During the first half of the year 2002, people would have understood any reference to cars, bars, or Mars, but not SARS - a disease which emerged at the end of 2003. They would have asked for the meaning of this strange word, because Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, had not yet emerged.
Similarly, before the emergence of AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), had one spoken about this disease his audience would have undoubtedly understood him to mean nothing other than relief, help, assistance, etc. Therefore, at that time, if poverty-stricken countries like Somalia, Ethiopia and others were told that they would receive it from the rich and 'civilised' countries, they would have been joyful and grateful.
Hence, dictionaries have to be regularly updated to include new words like SARS, and to add new meanings to words like AIDS.
The birthplace of SARS was southern China, from where it began to spread more than a year ago. With thousands of infections and hundreds of death cases to date in at least twenty-six countries, this disease has rocked Asian markets, ruined the tourist trade, almost driven airlines to bankruptcy, and spread horror through some of the world’s largest countries. It began to vehemently sweep through the mammoth country whose gigantic dragon, with his horrific fiery breath, proved helpless and confounded in face of this disaster.
In Beijing, hospitals and schools were shut down and thousands of people were put under quarantine. Martial law, as the rumours went, was about to be imposed. One could hardly imagine the extent of concern and the uncountable sums of money spent to curb this furious epidemic.
This year, 2004, came to strike people with another arduous disease, from the same part of the world from which SARS spread, namely South east Asia; it is called 'Bird Flu'.
It is noteworthy that the media, even in Muslim countries, devotes much time and space to such diseases and tackles them from many perspectives; scientific, medical, economic, social, and even political, but never religious or moral. This is also applicable to the coverage of all other natural catastrophes like floods, earthquakes, fires, hurricanes, volcanoes, epidemics, etc.
People might talk about the scientific reasons behind these events, the economic losses they inflict, the material preventive procedures of escaping, or at least reducing, their effects, and their repercussions on tourism and trade. But they usually forget about the moral causes, and the morals and wisdom induced from such dilemmas.
Concepts like ‘morality’, ‘spirituality’ and ‘wisdom’ are to be found nowhere better than the supreme infallible divine constitution: the Holy Quran, which is the sole intact source of guidance. It is the Quran and only the Quran which has the loudest word about mankind (and other creations) and how it should live. It is this Muslim Scripture that gives the direly needed regulations for man: how to live, how to behave, do's and don'ts, the reasons behind tribulation and distress, and how to look at bliss and torment both in this life and the life to come, among other things.
Through all kinds of diseases and other natural infections that befall man, there are great lessons and principles for the wise to infer. They could be inflicted as punishments from Allah for those who shun the right path by spreading mischief and crooked behaviour. A clear-cut instance of this in ancient times was the flood which devoured the people of Nooh (Noah), may Allah exalt his mention, after they rejected his call to worship Allah, their Creator, and shun idolatry. The Quran records this event, saying what means: “Because of their sins they were drowned and put into the Fire, and they found not for themselves besides Allah [any] helpers.” [Quran: 71:25]
In our time, to take contemporary examples, AIDS and syphilis are two diseases that have spread panic throughout the entire globe. What is the reason behind these two killer diseases? Is it the consumption of too much coffee or fruit? Does it evolve when one sleeps less than is required? No. They are the outcome of perversion and immorality, when man immerses in pornography and descends to the rank of beasts.
Prophet Muhammad (may Allah exalt his mention) warned us, more than fourteen centuries ago, of the unprecedented diseases that break out as a consequence of illicit sexual intercourse; He said: “….If ever immorality (adultery and fornication) spreads in a community and there is no sense of shame on its occurrence of mentioning it, diseases which were not present in the lives of their predecessors will spread among them….” [Ibn Maajah & Others]
Do we need a clearer reference to AIDS and syphilis than this prophetic warning?
Despite all the unimaginable sums of money spent all over the world to spare humanity, has illicit sex, as the core reason, been fought or at least condemned? Can a disease be prevented without eliminating its causes? What about the widespread motto doctors commonly chant: “Prevention is better than cure”? Has it proved senseless? If not, then let us adhere to the prevention, which costs no money and effort - virtue and morality, which Islam provides free of charge.
Allah says in the Holy Quran what means: “And We send down of the Quran that which is healing and mercy for the believers, but it does not increase the wrongdoers except in loss.” [Quran: 17:82]
Inflictions may befall believing people as a test. Allah may test His servants with distress, sickness, poverty, or anything else in order to strengthen their faith, expiate their sins, and increase their ranks in the Hereafter. Almost all prophets, may Allah exalt their mention, and other righteous figures endured one or more of the above means of being tested.
These inflictions can also serve to act as reminders or precautions of Allah’s Omnipotence. They serve as messages to man reminding him of his reality, his ability, and his destiny. In this context, let us take tornadoes or earthquakes as two examples.
Allah has subjected nature and all its sources and potentials to the disposal of mankind. Through his God-given mind, man dominated the land, sea, and space; armed with all the material aids Allah has provided him through nature. To achieve almost anything, there is a machine made by his own hand, ready for his service. But is this genius a credit and privilege for man to be a god? Is he in a position to control but not to be controlled, and to subjugate everything to his disposal, but not to be subjugated to a Higher Authority?
Let us imagine man, with all his strength and shrewdness in killing his own brother with the most destructive weapons, in confronting mountains, and in conquering space, yet he is helpless before an invisible microbe that could strip him of his life, to say nothing of tornadoes and earthquakes!
Superpowers dominate the whole globe, with all other countries as their states and cities. They determine their policies, economy, and education, among many other things. In other words, they behave as they were a god on earth. But why does their strength surrender to a tornado or a hurricane? With their highly advanced technology, they may predict the coming of a sweeping tornado, for instance, but can they stop it or divert its course to Afghanistan or Iraq?
Thus, a tornado, or any other catastrophe, is but a message from the Supreme Matchless Power, Allah Almighty, saying to those who brag about their muscles: 'Know your limits and remember that there is an Omnipotent Hand reigning supreme.'
Allah says what means: “Say: ‘He [i.e. Allah] is the [one] able to send upon you affliction from above you or from beneath your feet or to confuse you [so you become] sects and make you taste the violence of one another.' Look how We diversify the signs that they may understand.” [Quran 6:65]
Thus, for man to know his reality and live in peace of mind in a world full of discipline and stability, he has to surrender to the will of Allah, his Creator and Sustainer, and abide by the Quran, the source of cure and guidance.