What Kind Of Future Do We Want To Live In?
Inspired by a saying of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, the 13th century eminent Persian sufi-poet, Sa’di once said:
“The children of Adam are members of a whole,
since in their creation they are of one essence.
If pain touches an organ,
The rest of his organs will not sleep.
If you did not suffer for the pain of others,
How were you called Adam?”
Indeed, the Corvid-19 pandemic has brought the world to its knees. This crisis reveals how fragile our current way of life has become.
It has forced many to re-examine the biggest questions on existence and where we are headed as a civilisation. It has also led the powerful and wealthy such as Her Highness Sheikha Moza Bint Nasser of Qatar to reflect in a profound way: “I believe that the coronavirus, as it occupies every moment and mind, is dismantling this facade that we built up for ourselves, and forcing us to come back to our senses.”
In other words, many people of conscience in the world today are suggesting that there is no going back to ‘normal’ – because the normal we had was precisely the problem.
What we called our ‘normal’ past was in reality a normalisation of a lifestyle or patterns of living that ran contrary to the natural order of things in human beings and the natural world—what is termed as fitrah in Islamic terminology.
We have normalised meaninglessness, we have normalised our dysfunctional relationship with nature, and we have normalised the indifference and numbness of our spiritual reality.
Thinkers and sages of the world have reminded us time, and time again: with crisis comes opportunity. In fact, in the very term ‘crisis’ lies the answer we are looking for: the term originally meant “to separate, to sift” or in other words, to keep only what is worthwhile.
For Muslims, this crisis should be embraced with utmost optimism: that there is wisdom to be derived from this sudden global disruption to our frantic lifestyles in pursuit of economic growth and material success.
The most noticeable underlying wisdom behind this pandemic being the natural world healing itself or being allowed to run its own course again. We are witnessing a glimpse of the possibilities if we are able to get off our current collusion course.
Thus in reality, this ‘war’ is not against the virus or the pandemic, nor it is against ‘mother nature’ or ‘globalisation’ but against the baser, bestial aspect of man (what traditional Islamic psychology terms as al-nafs)—the real cause that enabled this situation to reach a pandemic stage despite unprecedented advancements in science and technology.
We will only ‘win’ by controlling our desires and by practising greater ‘social distancing’ with nature to allow it to runs its own course. In other words, we will only truly prevail from this current scenario if we restore justice in the sense that Professor Dr Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas explains it: as “a conditon of things being in their proper places”, starting by putting our bestial self in its proper place in relation to the higher, intellectual-spiritual self.
This state of affairs would necessarily compel a re-imagination in terms of how we look and run the economy. As aptly observed by one of the leading intellectuals in the West, Noam Chomsky,
“The coronavirus is likely to change the highly fragile international economy that has been constructed in recent years, profit-driven and dismissive of externalized costs such as the huge destruction of the environment caused by transactions within complex supply chains, not to speak of the destruction of lives and communities. It’s likely that all of this will be reshaped…”
In this period of social isolation, we would do well to reflect on these questions: have we been extracting all resources for personal and short-term gains at the expense of future generations? Have we been neglecting continuous self-improvement in the intellectual and spiritual sense to chart our future? Have we not left behind any good deeds or done anything to protect future harms?
We should refrain from being among this group of people who have been complicit in normalising injustice in its broader, ontological sense. But instead, we should promote true progress and development in the following sense: sacrificing immediate gains for the future generations, seeking beneficial knowledge continuously and does long-term impactful deeds to the self, family, community, environment, and protecting future harms by deepening one’s understanding on the realities of things by holding on to the wisdom of our respective religious faith.
Though a greater investment in R&D is needed in the medical sector, greater attention is required to reimagine how we educate future generations such that they are able to be part of the solution in promoting true progress and development.
Even at this stage of world history, our ability to make a difference in the aforementioned sense would mean a great deal in this world and the Next, for the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ had said: “If the Hour (day of Resurrection) were established upon one of you while he has in his hand a sapling (a young tree), then let him plant it.”