Islam and Judaism: Beliefs about COVID-19 as God’s great test

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By Rabbi Allen S. Maller

The year 2020 was the deadliest year in U.S. history, with deaths topping 3 million for the first time in American history.

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Most of this was due to the coronavirus pandemic which has affected over 110 million people globally, with a death toll of over 2.5 million; and in the USA a year into the pandemic, the running total of lives lost was half a million.

More than 17.2 million people in Britain have been given the first of two doses of vaccine. Britain has had more than 130,000 coronavirus deaths, the highest toll in Europe.

Although vaccines will finally win out, the highly contagious B.1.1.7 strain, first detected in the UK and now spotted in at least American 33 states, will likely soon become dominant in the US.
Thus, CONID-19 has and will significantly affected American’s life expectancy.

Due to the pandemic deaths last year, life expectancy at birth for Americans will shorten by 1.13 years to 77.48 years, according to the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. That is the largest single-year decline in life expectancy in at least 40 years and is the lowest life expectancy estimated since 2003.

While Buddhists and Hindus can blame the Covid19 plague on bad Karma, members of the Abrahamic religions face a greater theological challenge. In the USA the coronavirus has prompted almost two-thirds of American believers to feel that God is telling humanity to change how it lives according to a poll conducted by the University of Chicago Divinity School and The Associated Press which indicates many people are searching for deeper meaning in the devastating COVID-19 outbreak.

The poll found that 62% of Americans who believe in God feel strongly or somewhat strongly, that the virus is a sign from God telling humanity to change. For example, Jassper Brodin, the boss of Ikea told the BBC “I actually think Covid is teaching us to take the collective human challenges in a more serious and responsible way. Recycling will become ever more important in minimizing the impact consumption has on the planet. Ikea’s mattresses in the future cannot be based on virgin material.”

As a Rabbi I think the poll should also have asked two more questions about God’s protection. Whether or not people get infected depends more on other people do; but whether infected people die depends more on one’s own belief in God and one’s own previous health.

The good news is that 26% of Americans polled say their sense of faith or spirituality has grown stronger as a result of the outbreak. Only 1% say their sense of faith or spirituality has weakened.

All of us are being tested both personally as individuals; and as organic members of a nation, a society and even the whole of humanity.

We are tested as individuals as the Qur’an states: “Indeed We shall put you to test; some with fear and hunger, and some with loss of wealth, lives, and offspring. And (Muhammad) convey good tidings to those who are patient, who say, when inflicted by hardship, “Indeed we are of God and to Him shall we return;” upon them is the blessings of Allah and His mercy.” (2:155)

Trust in God is taught by the Quran: “Put your trust in Allah. Allah loves those that trust [in Him].” [Quran 3: 159] Notice that the actual text does not end [to Him]. If we take the text literally, it states “Allah loves those who trust.” which means believers themselves should learn to persevere; and never abandon optimism and hope in the future.

‘And give good news to those who persevere, those who say, when a misfortune strikes them, Surely to Allah we belong, and surely to Him we will return, these are the ones on whom blessings from their Lord descend, and mercy, and these are the ones who are rightly guided’.
[Quran 2: 155-157]

And the Hebrew Bible states: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4)

And we are tested as nation, community or a society as God states: “So that I may test them, whether they will follow My law or not” (Torah Exodus 16:4) and “Remember the entire path along which the Lord your God led you these forty years in the desert, He sent hardships to test you.” (Torah Deuteronomy 8:2).

“Or do you think that you will enter Paradise before Allah tests those of you who fought and (also) tests those who are patient [believers who sufferer]? (Qur’an 3:142).

One good thing that has come out of the coronavirus pandemic in the USA is that national hospice organizations are reporting that facilities are seeing double-digit percentage increases in the number of near death patients being cared for at home.

And for people who believe that God’s tests help those of us who live through the challenges to become stronger; there are good reasons to look forward to a much healthier 2021.

Religious people should always remember that anxious atheists and unbelievers die a hundred deaths; while faith-filled believers die only once.

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Allen S. Maller is an ordained Reform Rabbi who retired in 2006 after 39 years as the Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, California. His web site is: www.rabbimaller.com. He blogs on the Times of Israel. Rabbi Maller has published 450+ articles in some two dozen different Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. He is the author of two recent books: “Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms’ and “Which Religion Is Right For You? A 21st Century Kuzari”.

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