Reflections from Prof. Abdullah al-Ahsan

It is Sunday in Minnesota. Our fellow, Professor Abdullah al-Ahsan, who has tutored me in Qur’anic guidance the past 14 years, has just sent me these reflections putting the current global “affliction” in perspective:

“The current situation is definitely very grave and demands serious thinking. Will it change the course of history?

While contemplating, I encountered this article.

Is the current situation going to be like that of the Black Death in the 14th century? Are we encountering a sort of wrath of God, as some scriptures suggest happened in history?

Last October, I visited the biblical city Ephesus: nobody lives in the ancient city center any more, but some historians and archaeologists are now trying to “reconstruct” the city. It was a flourishing city of three hundred thousand people that existed almost from the 11th century BCE to 7th century CE. Several earthquakes in the 6th and 7th centuries CE destroyed the city completely.

As a student of comparative civilizations, I have been trying to make sense of the Ephesus legacy. I don’t think I have succeeded yet in understanding a pattern of history.

Coronavirus poses a new challenge to me: is it a divine punishment for human civilization today?

Was the Mongol devastation which was followed by Black Death in the 13th century a divine punishment? I have received many messages, mostly from Muslim colleagues, raising questions: the Uighur is asking “how does it feel living under fear?” The Kashmiri is asking “how does it feel living under lock-down?” The Palestinian is asking “how does it feel to live under travel restrictions?” The Syrian is asking “how does it feel being kicked out of your homeland?” The Rohingya has lost his voice completely.

We talk about creating trust. How can we create the trust we need globally when we don’t treat all human beings as human?

I don’t know whether I should raise these questions or not: they are so political!

There is, of course, a silver lining for every crisis. We know in history the 14th century was followed by the humanist movement. Will this coronavirus lead to any such understanding for our future?

We are already witnessing many positive developments: families are together, parents are spending time with children and we are eating healthy, homemade food. A letter from Wuhan that has gone viral says “Air is getting fresher, the haze is gone, the sky is getting bluer, the sun is getting brighter, family lives are getting warmer, harmonized, cordial, hearts have become more and more calm.” CNN has reported that fish have become visible in clearer water in canals in Venice.

Jose Luis, in an earlier message, has called for “common good.” Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has appealed for “working together.” Are world leaders ready for this?

This, of course, is not the end of the world, but my understanding of history and scriptures suggest that this is a warning for humanity. Could we appeal to world leaders, intellectuals and common people for collective thinking? Could we create an initiative for some soul-searching?”

Abdullah al-Ahsan
Professor of Political Science and International Relations
Istanbul Sehir University