Isolation is described as the condition of being alone, especially when this makes you feel unhappy, it is the experience that something/someone is separate and not connected to other things/beings. It is a condition of being separated from other people, towns, countries etc.Extreme isolation means there are problems involving receiving education, medical care or provisions.
I am sure some of you will relate to this experience of isolation in this current climate of Covid-19.
We find ourselves in a place of forced constriction of movement, both in our environments and in the symptoms of this virus. The end of this is not clear, but it will end, as will life for us all by covid or any other destiny of death. Some of us will progress through with new meanings and some of us will remain the same, which will you be?
Some are able to turn isolation in to a retreat of solitude, in Islam such retreats are called Khalwa ( الخلوة). Khalwa is the act of being apart from all human beings, being cut off for a while from others you usually associate with such as family, friends and community. It is a deliberate withdrawal from the world, a time for reflection and meditation.
Seeking solitude was an act our beloved Prophet saws, he practised Khalwa when he sought meaning and spiritual connection. We know that these introspective and extrospective moments were a liminal, transitional space in which he emerged with Divine revelation and Prophecy.
Isolation can feel empty and solace is a practice for the patient and determined. It is no mean feat, and with family around us it is likely impossible! I snatch moments here and there in between the family duties and work. My retreat is not a cave, it is in my personal 1-2 metered space! I’ve been fighting for “me time” for so long now since having children, I’ve mastered the art of meditation and contemplation within the noisiest and fullest environments. I know that I am blessed with family and even though I crave a little solitude now and again, the thought of sudden enforced isolation because of this virus is solace on another level, the frightening sort.
What churns your emotions the most from this Covid-19 experience? Is it the weekly clap for carers? The daily death toll numbers? For me, the worst of this virus comes in the thought of the separation between the covid sufferers and their loved ones. I can’t imagine seeing my loved one being taken by ambulance and for that to be the last moment I see them, suffering alone, dying alone. I know of two women who have been separated from their husbands who are both critical in ICU (1 now recovering). That enforced isolation, left in limbo not knowing what will happen, I can’t imagine the turmoil it may cause.
As a therapist I’ve been called to counsel the bereaved and the front line NHS workers. I have only so far had the mental capacity to speak to one. I’m sure we all feel the need to give something of ourselves in response, but it’s taken me a few weeks to adjust and consider what is useful help and what is in my capacity ? I know what is comforting to me but also I’m learning what irritates (whats app fake news forwards) and surprisingly, preachy religious reminders.The latter concerns me, for I volunteered to type up one of those preachy reminders! And after I did I froze, my mind went blank and I have struggled to produce something ever since.
Because let’s face it, what can I do? What have we got for one another but reminders and these reminders run the risk of being heavily influenced by our own projections; our inner Nafs, projected out there in some form or another.
Some of us will panic and turn up the paranoid talk, some of us will play the part of the rescuer for recognition, others will back off and hide their emotions for fear of rejection. We all have our reactions to this current event and there’s nothing like a bit of constriction and stress to fire up the inner Nafs talk (The self/soul). So we are not really alone are we, we have distractions of our own inner chatter to consume our day. In all seriousness, and here comes the preach, I personally have to find meaning to all of this. It’s my process, I know, but I am sure that is what the Quran calls of us?
“Read, in the name of your Lord who has created…”Qur’an. Surat Alaq 96:1
This is what the Prophet Muhammad saws was revealed in his isolation/solitude Khalwa. I have been reflecting in my makeshift Khalwa on what this means to me and all of us? The relevance, the guidance, the possible remedy to the situation.
In this pandemic experience, as with any experience, we are not alone if we choose to believe it; company can be sought in ayat like the above. In relationship with ayat we can strike up a conversation with Allah swt at any time. Our isolating experiences, whatever they may be, can be experienced in the greatest of company with connection to our Rabb (ربّ , Lord); the strongest hand hold of all. Each experience, a trial that it may be, is a decreed course like the sun and the moons reflects to us (Surah 55:5).
Each event is an ayat, a revelation for the seeker, like the grain that emerges with fragrant marifah (معرفة , inner knowledge) as long as its husk has been cracked open by the storm of the trial (surah 55:12). Allah swt teaches us there is equality within the Qadr ( قدر, destiny), therefore this pandemic can teach us about Divine balance, Mizan (55:9). Allah swt calls us all to look to the Quran for comfort and connection during all tests and trials, for it will nourish us in ways we cannot imagine, the Quran will become our ease towards ultimate ease, Allah swt (95:5-6).
I have been drawn to reflect on surah Rahman in my quarantined time (some examples in the above paragraph), mostly because of the thunderous reminders repeated in the surah; ‘So which of the blessings of your Lord will you deny?’ (55:13). Each news broadcast, each death we hear of, each interruption from fellow quarantine-ers in my (few) contemplative moments (there are 4 children in my home!). The Surah begins with a reminder that above all Allah is merciful and He has guidance for us (55;1-2). Just as Surah Alaq called us to guidance. He has created us with intellect to discover and learn from His reminders and guidance (96:1& 55:3).
We can take comfort from His Quran, but only if we believe it to be a personal lesson for each of us, whilst also a guide and connection to the collective unconscious (all souls). As a convert to Islam my initial engagement to Islam was a leap of faith in a phase of awakening. At the time my conversion wasn’t so much based on intellect. I had attempted study of the Quran but I couldn’t connect with its order, in more ways than one. My conversion was an action of the heart, released by Allah’s mercy from my chained fitrah within (فطرة , natural disposition to Tawhid). Tawhid ( توحيد ) is commonly referred to as the Oneness of God or Allah swt. To achieve tawhid requires realized inner knowledge (Marifah), to access the innermost kernel or grain of the heart, the Lubb (from the term albaab ٱلْأَلْبَٰبِ);
‘Indeed, in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of the night and the day are signs for those of understanding (al baab)’Qur’an Surah Al-Imran 3:190
To find this kernel within the heart I have to continuously travel the path of destinies, to grasp them and ‘cast away the shell’ of the husk (ٱلْعَصْف) (asfi, 55:12). These causes and effects are all known of course by Allah swt, destined by His grace for the greater good, even though I wouldn’t have known it at the time.
“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.”Qur’an, Surat Al-Baqarah 2:216
I see this time of global pandemic as a Qadr (Destiny), one of punishment for the atrocities of oppressors, one of cause and effect at our own hands, but also an opportunity of great awakening and change.
“…Allah does not change a people’s lot unless they change what is in their hearts..“Qur’an Surah Al-Rad 13:11
We have been afforded a great opportunity in this time of great distress and uncertainty, an opportunity to dig for belief and plant new seeds for success. The success I am talking about here is Falah. Falah (فَلاَح) is the Arabic word for salvation and is an achievable status through the act of Tazkiyah (تزكيت), the spiritual and Quranic act of self-improvement, spiritual purification and transformation.
Tazkiyah is Allah’s mercy and gift to those who seek it. Tazkiyah is achievable through the guidance revealed in the Quran, starting from the wisdom of those 1st ayat of Surah Alaq; “Iqra” (96:1). Tazkiyah is the Tarbiyah (education and teaching) from our Rabb (Lord). Through the Iqra (seeking of knowledge) that Allah has commanded for us all, we extract knowledge to inform, actions to experience, practices to transform and wisdom in which to know and teach them. Let us seek some of this guidance together and extract meaning to move us through this current situation, revive the breath of the Ruh (spirit) in which to give hope to our own Alaqs (dependant creations of Allah). Allah swt created us and does not leave His creation alone, His mercy is a womb in which we can be nourished, flourish and transition the destinies of life. All possible if we reflect upon the guidance and destines in His name (96:2). For we are dependent on Him, and more than ever we know it.
‘..and when Allah intends evil to a people, there is no averting it, and besides Him they have no protector’.Qur’an, Surah A-Rad 13:11
So turn to Him in tawbah (repentance) and reflect upon the destinies Allah has given us so that we may be raised by the greatest of teachers. Allow Him to revive in our chests truth and constancy rather than being constricted by the dis-ease of this corona virus which destroys. For in this time of great isolation (khalwa الخلوة) we can find Allah swt, as our beloved Prophet swws did during the tremendous blessing of laylatul Qadr, the night of destinies. May each of our destinies bring us closer in our belief in Allah swt amen.
**Sources: My refections of Tadaddbur with the Quran are inspired by my years in consultation with an Islamic scholar and Formal learning in Islamic Studies. Tawil and Taddabur of the Quran is inspired by Ahadith, Tafsir and Arabic language tools such as Lanes Lexicon. The intention is draw personal connection from the Quran beyond the literal translations. May Allah always guide us amen.