"Mera ilhaad toh khair ek laanat tha so hai ab tak Magar iss aalam-e-vahshat mein eemaanon pe kya guzari" (My atheism was a condemnation that still persists/But what befell the believers in times of frenzy?) What the Urdu poet Sahir Ludhianavi stated after witnessing the mayhem following the Partition, is being asked by all those rationalists in times of the relentless scourge of the coronavirus that's claiming human lives at will.
French existentialist Albert Camus wrote in his famous novel, The Plague: 'A huge catastrophe divides the human consciousness and creates a sharp dichotomy of believers and non-believers. Frightened by the impact of a catastrophe, majority of people turn to god or a superior power and simultaneously, a group of people also emerges, questioning the very existence of god and divinity.' So very true!
The last century witnessed two World Wars in a quick succession, Holocaust, obliteration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki within a span of three days and many more blood-curdling episodes in the recorded history of mankind. The blood-soaked events and episodes engendered a crop of people who started questioning the ways of god/s and divinity. "If there's a just god, how can it (no he or she) allow its creatures, many of them being devout believers, to undergo endless ordeals?"
The psycho-spiritual turmoil and trauma within every thinking individual is the outcome of cataclysmic occurrences like the ongoing COVID-19. But it's a blessing in disguise in the sense that there's nothing so bad that there's not some good in it. A catastrophe of this magnitude cleanses the palimpsest of our perceptions and makes us see sense, sensibility and reasoning. It's like a Naipaulian ' bend in the river.' This needs an explanation through a practical example.
I'd often meet Khushwant Singh at his residence in Delhi's upmarket Hauz Khas locality. Once during an informal conversation, the maverick Sikh told me that the mayhem during the Partition did one good thing. Surprised, I asked him, 'What was that?' He said that it cleansed the turbid reasoning of many and provided a clear perspective. Yes, it did. The bloodshed following Partition gave us an unbridled and unblinkered perspective of godless reasoning, to quote the Dutch philosopher Benedict Spinoza.
It eroded the over dependability on a supernatural entity and lent a meaning to our existential presence on earth. So far, we've been irrationally too dependent on esoteric beliefs and phenomena. The coronavirus crisis has made it clear that it's not any god that hatched a plan in the form of a pandemic to punish humans. A god who punishes is no god! We humans have given birth to this predicament and only we can extricate ourselves out of this morass. All mishaps are man-made. But humans are very clever.
They impute their failures to a concocted entity called god, and by doing so, man exonerates himself of any moral and ethical responsibility. Now such an epochal disaster in the form of COVID-19, makes us think and also eggs us on to dispense with our scriptural beliefs and unfounded theological leanings. Somewhere, it has made many thinking individuals all the more determined to show more faith in their fellow humans and that's a takeaway from this gloomy happening!
That our fellow brethren have all the wherewithal to save the embattled mankind and no impotent god can do anything in this regard is a priceless lesson we all needed to learn. Many of us have also realised that much more than the shrines of all faiths, what the mankind needs urgently is a proliferation of hospitals. That we still attend Jamaat Markaz and invite coronavirus to infect all of us is a thinking that needs to be plucked out of the brains of not just Muslims, but the followers of all man-made faiths.
At this critical juncture of human civilisation, what's of paramount importance is faith in oneself and also faith in each other and not in a god, who was fabricated by our primitive ancestors. It's mankind's hour of Baptism by fire and only our rationality can douse the flames of this conflagration. It's, therefore, time to hail the lesson this microbe has taught us and imbibe it. Finally, a telling passage from Franz Kafka's The Trial encapsulates it: ‘In the dungeon of self, we're all alone sans all our gods.
Yet, there's a lurking hope that man will save man when things will come to a pretty pass....' Yes, this thought that our fellow humans will save us in these iffy times helps us cruise through the fury of coronavirus. Remember, 'Believe in each other and not in someone who doesn't bother' (Salman Rushdie). The writer is an advanced research scholar of Semitic languages, civilizations and cultures.