A few years ago, prominent scholar of Islamic philosophy Omid Safi wrote an opinion piece congratulating his Christian compatriots on the occasion of Holy Week and Easter and sharing with them some of his reflections.
As a devout Muslim, Safi could not accept Christian beliefs such as the resurrection of Jesus Christ, but as a philosopher he meant to spark some ideas about humanity as a whole, which had been burdened with unceasing predicaments, almost becoming a kind of spiritually dead body looking for new life.
In Safi’s view, problems such as world hunger, sexual abuse, poverty, marginalisation, the lack of dignity and violence have all become reasons to see humanity as suffering from a disaster similar to being buried in a tomb and making the world as a whole thirst for resurrection.
If such reasons mean that humanity had been confined within a sealed tomb, how much worse could the fallout of the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak be? It is much worse, with tens of millions of people now living in lockdown, millions of businesses shut down, transport between countries halted, and people no longer able to go to work.
In the worst-hit countries, infected people have overwhelmed healthcare systems, with thousands of people dying every day and the number of infected people still on the rise. No vaccine or treatment has been discovered, and the future looks bleak and uncertain.
Omid Safi was right when he borrowed some Christian expressions to describe the contemporary struggle of humanity for meaning and purpose. People have become stuck between death and resurrection, he wrote, at a turning point in history.
If the world chooses life, it will have to abandon part of its ideology and much of the way of thinking that has pushed it to the brink. Marginalisation, the abuse of human rights, the monopoly of economic opportunities and the suppression of others, and the sense of superiority are all contributing factors to the state of living death that humanity is struggling to get out of.
A resurrected world, the dream of everyone, cannot embody ideas and practices that have brought death into human life. Resurrection is a transformative process that takes people from death to life. If the world chooses resurrection, it will have to embark on new forms of globalisation characterised by justice, equity, development, mutual respect and solidarity. There must be no place for injustice or coercive policies against poorer nations.
The coronavirus outbreak has taken the world by storm and is compelling intellectuals and policymakers worldwide to understand why the world, with its huge and unprecedented technological resources, has been unable to confront the spread of this killer virus.
I do not mean the outward reasons that can be identified by health officials and scientists, but the structural ones – the root causes of the global problems of injustice, economic exploitation and the monopoly of technology. Will the wealthiest nations be ready to walk away from the current symptoms of death in order to help create a just and more equitable world?
Coronavirus may not be bad as we think. Many people have lost loved ones, others have endured economic losses and all have suffered from lockdown measures, but this pandemic has also made us realise how fragile and insecure the world we live in is.
If we miss the opportunity the virus has given us to reshape the world, we will have nothing left to us apart from to wait for the next pandemic.
The writer is head of the Media and Communication Sector at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 23 April, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly