It is truly amazing how vividly I remember the last conversation I had with friends and teachers before the nationwide lock down separated us for well over a year. There were no goodbyes that Thursday, March 12th 2020, only cut offs.
I was in my AP Government class, and just as my teacher was about to explain further how to prepare for the test tomorrow, on Friday the 13th, March 2020, a boy ran down the hallway screaming with his friends, “Yeah, you probably have coronavirus.” My class laughed a little, and my teacher couldn’t help but smile too. It was funny, we thought, because everything was fine. After school, I was discussing how some of the colleges were closing, especially in the New York City area. We didn’t delve into the details, because I was excited to have started tutoring these new students. I couldn’t wait to see them next week. I sat in the front seat of the bus with my best friend talking about how we couldn’t wait to get all these exams out of the way and receive our college decisions, so we could finally celebrate being seniors. I walked home from the bus stop, slower than usual since I cleaned out my gym locker to do some laundry. And I was home. My little brother, too young for school but too energetic to be home all day, greeted me excitedly, and my mom was already calling me to the kitchen to eat a snack. I was off to my room to study, and I wanted to finish soon so I could take a nice long walk outside.
That test never happened in my AP Government class. And while we were laughing at that boy’s foolish behavior in the hallway, it turns out we were the foolish ones for not seeing COVID as a bigger deal. I never did see those students I had started to tutor, but I knew I missed them. And my friends and I never got to do our usual senior traditions at school. But March did fall in a time of intense studying for finals and AP exams, to the point where I felt my hours were dictated by my study schedule.
So when I heard school would be shut down just for a month, I didn’t even hesitate in how relieved I felt. Finally, I would have control over my day, I thought to myself. Every day from 7:34 a.m. to 2:17 p.m., my hours were blocked out for subjects like AP Government and AP Calculus. With school on a temporary pause, I could block out my hours for other activities now. The first thing I thought about was incorporating more Islamic studies into my day. I also wanted to spend a lot more time outdoors.
This was my initial mindset when COVID lockdown forced us to stay in our homes, out of work and school. I have had many transformative experiences since then, and it has truly changed me for the better.
My Relationship with God
I had more time to think. I never had so much time where there could be so much silence. Of course, thankfully I was with my family and could always talk to them, but that was different than back when every hour of the day was blocked out to think about history, calculus, or tutoring students. I thought about how just recently, we all felt safe going to the grocery market, using the public bathrooms at school, or hugging your friends. In an instant, everything we knew to be safe, secure, and comforting was no longer that certain. No one was worrying about having to move out of their college dorms, losing their jobs, changing vacation plans, or stocking up on rice and beans, and yet everything had changed.
This first made me consider my relationship with God. He is the Provider and Sustainer. I was in every moment being cared for by the most Generous Lord Himself, and I had to ask myself, was I using my blessings wisely? It is now under these circumstances, we truly begin to appreciate our health, family, friends, and time. So I become aware of the junk food around me and how much exercise I am getting. I have never had to be in such close proximity with my parents and siblings for so long, so I learned the different languages of love my family spoke — my mom appreciated a homemade gift, my little brother smiled when we cuddled him, and my dad appreciated us helping with the vacuuming. And with so much time on my hand, it was tempting to just scroll through Instagram, but it was more worthwhile to chat with my friends and call my relatives living abroad. Gratitude for these blessings is truly loved by God.
I considered the power of God and our humility. Humans are truly remarkable in the way we can reason and create. Sometimes we get arrogant thinking about all these technological advances and medical innovations, and yet, a virus invisible to the naked eye has all of us locked up in our homes. In His power, God has control over everything, and He is the best of planners. When I think about all the ways people have been getting sick — gathering at parties, riding the subway, and then getting on an airplane — it seems like the possibilities are endless. Despite having all these ways to track those infected, all of this still seems like chaos. But I have complete faith that God has a plan and a greater wisdom in all of this.
I considered this trial before me. It is true that we will be tested in our lives with our health, wealth, with good, and with evil. But the question is how we respond to them — are we responding with anger and agitation or are we responding with patience and goodwill? Patience and trust in God is what keeps me going.
This time of social distancing, a time when all roads to the outside world are blocked, serves as a reminder to us Muslims that there is no block between us and God. He is only one prayer, one thought away.
Life and Health
In the early months of the lockdown, people were flocking the supermarkets and grocery stores. And much of our shopping civility was lost as customers only thought for themselves and their loved ones. One item that had cleared shelves was toilet paper, and to be honest, to this day I am still not completely sure why so many people felt that toilet paper was such a priority. I did, of course, understand the health and sanitary aspect of it. There were guidelines on how to wash your hands and clothing to remain as clean and sanitary as possible.
Hearing and seeing all this made me realize how much Islam had already emphasized cleanliness. Muslims pray five times a day, and before praying there is a ritual purification of the body, called wudu, or ablution. Everyday, five times a day, Muslims were already washing their hands, face, and feet. These purifying droplets of water cleansed our outwards bodies, and they were also a spiritual cleansing.
Just as our physical health needs to be cared for, our mental health is very important, but often neglected. We are hooked on information overload. News outlets, although their purpose is to spread information, often sow the seeds of anxiety. Time away from screens is so important — sometimes to connect with people, we actually need to disconnect from our devices. But at the same time because of social distancing, our main means of communication has become our phones. Therefore, taking everything in moderation is key to our mental health.
It is easy to get trapped into a cycle of gloom and despair. This virus is deadly, and prior to COVID-19, I don’t remember the last time I thought about death so often. The lost lives of essential workers, of loved ones, and of complete strangers are all on our minds, as well as the fear and worry that our own loved ones will become a statistic of the fatalities of COVID-19.
With all of these new stressors in our lives, I am reminded that God does not burden a soul beyond its capacity.
COVID-19 remained even as the summer months rolled in. Many of us had to cancel our travel plans. I know I was going to miss packing up our minivan with suitcases, food and drinks in the cooler, and a million pillows while we went on our road trips. That summer, I had the opportunity to explore my own backyard.
There was really only one park I always went to with my family, or to meet with friends and ride our bikes. But I soon realized my city was teeming with hidden gems of places to hike and walk. This exploration mission actually started with a list my high school gym teacher sent us after COVID shut classes down.
I hiked up a mountain with my mom one day in the summer. It was just the two of us under a brilliant blue sky and shimmering sun. Once we reached the waterfalls, I was overcome with this unexplainable feeling as I took everything in — the water flowing down, the birds flying above us, the ground beneath our feet holding us down, and the sky above us shielding us. These were all ayats from God, signs from the Creator. These signs are evidence of God, and we only need to expand our vision to see everything through this lens, because there is no denying that something Higher and Majestic exists to create such intricate beauty in the world. So, the earth is our Mosque, a sacred place, and that means we must care for it. For years, scientific evidence has been telling us our choices have led to rampant pollution and climate change. Those who deny climate change have asserted it is hubris for humans to think they can change what God has already created. In Islam, God clearly tells humans they can have an impact on what He has created. Now that we are all social distancing, there are less cars outside to create pollution.
Over all, I am just amazed how human quarantine has actually benefited the environment. But I know that our work has barely begun. With all our mask wearing and disposing, there is sure to be a crisis of waste of masks. But we as humans are the best of God’s creation, so it is our duty to care for our planet.
The New Normal
There is light at the end of the tunnel. People all over the world are getting vaccinated, and as conditions become safer, the world seems to be opening up again. There is, of course, news of new COVID variants and misinformation about the vaccine. While we are praying and hoping for better times, we know to be careful. Right now, patience and trust in God is key for me.
I don’t know if I’ll ever truly feel comfortable gathering for parties, using public restrooms, or standing less than six feet from someone without a mask. Our normal has been completely shaken up, but it is my faith that has kept me rooted. With so many people feeling like there are no answers to our questions and no relief to our stress, my faith has given me all my answers.