I am an undergraduate student in Toronto. I felt that my life was going as smooth as possible for a first year. I had made some new friends, had adjusted nicely and had set the pace for the next few years of my life but of course, whenever things are going too well there is always a catch. For me, it was a moment I will never forget. I received an email from the university announcing that classes are going to be moved online starting next week. This was on March 13th.
That morning, I had to be on campus to attend a tutorial for one of my classes. I didn’t want to go, knowing how quickly COVID-19 was spreading during the past few days, but at that point I was also somewhat dismissive: it can’t be that big an issue, I thought. The classroom is not always full and my tutorial was mandatory, so I decided to attend. I sat at the back, away from the other students, completed my quiz, and was picked up to go home.
Later that day, I had a biology exam that I had spent the previous week studying for. The plan now was to go home and do some more studying before returning to campus but, just 2 hours before the exam, as I was about to leave for campus, I was notified by my professor; “Exam has been postponed”.
To say that I was upset is an understatement. I went on a furious rant to my friends about how hard I studied for this exam and how prepared I was – how was I going to remember the anatomy of a crocodilian heart or blood circulation of fetal mammalian hearts by the time they figure out the next appropriate exam date, I mused. How foolish was I in that moment to think that remembering the facts for my exam was going to be my biggest worry. Adjusting to virtual classes was not as easy as admin promised us it was going to be, not to mention the utter chaos and confusion among students and professors alike about how they were fairly going to deliver the rest of the winter semester.
As I sulked in my room, Allah’s words popped into my head,
“…But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah Knows, while you know not.”(Quran 2:216)
My anger gradually subsided. I began reviewing my biology notes daily to keep things fresh. I began to grow accustomed to my new routine in quarantine with my family and started making witty remarks about how my introverted self can live her best life now that I am able to stay home all day.
It went well for a while, but two weeks in, I grew tired and bored of staying home. Netflix wasn’t as fun as it used to be. TikTok became just a mindless void I fell into whenever I was bored – which was quite often. I felt trapped. It was as if Canada had grounded me for a month in my room. I felt like I had no freedom because I was being forced to stay home. I felt trapped.
But suddenly, subhanallah (Glory be to Allah), Allah diverted my attention and I began to focus on how much freedom I did have. I realized how selfish I was being. I still had access to warm, running water. I could still eat and order whatever food I desired. I still had a roof over my head. I could trust my government and trust that I am safe in my own home. I still had access to the internet so I could connect with my friends and family whenever I felt lonely. The reality being, I am privileged in ways I hadn’t realized until now.
The plight of the Kashmiris has been on my mind constantly. They live under fear of persecution because of their religious beliefs. They have limited freedom of movement, limited access to the internet and limitations on freedom of speech. It’s not just about the lack of entertainment – their whole livelihoods put on pause by the leaders that swore to protect its citizens. According to The New York Times, even pharmacists aren’t able to restock supplies and social media was banned. Similarly, residents of countries that are at war, such as Syria, fear for their lives, their children and their livelihoods every single day. Going to school is as big of a risk as it can get and food insecurity is extremely high in war-torn parts of the country. And yet, I think to myself, here I am on my comfy bed in Canada complaining about the lack of freedom I have.
No one is perfect, we all fall into dark pits sometimes. We shouldn’t blame ourselves for having negative thoughts or for questioning our morals once in a while. I personally take these occasions and turn them into moments of self-reflection; striving to come up with ways to better myself as a Muslim and as a citizen.
We shouldn’t be scared to share our feelings with friends we trust because doing so allows us to dig deep within ourselves and uncover hidden thoughts that we keep even from ourselves. Personally, this quarantine has allowed me to empathize with people who are in much worse situations than me and encouraged me to educate myself on their plight. I have donated to support front-line workers who are fighting COVID-19 and have also donated towards relief efforts to support my brothers and sisters in war torn countries. It seems there always is light at the end of every tunnel.
I reflected on the ni’mahs (blessings) I have from Allah and have learnt to stop taking what I have for granted. Now that we are in the midst of the Holy month of Ramadan, I urge all of us to give to those who have less and to take a few minutes out of our day to reflect on little blessings we enjoy every day – the ability to walk to the fridge and eat fresh fruit, the ability to learn from free courses online, the ability to say salaam (peace) to our family every day.
I completed an online course taught by Professor Steve Joordens of the University of Toronto and he remarked that during this time, we ought to be physically distancing, but becoming closer socially. In essence, I feel this is part of our duty as Muslims; to check up on our neighbours, our friends, our family. Now more than ever, it is essential we practice social closeness. Quarantine, as bad as it seems, not only made me a better Muslim, but it made me an empathetic human being. This just goes to show that Allah truly is the best of planners and the All-Wise.
- V. Goel, K. D. Singh, and S. Yasir, “India Shut Down Kashmir’s Internet Access. Now, ‘We Cannot Do Anything.’,” The New York Times, 14-Aug-2019. [Online]. Available: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/14/technology/india-kashmir-internet.html. [Accessed: 02-May-2020].
- Al Jazeera, “India restores internet in Kashmir after 7 months of blackout,” Kashmir News News | Al Jazeera, 05-Mar-2020. [Online]. Available: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/03/india-restores-internet-kashmir-7-months-blackout-200305053858356.html. [Accessed: 02-May-2020].
- Steve Joordens free COVID-19 course “Online Courses & Credentials From Top Educators. Join for Free,” Coursera. [Online]. Available: https://www.coursera.org/learn/manage-health-covid-19/home/welcome. [Accessed: 02-May-2020].
- A. 30, “8 Sierra Leoneans Intercepted, Put Under Quarantine,” The Standard Newspaper, 29-Apr-2020. [Online]. Available: https://standard.gm/8-sierra-leoneans-intercepted-put-under-quarantine/. [Accessed: 02-May-2020].