In the time of COVID-19, there is a dire need of differentiating between education and literacy. A well-established misconception in our society is that the two terms are considered synonymous and thus interchangeable. Literacy is just the art of reading and writing whereas education is the systematic process of facilitating learning which caters to the overall development of an individual. It makes people think comprehensively and reason scientifically and makes them think out of the box. Every literate Tom, Dick, and Harry cannot be called educated unless and until they resort to applying what they have learnt. Educated people are socially groomed as social awareness is much more significant than just possessing a bunch of degrees. Education reminds us that the collective good is more important than the individual good.
COVID-19, the infectious disease that has been declared pandemic by the WHO, has brought the entire world to a standstill. Some of the essential preventive measures to reduce the chances of the infection include staying at home, social distancing, avoiding crowded places, frequent washing of hands with soap or hand washes, keeping good respiratory hygiene, and avoiding touching the eyes, nose, and mouth. The virus after emerging from China has wreaked havoc everywhere particularly in countries such as Italy, Iran, Spain, America, and various other European countries. Since it knows no boundaries, it has affected India as well. Kashmir which has been under a security lockdown since August 2019 is largely ill-equipped to cope with the pandemic. Fear and anxiety have gripped the population after the detection of nine cases of the disease. The healthcare of the valley is insufficient to meet the crisis which has already unsettled many developed countries with sophisticated and wonderful medical infrastructure. Italy is an apt example. Doctors in the valley fear disastrous consequences as our hospitals are understaffed and ill equipped to fight the catastrophic outbreak. If timely precautions are not taken, devastation will occur and God forbid people will start dying like cattle. The news that South Kashmir has just two ICU ventilators for over twenty five lac people is profoundly depressing and disheartening. Reports reveal that the medical fraternity is not given the required protective equipments.
Now coming to the main issue, the question is how the virus has entered the valley. Most of the COVID suspected or positive cases have travel history to the worst COVID-hit countries. Maximum of them are students pursuing MBBS, Engineering, Research, etc in and outside India or doing jobs and business outside valley. Many have managed to reach their homes somehow (Alhamdulillah). Sadly and ironically, the major portion of them has hidden their travel history owing to the fear of quarantine. What a society we are! Do they understand and realise that by doing so, they are putting their own lives and those of their families and people at higher risk? Such people are inviting death for themselves and the entire community. By logic, this ‘intellectual class’ can be called ‘mass murderers.’ Apologies to those who have voluntarily come forward, reported to the concerned authorities regarding their travel, and gone for self quarantine! What is the use of such degrees? Don’t they realise the pathetic condition the valley has gone through since decades and its poor medical infrastructure? Are we educated? Or just literates? Or literate hypocrites? Whom are we fooling—ourselves, our families, or our people? Doesn’t education teach self discipline? And here is when people start debating about religion and science. This is, in no way, a religion vs. science debate. People are seen delivering sermons, coming up with artificial expertise, and labelling themselves as firm believers by avoiding isolation and quarantine. Are those who take the precautionary measures the lesser believers? There are enough references in Islam which justify that we must adjust with what the situation demands at a particular time. When Prophet Mohammad (SAW) migrated from Mecca to Medina, he (SAW) had to hide himself taking shelter in a cave outside the city. Actually, it was a lesson for the whole humankind to learn and know how to be protected from calamities. Thus when the whole world has announced a complete lockdown as a precautionary measure to combat the pandemic, is the sanctimony of doing “bhandaras” wise to ward off the virus? Allah—the protector, the preserver, and the most beneficent—has gifted and blessed humans with mind, let’s apply that. PM’s call for the complete lockdown is a welcome step. The valley is habitual to such lockdowns. For the first time is this lockdown in our favour, so why and what to worry about?
As the pandemic has engulfed the entire globe and rendered all powerful countries helpless, a number of questions arise in my mind. Where is the powerful weaponry of the powerful nations? Where are the missiles and tanks which could be used to fight the virus? Where are the nuclear bombs which they are proud of? What use is the artillery of? Doesn’t it reflect the absurdity of borders? Who are more important—the on screen “bhakts” who leave no stone unturned in spreading venom and hatred among people, the security forces, or the forces in the “white” (doctors/ nurses/ paramedical staff). Instead of spending millions on defence, isn’t it obligatory to spend trillions on medical infrastructure? The pandemic is not racist; it treats everybody equally regardless of race, region, religion, ethnicity, community, culture, power, occupation, status, or fame. This is the time of reflection and introspection where those in power must learn from their mistakes and the rest their lessons.
Stop panicking, but yes, take precautions! And Allah, in Quran, says, “Verily with hardship comes ease” (Q. 94: 5). This too shall pass. As Faiz says, “Dil naaumeed tow nahi nakaam hi tow hai / Lambi hai gham ki sham magar sham hi tow hai.” Let’s join hands together to fight the fight against the pandemic. Stop debating religion and science. It is the high time to be real Muslims and follow Sunnah in letter and spirit as all the precautionary measures suggested by the doctors across the globe were preached by our Prophet (SAW) fourteen hundred years ago. Trust Allah, relax, and don’t lose hope. Remember Iqbal (RAH)’s verse, “Na ho naumaid naumaidi zawal-e- ilm-o-irfaa’n hai / Umeed –e mard-i moomin hai Khuda kay raazdan’n mein.” Take good care of yourself. May Allah protect the whole humankind! Amen.
Suraya Haidar is a PhD Scholar at Central University of Kashmir in the Department of English.