The following are six important lessons that we Muslims can learn from the raging COVID-19 pandemic. The lessons are enduring and could be shared with non-Muslims as well.
Man is Not Running the Show
Since the dawn of Protagoras’ (d. 420 BC) philosophy of relativism, according to which “man is the measure of all things”, and since the age of Renaissance humanism, according to which “mankind is at the centre of the universe”, “enlightened” man always pretended to be in control of his own destiny. He, rather than God, was the source of all value and legitimacy.
Human reason and talents, rather than any metaphysical entity or source, were placed on a pedestal.
On account of the Scientific Revolution, which took place towards the end of the Renaissance period, giving birth to the intellectual and social movement in the 18th century called the “Enlightenment”, and serving as a precursor to the subsequent modern and post-modern eons, this anthropocentric view was propelled to unprecedented heights.
Man started at once to believe and behave as though he was in control of the whole earth. Yet, the whole universe became the target of his exploration and conquest ambitions.
The modern man believed that he had the whole world at his feet, both literally and metaphorically.
In the process, the idea of God was relegated to the forgotten “absentee landlord” who lives “upstairs” from the world which humans inhabit. There was more and more antagonism between the modern man and Heaven.
The total separation became inevitable. Resulting from the separation was the Death of God theology championed by a myriad of philosophers and theologians.
The doctrine denoted the rise of secularity and total abandonment of traditional religious beliefs and practices.
Perhaps the most emblematic of the trend was Friedrich Nietzsche’s (d. 1900) assertion that “God is dead”. Equally powerful was Stephen Hawking’s (d. 2018) belief that “there is no God; no one directs our fate”.
Thus, the COVID-19 plague is a slap in the face for the modern man and his irreligious civilizational headway. It became obvious that no amount of scientific knowledge and technological advancement can avail man of virtually anything when a Big One strikes.
It also became clear that man’s scientific and technological progress – however massive it may appear to us on account of our prejudiced and flawed benchmarks – is extremely small and insignificant when juxtaposed with how infinite and complex the existential reality is.
Man’s ignorance of the world will always greatly outweigh his knowledge of it. Thus, no sooner does man confront an aspect of the endless unknown, than he comes forth as a helpless and extremely vulnerable being. He wanders alone in the dark, dealing with issues on the basis of trial and error, which brings but little yield.
The way people conceive and react to COVID-19 is an unmistaken sign of humankind’s smallness and vulnerability. What they normally do, as much individually as institutionally, is a combination of arrogance and ignorance, masked with incredible occasional honesty and determination.
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