Minnesotan Muslims and COVID-19 in Ramadan: Creativity, Faith and Resilience

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By L Nur, Freelance Journalist

“The believers in their mutual kindness, compassion, and sympathy are just like one body. When any limb, any part of the body aches or suffers, the whole body feels pain.” – Hadith of The Prophet Muhammed, peace be upon him 

As of May 4th, the number of documented COVID-19 cases has surpassed one million and three million, in the U.S. and in the world, respectively. The U.S. makes up one-third of the world’s coronavirus cases, and has surpassed 60,000 pandemic deaths as of this writing.

So much of the dominant narrative on the pandemic has been about statistics, about disheartening attempts to “flatten the curve,” about the urgency to “contain the spread” and the economic woes caused by global lockdowns. 

And, while these stories are absolutely necessary and absolutely true, they don’t paint a full picture. 

Spectrum of Experience

Indeed, for many people of faith — and Muslims in particular — the pandemic has meant different things, emotionally, psychologically, relationally and spiritually. 

Many American families who have rarely experienced any previous discomfort are being thrown into crisis for the first time in their lives, while for others, living in perpetual ambiguity about income and financial instability were already the norm. For many, COVID-19 has jostled them full-throttle into an even deeper abyss of economic hardship and seemingly unending emotional trauma. 

Like the rest of society, secular or religious, Muslims in Minnesota (and the world) occupy all positions within this spectrum of experience.

Introducing the Minnesota Muslims in COVID-19 Series

From environmental activists, to health equity professionals, artists, and spiritual leaders, immigrants to those who have historical roots in the U.S. for multiple generations, this series features just a handful of Minnesotan Muslims’ reflections on the impact of COVID-19 on their personal lives, cultural communities and religious identities — in their own words. It explores how Muslim Minnesotans are experiencing Ramadan under quarantine, using hardship to get closer to God, and features examples of how Muslims are using this time to actively give back and help vulnerable families.

The pandemic has rightfully brought up anxiety, fear and trauma, but because of their spiritual values, some of the seven Muslims interviewed expressed that they are experiencing paths of ease, even solace, despite personal struggles during the pandemic. All said they look to higher spiritual wisdoms found in Scripture (the Qur’an and the sayings of the Prophet Muhammed, peace be upon him) to articulate their pains and fears.  

Many look to social justice values to understand why COVID-19 has brought so many historic inequities to the forefront, whether that’s race, gender, culture, economic, health, or access-based. 

“Tawwakul” — Tying Your Camel

The tying threads in all interviews with this Muslim writer were: the idea to have “tawwakul,” or firm acceptance in the decree of God; and the concept of “tying your camel” — the notion that as Muslims, the community cannot just rely on prayer. There must be faith with simultaneous action. This is an intrinsic value in the Muslim community. 

The reference is to a hadith, or a saying of the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH), which mentions the story of a bedouin man who was leaving his camel in the open desert without tying it. 

The man asked, “O Messenger of Allah, should I tie my camel and trust in Allah, or should I leave her untied and trust in Allah?” In another version, the Prophet (PBUH) asked him, “Why don’t you tie down your camel?” 

The bedouin answered, “[Because] I [already] put my trust in Allah.” The Prophet infamously replied, “Tie your camel, and then put your trust in Allah” (Sunan al-Tirmidhī 2517).

Many interviewees also mentioned with pride that it was the Prophet Muhammed who first taught his followers in the 7th century to practice physical distancing during a plague. 

“When you hear that a plague is in a land, do not enter it and if the plague breaks out in a place while you are in it, do not leave that place,” the Prophet (PBUH) said. And in another narration, the Prophet (PBUH) said, “Do not place a sick patient with a healthy person.” 

MMLC Statement

It was to honor these prophetic traditions of reducing collective harm, protecting human life, and “tying your camel” that prompted the Minnesota Muslim Leaders Coalition (MMLC)  to release a public statement in mid-March, urging “that all masjid activities, including congregational gatherings for prayer, be suspended until the risks associated with public gathering and spreading of this disease is once again deemed safe.” 

The statement continues: “This recommendation is not made lightly but is in line with guidance of Islam, the traditions and example of the Prophet (PBUH), and our responsibilities as Muslims.”

Faith, Hope, Action, Resilience

This series reveals that Muslims are a deeply spiritual and globally connected community. 

Muslims are also a people of resilience. A repeated value that emerged was that prayer and hope do not substitute for action — they go hand in hand, and action over improving one’s personal self is just as crucial as working to better the general society. In the Muslim community, there is an ingrained commitment to doing and promoting good toward those around you, while purifying your own self (nafs, or ego) — on par with the foundational tenets of faith. 

This series demonstrates that Muslims are a people of doing as much as they are a people of worship, and that while for some, “religion” can be simultaneous with trauma, for others, religious values are a source of resiliency, hope and optimism. 

Upcoming stories in this series:

  1. Imam Makram El-Amin – “Cut From a Different Cloth”: Masjid An-Nur as a Beacon of Light During the Pandemic
  2. Sagal Shire – Coronavirus and Discovering the Spiritual Wisdom in Struggle
  3. Khidma Initiative – COVID-19: Unifying Minnesota Muslims through Service Across Difference
  4. Filsan Ibrahim – A Khalifah of the Earth Bettering Herself in Quarantine
  5. Nausheena Hussain and RISE – Systemic Barriers and The Needs of Muslim Women During a Pandemic
  6. Jamila Boudlali – Coronavirus and Recognizing our Global Privileges as Muslims in the U.S.
  7. Sagirah Shahid – The Beauty and Tragedy of Resilience During COVID-19

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