyah, may Allah have mercy on him, said to me once, “What can my enemies do to me? My paradise and my garden are in my heart wherever I go and they are never separated from me. If I am imprisoned, then it is seclusion for worship. If I am killed, then it is martyrdom. If they expel me from my land, then it is tourism.”
The ideal position of the heart
Many years ago, I was on a Hajj bus and we were returning from some of the major rites of Hajj. I happened to be sitting beside an American revert brother and we exchanged our stories and experience of this amazing journey. At one point, I said to him – who knows if, despite doing all these deeds, whether they will be accepted. Whether our tawaf was right, our salaah mindful and our patience with others at the right degree. To this, I saw he was visibly upset and said “No brother. I have a promise from Allah(SWT) that if I do what he has told me, He(SWT) will forgive me. And I have absolute certainty on that. He is definitely the Truthful and will fulfil all His promises.” Alhamdulillah, that brother straightened me out and I’ve never forgotten his sincerity or yaqeen in Allah and the importance of keeping the heart in balance between fear and hope.
Anas reported that the Prophet (SAW) entered upon a young boy who was dying. The Prophet (SAW) asked, “How are you?” The boy replied, “O Messenger of Allah, I am in between hoping in Allah and fearing for my sins.” The Prophet (SAW) said, “The like of these two qualities do not unite in the heart of a servant except that Allah gives him what he hopes for and protects him from what he feared.” [Collected in Sunan at-Tirmidhi]
Therefore whenever we do a good action, we should hope that it has been accepted by Allah, but at the same time we should also have fear that maybe it isn’t enough or that the good deed has not been worthy of acceptance. Likewise, when we sin, we should have hope that Allah will accept our repentance and forgive us, but we should also fear that we may be accountable for it. And we saw this in all the great believers.
Yahya ibn Abi Kathir reported: Umar ibn Al-Khattab, may Allah be pleased with him, said, “If a caller from heaven announced that all people would enter Paradise together except for one man, I would fear that I am him. And if a caller announced that all people would enter Hellfire together except for one man, I would hope that I am him.” [Hilyat al-Awliyā 138]
Ibn Al-Qayyim said: The heart on its journey towards Allah the Exalted is like that of a bird. Love is its head, and fear and hope are its two wings. When the head is healthy, then the two wings will fly well. When the head is cut off, the bird will die. When either of two wings is damaged, the bird becomes vulnerable to every hunter and predator. [Madarij As-Salikeen]
We have all stumbled but don’t despair
In Tafsir ibn Kathir, its mentioned that Al-Bukhari recorded that Ibn `Abbas, may Allah be pleased with him, said that some of the people of Shirk killed many people and committed Zina (illegal sexual acts) to a great extent; they came to Muhammad and said, “What you are saying and calling us to is good; if only you could tell us that there is an expiation for what we have done.” Then the following aayaat were revealed:
Say, ‘[God says], My servants who have harmed yourselves by your own excess, do not despair of God’s mercy. God forgives all sins: He is truly the Most Forgiving, the Most Merciful. [Az-Zumar 39:53]
In fact, our oft-repeated dua to Allah(SWT) – Al Fatiha – is that He(SWT) saves us from being the misguided – ad-dhaaleen. Later in the Qur’an Allah(SWT) tells us that the sign of the misguided is despair:
Who despairs of the mercy of his Lord except for those astray? Al-Hijr 15:56
In fact Allah(SWT) mentions the most powerful emotions in the summary of the Qur’an – Al Faatiha – the love of Allah(SWT) as we recite Rabb il ‘aalameen, thinking about the love and care of Allah(SWT). Then we say Ar-Rahmaan Ar-Raheem reflecting on our Hope for His Mercy in this Dunya and the Akhira and then we say Maaliki yawm id-deen and fear our position on the day we stand before Him for judgement.
If you have still given up because of your personal situation, I must share with you the example of the last person to enter paradise. It’s mentioned in Saheeh Muslim that the last person to enter Paradise will be a man who will walk once, stumble once and be burned by the Fire once. Until by the Mercy of Allah(SWT), he manages to leave it. Once he gets past it, he will turn around and face it saying, ‘Blessed be the One Who has saved me from you. God has given me something that He has not given to the first and the last.’
Then a tree will be raised up for him, and he will say, ‘O my Lord, bring me closer to this tree so that I may shelter in its shade and drink of its water.‘ God, may He be glorified and exalted, will say, ‘O son of Adam perhaps if I grant you this, you will ask Me for something else?’ He will say, ‘No, O Lord’, and he will promise that he will not ask Him for anything else, and his Lord will excuse him because he has seen something that he has no patience to resist. So he will be brought near to it and he will shelter in its shade and drink of its water.
Then another tree will be raised up for him that is more beautiful than the first, and he will say, ‘O my Lord, bring me closer to this tree so that I may drink of its water and shelter in its shade, and I will not ask you for anything else.‘ He will say, ‘O son of Adam did you not promise Me that you would not ask me for anything else?’ He will say, ‘Perhaps if I bring you near to it, you will ask Me for something else.‘ He will promise that he will not ask Him for anything else, and his Lord will excuse him because he has seen something that he has no patience to resist. So he will be brought near to it and he will shelter in its shade and drink of its water.
Then another tree will be raised up for him at the gate of Paradise that is more beautiful than the first two, and he will say, ‘O My Lord, bring me closer to this tree so that I may shelter in its shade and drink of its water, and I will not ask You for anything else.’ He will say, ‘O son of Adam, did you not promise Me that you would not ask Me for anything else?’ He will say, ‘Yes, O Lord, I will not ask you for anything else.’ His Lord will excuse him because he has seen something which he has no patience to resist. He will be brought close to it, and when he draws close to it, he will hear the voices of the people of Paradise and will say, ‘O Lord, admit me therein.’ He will say: ‘O son of Adam, what will make you stop asking? Will it please you if I give you the world and as much again?’ He will say, ‘O Lord, are You making fun of me when You are the Lord of the Worlds?’
Ibn Mas’ood (the companion narrating this beautiful narration) smiled and said: Why don’t you ask me why I am smiling? They said: Why are you smiling? He said: This is how the Messenger of God, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, smiled and they (the companions around the Prophet) asked: Why are you smiling, O Messenger of God? He said: “Because the Lord of the Worlds will smile when he says, ‘are You making fun of me when You are the Lord of the Worlds?’ and (God) will say: ‘I am not making fun of you, but I am Able to do whatever I will.’ [Saheeh Muslim]
A true servant of Allah fears that his good deeds may be rendered invalid and this is a cause for serious thoughts. He weeps secretly and his heart trembles with fear of Allah’s punishment and hope in His Mercy. Allah loves a servant in this category and praised him for such actions:
“And they who give what they give while their hearts are fearful because they will be returning to their Lord. It is those who hasten to good deeds, and they outstrip others therein.” [Surah Al-Muminoon 23:60–61]
‘Aisha, may Allah be pleased with her: asked regarding these aayaat: Are they those who drink alcohol and steal? He said: No, O daughter of as-Siddeeq; rather they are the ones who fast and pray and give charity, but they fear that it will not be accepted from them; they are the ones who race for the good deeds.” [At-Tirmidhi]
Imam Ahmad recorded that Anas bin Malik, may Allah be pleased with him, said, “I heard the Messenger of Allah, say: “By the One in Whose Hand is my soul, if you were to commit sin until your sins filled the space between heaven and earth, then you were to ask Allah for forgiveness, He would forgive you. By the One in Whose Hand is the soul of Muhammad, if you did not commit sin, Allah would bring other people who would commit sins and then ask Allah for forgiveness so that He could forgive them.”
In summary, the key to fearlessness is to hold firm to a handhold which will never disappear or shake – Allah(SWT) – the One and Only and there is no strength or power except with Him. Connect your heart with Allah (SWT) – this is the literal meaning of salaah – and never attach too much weight to the circumstances, the people, the threats or the things that are said about you. Remember Him in your good times and He (SWT) will be with you in your adversity.
“Verily, on the friends of Allah there is no fear, nor shall they grieve.” (Sura Yunus, 10:62)