As the world reacts to the coronavirus pandemic with shares tumbling, schools closing, areas quarantined, businesses going bust and our own government has now called for social isolation (the ‘delay’ phase), those who reflect are left asking the inevitable question: how has something so small been able to assert so much power and influence? The truth is that our reactions say far more about us and our perceptions, than the virus itself.
God provides a striking point:
People, here is an illustration, so listen carefully: those you call on beside God could not, even if they combined all their forces, create a fly. And if a fly took something away from them, they would not be able to retrieve it. How feeble are the petitioners and how feeble are those they petition!Qur’an 22:73
Whilst the verse speaks to the polytheists who would illegitimately aggrandise things besides the one true God, it also speaks to the inherent weakness of man who is subject even to something as small as a fly.
In the past few weeks, we have been subjects to coronavirus. A virus is not even a cell, but a very small infectious agent that exists in the form of independent particles, or virions, which are about one hundredth the size of most bacteria. They consist of viral genomes (genetic material which can be DNA or RNA) that are surrounded and protected by a protein coat called the capsid. Although they reproduce and evolve within the host cells, they lack the key characteristics usually considered necessary to count as ‘life’. Whilst God speaks of our inability to command a fly, our situation with the coronavirus lays bare not only our inabilities against something smaller than a fly but that which is also devoid of ‘life’! Yet, many will reveal an apprehensive awe (khashyah), submit (istislam) as and where required; hoping (rajaa’) to be spared and fearful (khawf) of contracting it. These are all ‘actions of the heart’ explicitly communicated in revelation that ought to be primarily effectuated for God!
The coronavirus, something unseen by the naked eye and the cause of flu-like symptoms for most seems to have demanded heightened aggrandisement from humans (who have clearly acknowledged themselves to be weak and needy) but many of these same unbelievers will consider God, Lord of all things and the supreme power over the universe, an entity unworthy of consideration. They might argue: Well we can see a virus, but we can’t see God, so how do we know He exists?! But the contradiction is in practice: the way we test for infection is by inference – measuring the body’s reaction to it, particularly the antibodies it produces. In the same inferential way, we know of the supreme creator by witnessing His creation and recognising His power through its order and magnitude – it’s really not that complex.
Rather than a viral genome with the very narrow ability to infect a host, we ought to reserve such actions of the heart (khashyah, istislam, rajaa’, and khawf) for the One who does everything without limitation, “who provides for you from the sky and the earth, who controls hearing and sight, who brings forth the living from the dead and the dead from the living, and who governs everything…” (10:31)
For those who contemplate, it is God who is worthy of such aggrandisement in every way, and those who grasp this ought to “seek a way to their Lord…hoping (rajaa’) for His mercy and fearing (khawf) His punishment.” (17:57)
As God goes on to point out in the illustration, the problem is that “they have no grasp of God’s true measure: God is truly most strong and mighty.” (22:74) If the virus’s measure demands what it has so far, then imagine how we’d react to God’s true measure!
How humans will practically offer more credence to a virus than to the entity that creates, sustains and regulates all things, including the virus itself, is astonishing. In this context God declares the limitations of both humans and the virus they have come to dread, “How feeble are the petitioners and how feeble are those they petition!” (22:73)
God is greater than all that exists, and to Him we shall return.