In time to come, few of us will forget the strange weeks of March 2020. Vacant trains, quiet streets, empty supermarket shelves. Right now, as we wonder how worried we should be, fear and panic is spreading exponentially faster than the virus itself.
As human beings, we’re uncomfortable with uncertainty. We want to know what’s happening around us, and notice when something is threatening. When uncertain, we can feel stressed and uneasy.
At the present time, many people are naturally worried about the coronavirus Covid-19. Reactions to the ongoing crisis can include feelings of fear, overwhelm, helplessness, and despair. Those with existing mental health conditions such as OCD or generalised anxiety have it even worse.
The World Health Organisation has advised those who are prone to feeling anxious or stressed to avoid watching, reading, or listening to news which exacerbates these feelings.
In our history, the Ismaili community has overcome numerous challenges in various parts of the world. A global crisis like this presents an opportunity to come together and face the challenge with a sense of hope and resolve as One Jamat.
A sense of hope
In a speech at the Aiglon College in Switzerland in 2014, Mawlana Hazar Imam spoke of the potential of hope in times of uncertainty, saying:
“And you will be asking yourselves how, as nano-players on the global scene, you could cause positive change to happen for yourselves, your families, your peoples. My answer is: hope. Fortunately, just as fear can be infectious, so hope is infectious. When individuals and families and communities, or even nations, come together around new found hope… that new momentum can be unstoppable. The smile replaces the frown. Conversation replaces silence. Fear of the future is replaced by confidence to respond to its challenges.”
Hazar Imam continued to say, “the actual process of replacing fear with hope rests with every individual in his or her society… And they can become an enormous source of growing strength and reassurance for one another. I hope that that will happen to you.”
Among the ongoing uncertainty, there are reasons to be hopeful. Scientific research has shown that 15 times as many people recover from Covid-19 as don’t. In other words, the vast majority of people who contract the disease will survive, and fortunately, children are largely unaffected.
In addition, just as confirmed cases in Europe and North America are rising, case numbers are falling in East Asian countries where the virus first took hold.
Speaking about the spread of the virus, Shafik Sachedina, Head of the Department of Jamati Institutions, said, “The science tells us that this crisis will pass. It may take some time, and will likely have a significant impact, but eventually, it will pass. In the meantime, as a global Jamat and as responsible citizens, we should communicate responsibly and care for each other during this challenging time.”
We need to be careful about the information that we consume and share. Rather than sharing everything “as received,” it makes more sense to stop and question if the message is authentic or not. Rather than spreading fear unnecessarily, we can spread hope instead.
A number of unverified and incorrect messages have been circulated among the Jamat on WhatsApp. Sharing false information can be hurtful and harmful to ourselves and others. If you happen to receive such messages, pause, and think about the source, content, and accuracy before forwarding on.
Incorrect information purporting to be from reputable organisations such as UNICEF and Stanford University with advice on avoiding the virus have been shared thousands of times, along with so-called remedies and cures.
The truth is that there is currently no known cure. Credible information can be found from official government resources and health ministries. Email and social media updates from The Ismaili website and national Jamati institutions are also trusted sources of information.
In the absence of a cure at the moment, protecting the vulnerable is crucial to mitigate the negative impact of the Sars-CoV-2 virus. Let us help and support each other.
Caring for others
As a community, Ismailis have always cared for one another in times of need. During the days and weeks ahead, we should turn our attention to the most vulnerable in our families, neighbourhoods, and wider society.
What can you do to help an elderly member of the Jamat, or someone with an underlying health condition? Perhaps delivering groceries and supplies if it’s safe to do so, arranging a healthcare consultation, correcting misperceptions, or spending time with them on the phone. In the event of school closures, are you able to look after a child while their parents are at work?
Caregivers should practice extra precautions, and families should have a backup-plan in case the primary caregiver becomes sick. Self-isolation has been shown to work in situations like this.
While that might sound boring or even scary, there’s another way to look at things. We are often encouraged to find opportunity in a crisis. This could be a chance to take a different perspective, and break out of a standard routine.
One opportunity in this case could be to spend more time learning. The digital world has plenty of upsides. Being connected online means it has never been easier to learn or try something new.
Rather than worrying about things you cannot control, you might choose to spend time learning a new language, trying a new recipe, practicing a musical instrument, or engaging in a new hobby like knitting, painting, or meditation.
Also, just because you can’t visit loved ones, doesn’t mean you can’t stay connected. Being away from school or work also provides an opportunity to reach out to friends and family members, to check how they are coping, ask whether they are sufficiently prepared for all eventualities, and to share a sense of hope for the future.
In time, we may become more isolated than usual, but we are not totally separate or by ourselves. Practicing one’s faith through personal prayer can build resilience and fortitude.
There are challenging weeks ahead, though we don’t have to navigate this difficult journey alone. Times like this offer a chance to strengthen our sense of community. As a global Jamat, we are fortunate to have brothers and sisters close by and far away, all over the world. We are all in this together.
When we come to look back upon the strange weeks of March 2020, the world may feel very different, but our sense of community will remain everlasting.