In March 2020, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker issued a stay-at-home order to slow the spread of COVID-19. The two years since then have been full of fear and heartbreak — but there are also reasons to be hopeful.
To mark the anniversary of the shutdown, we teamed up with the University of Chicago to ask faith leaders from across the city to share short sermons reflecting on the pandemic for people of all beliefs.
Below are remarks from Ustadh Ubaydullah Evans, scholar-in-residence for the American Learning Institute for Muslims and instructor for Chicagoland’s Inner-City Muslim Action Network. Press the “Listen” button to follow along.
In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful.
“Anything good that happens to you is from God; anything bad that happens to you is ultimately from your own self.” [Quran 4:79]
In an era of unprecedented scientific achievement, the political divide around COVID-19 has demonstrated that science and facts alone can never satisfy us. Human beings are “meaning-making” creatures who crave a grand narrative, a comprehensive story of the world. And so, in response to the confusion surrounding the unprecedented and multilayered events of the last two years, there has emerged a cottage industry of conspiracies, misinformation, and — above all else — blame.
“COVID-19 and all these masks and social distancing are nothing but a pretext for the government to take away our civil liberties!”
“If it weren’t for these backward anti-vaxxers, everything would have returned to normal by now!”
Such notions might rile us up, but they also give us a convenient crutch to lean on: We didn’t do anything; it was them! But while religion has all too often been co-opted to bolster these partisan worldviews, true religion calls on us to first and foremost locate the blame within ourselves before others.
All of us are at the end of our tether with socially isolating. But do we reflect on how, pre-COVID-19, our obsessive individualism had already eroded community and given us social isolation — albeit of a different sort? Are we ready to squarely acknowledge the truth that public health requires a coordinated and communal response? Does anyone care to remember how, when debates over the state of Black America raged in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, many asserted that the money and communal effort needed to seriously change the Black community’s situation was too costly, too unrealistic? And yet the pandemic has revealed just how much the federal government can achieve when the country dedicates a sustained focus along with massive public resources.
And so we must ask: why has a serious accounting for the racial injustice of our nation’s past always been treated as a far-flung impossibility? Given how much change we have embraced — at a personal as well as at a social level — to overcome this pandemic, are we ready to engage in any soul-searching or introspection on how we could make this a nation truly empowering to all its citizens?
“Calamities have appeared on land and sea as a result of people’s actions; God will make them taste the consequences of their own actions so that they might change their ways.” [Quran 30:41]
This piece was produced for broadcast by WBEZ’s Lauren Frost, together with The Martin Marty Center for the Public Understanding of Religion at the University of Chicago. Follow them @frostlaur and @UChiDivinity.