Beyond our concern over SARS

© Muhammad Haniff Hassan, May 2003

Everywhere we turn, the buzzword seems to be SARS. It’s well covered in all the media and even tops the list in our daily conversation. It is now the number one public enemy such that a special task force had been formed to tackle it.

Scan the pages of any newspaper and you’ll find that SARS is uppermost in everyone’s concern. In fact the public is more concerned with the effects of SARS rather than anything else happening around us. SARS-related stories overshadow news on the sufferings of others.

Its main draw is that SARS is happening before our very eyes, in the midst of our community, in our city and affects our families, neighbours and colleagues. It’s effect is more immediate.

To some SARS is an elusive ghost that prays on our fear. We are afraid of leaving our homes, but we feel claustrophobic when confined to our homes. When we feel secure being at home, we fear for the safety of our husbands, wives or children as they go about their daily routine of going to the markets, work places or schools. If we are not concerned over our families, then we may be worrying others like our parents.

When we are not worrying about SARS infection, we are concerned about the loss of jobs as companies incur loses due to SARS.

But we should ask ourselves; Is SARS a bigger calamity compared to the destruction of Iraq resulting from the invasion? Who have suffered more – Singaporeans or Iraqis? Which should be of greater concern – Singaporeans facing the threat of SARS or the plight of the Iraqis in the post-war period?

Any rational mind would conclude that SARS is relatively small in scale compared to the magnitude of the Iraqi issue. Our ‘sufferings’ is still minute compared to those of the Iraqis.

But man is selfish by nature and is often preoccupied with his own self-preservation, sometimes at the expense of others.

Allah describes man’s characteristics when confronted with danger in the following verse;

“The sinner’s desire will be: would that he could redeem himself from the chastisement of that Day by his children, his wife and his brother, his kindred who sheltered him.” (Al-Ma`arij : 11 – 13)

“At length when there comes the deafening noise, that Day shall a man flee from his own brother, and from his mother and his father, and from his wife and his children. Each one of them, that Day will have enough concern (of his own) to make him indifferent to the others.” (`Abasa : 33 – 37)

While it is natural for us to be concerned over SARS, we should not allow this concern to blind us to the sufferings of others or to put ourselves above others. Such selfishness should be abhorred.

Instead we should use this SARS experience to seek refuge from Allah and to empathise with the sufferings of others. Just as we grief over the loss of fellow Singaporeans due to this virus, so too should we grief over the loss of thousands of Iraqi lives. Just as we are concerned that SARS would affect our family members, others are also concerned over the safety of their family and loved ones from the threat of the not-so-smart bomb.

Selfishness is a characteristic that Allah has made part of mankind and may not always be negative. In moderation it could motivate a person towards success and positive changes. Nonetheless Islam enjoins that a Muslims equates his rights to those of others.

Anas narrated that the Prophet said,

“None of you will have faith till he wishes for his (Muslim) brother what he likes for himself.” (Sahih Bukhari Volume 1, Book 2, Number 12)

In fact Islam encourages its followers to elevate themselves to the level of those who gives priorities to the needs of others. Allah describes the best Muslim generation as;

“And those who before them, had homes (in Madinah) and had adopted the Faith, show their affection to such as some to them for refuge, and entertain no desire in their hearts for things given to the (latter), but give them preference over themselves, even though poverty was their (own lot). And those saved from the covetousness of their own souls, they are the ones that achieve prosperity.” (Al-Hasyr : 9)

Just look to the Prophet who is the best person for us to emulate. From the moment he was appointed a Messenger to the time he was on his deathbed, his mind and heart were calling out ‘Allahumma ummati.. ummati..’ (Sahih Muslim).

It is important that da’wah activists constantly protect themselves from the ‘me first’ mentality that would tip the balance of objectivity. Only by remaining objective would they be able to place things in its proper perspective.

The ability to put something in its place is known as ‘al-`adl wa al-ihsan’ or justice and ihsan which Allah highlights in the following verse;

“Allah commands justice, the doing of good, and giving to kith and kin.” (An-Nahl : 90)

In other words, the loss of objectivity can lead one to commit injustice whether on a small or larger scale.

Selfishness is counter-productive to a Muslim and a da’i’s development. Instead he should maintain his sense of objectivity.

The issue of protecting oneself from negative selfishness and nurturing one’s sense of objectivity require further analysis. But Allah says;

“O ye who believe! If ye fear Allah, He will grant you a Criterion (to judge between right and wrong) remove from you (all) evil deeds and forgive you. For Allah is the Lord of grace unbounded.” (Al-Anfal : 29)

May Allah constantly Guide us in our times of need and plenty.