Kübra Böler was born 1993 in Rendsburg, a town in Northern Germany. She is a religious scholar, presently doing her Masters in Religious Studies within the Academy of World Religions at the University of Hamburg on ‘Religions, Dialogue and Education.’ She has been writing poetry passionately for the last ten years and coordinates a project ‘KursivDenker’ which invites youth and young people to develop their personality through creative means. They’re planning to publish a magazine this coming year.
Then it was suddenly quite close - the Corona Virus. From an epidemic to a pandemic. Suddenly everybody had to stay home. Already after the last JCM in February, I had started to use only the car for transport. Then, I still had my fear under control.
On 13th March, the time had come: the first mosques closed their doors due to the virus. In the evening, I was to give a lecture in a youth group, and before that, I was in Halima‘s old flat for to clear out and tidy up. This also suited me quite well because I had thus enough time to get Halima‘s study in shape as well as it could be.
In the following week, I wrote to my former boss asking if it was okay for me to work from home from now on until the situation calms down again. Since I belong to a risk group due to my immunodeficiency, he agreed. Health and safety have priority after all. Did I already mention that I was actually to hand in a term paper until the 31st March 2020?
At some point in the middle of summer, I realised: Corona triggered my fears that I had believed to be overcome.
Ever since my immunodeficiency was diagnosed provisionally with the prospect of a bone marrow transplant, work had always been my coping strategy. At times, I worked in three jobs simultaneously during my Bachelor’s degree course. Crazy? Well, work was something that I could control, the unpredictability of my body wasn’t.
This is how it went from mid-March to ca. the beginning of July and not otherwise.
The whole year was a rollercoaster ride for me: between fear of death, the will to live, self-doubt, self-confidence, relief, frustration, and hope.
How I dealt and still deal with it? Mindfulness. Patience. Slowing down. Instead of swimming against the currant, I gradually learned to allow myself to be carried by it, saving my energy. It was also the exchange with friends that helped me to deal with my situation. It was sometimes good for me to know and to confirm to myself again and again that I am not the only one to whom this happens. Even the exchange with my mother, my boss, and general communication kept me going, gave me strength and new energy. Without my psycho-oncologist, it would have been difficult for me to get through especially the time from April to late September. For me, confronting my fears became a journey to myself, filled with insights, grief, yet ultimately primarily one thing: healing. Faith moves mountains, we say. Yes, it does that. The best way out is through – this motto applies to overcoming my fears and it is a process of learning. Slowing down through the search for insights and the exchange with others made it clear to me how benevolent we actually are most of the time while, however, blocking the way to each other through misunderstandings. Pausing and listening after I have spoken – that was for me one of the best possibilities to accept the rollercoaster of feelings and the chaos in this pandemic and to become calmer. As Dr Alan Watkins says in one of his TED Talks: emotions are energy in motion. Accepting this fact as such helps me until today when I, once more, react out of pure emotionality or overstress rather than pausing and reacting in a level-headed way. If you are in a hurry, then walk slowly, a good friend said to me. I practice and slowly and surely become better.
When the news came of the closure of the mosques on 13th March, I didn’t know how much that would influence my everyday life. For me, the mosque is like another living room – I enter it with a naturalness that I otherwise only have for my own bedroom. Suddenly I was no longer allowed into the mosque. This is something that I never knew before. Later on in the course of the year, it occurred to me that I had a similar experience in Hebron in the beginning of 2020: I had to pass through a security check to be allowed to enter the Cave of the Patriarchs. Only into the part that is a mosque, of course.
So if I was not allowed into the mosque, I just took the mosque to myself. To be precise, many youth groups with whom I’m connected changed to online classes on very different platforms: Zoom, Instagram Live, Skype, Webex, to mention only some of them. Some mosque communities primarily used YouTube and Facebook Live.
The problem seemed to be solved but appearances are deceptive. While I was able to present my lectures and impart knowledge, the exchange was made difficult.
Since many in my surroundings dislike to be in front of the camera or preferred different platforms, I often had to speak in front of my own image or to small black, white, or grey video windows. I was connected and simultaneously separated. It was strange.
Sometimes it was nice to get in touch with other persons in my own safe space. I mean, who doesn’t like to spend an occasional relaxed day in tracksuit bottoms?
Anyway, I thought initially “Alhamdulillah, I can structure myself better.” – But far from it! It soon became too much for me because I suddenly didn’t have a structure at all. My home office is situated next to my bed. How often did I fall out of bed and directly sat down at my laptop without a word? Too often. And even emotionally it became too much for me: I was surrounded by few people (Mum, Dad, sister) but I had to do with far too many people. All were suddenly in my private sphere, my pole of rest. I’m admittedly proud of my bookshelf because it just looks splendid and makes me happy – but both in my studies course, in my voluntary work, and at my job, I always had to deal with people whom I wouldn’t necessarily let into my private sphere.
Going for a walk outside was also somewhat tricky: as a risk patient, a subliminal fear had got hold of me, even small clusters of people stressing me out tremendously so that I hardly left the house. Thus, of course, all kinds of stress factors came together for me: the project for which I worked was supposed to go well; university studies were supposed to continue as usual, or at least the pandemic should not prevent me from writing my term paper in peace and quiet. But far from it, Ms Böler! In retrospect, I am surprised how high my demands to myself in the pandemic were and how stubbornly I clung to them. 2020 needed a considerable number of night shifts just in order to get done. But we never get really “done”, do we?
Setting boundaries was a great topic for me in 2020. Both in the private and in the job sphere. The pandemic has profoundly changed the way I deal with myself and my fellow human beings. Time and self-management are still a challenge but I also realised for myself that I need a personal routine beyond a Miracle Morning, Robin Sharma’s 5 am Club. A routine which supports me in such unusual times. That may be a “relocation” like from the desk into a different corner of the room, or also time slots free of the mobile phone and Internet: the proof of the pudding is the eating. One’s guilty conscience and the inward critic speak with pleasure and especially loudly but even there I noticed: there are worse things in life. And hey – we are in a PANDEMIC.
I also realised through the pandemic that I want to be a little sedentary in the sense of community: as a person who is open for any Muslim community, using mosques and places of prayer accordingly, I became aware that I, nevertheless, wold like to be more connected not only with the space but also with the corresponding community. And not only with a “As-salam alaikum, Sister, how are you?”.
Well, the pandemic is not necessarily the best situation to connect with a community if it is unable to come together. At the same time, it is also a chance to explore a new environment from a protected environment.
But there was already the next obstacle: Where do I find the groups? How do I connect in the World-Wide-Web? To whom can I turn?
It became clear to me that many mosque communities have a great backlog in the field of public relations and visibility. At least, this applies to the communities which I would like to “approach”. If you know someone who knows someone who is in touch with a group, then it is easier to get access. But even “getting in” is not a guarantee for becoming part of a group. However, social networks like Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Telegram are good possibilities for getting in touch.
But even there, a balance was very important for me: suddenly, very many things were accessible and possible, even simultaneously. It was a curse and a blessing at the same time.
Even the manner of communication had changed: through sensory overload of the online networking in study, job, and voluntary work, I soon noticed that my concentration was suffering. My attention span was shorter than I was used to.
New circumstances, new challenges.
This is also the reason why I kept my lecture shorter: sitting together in one room and listening to each other is an experience different from being cooped up by oneself in front of a screen and listening to someone in a large circle.
As for the question of how we can make our religious communities and interfaith and intercultural dialogue sustainable, I personally don’t have an overall solution but I would like to note the following points and invite to an exchange of thoughts and opinions:
1. Despite the pandemic, it is possible to keep in touch.
2. Many things are possible online, but our presence/offline formats cannot be transferred directly because online formats need other conditions and are simply different.
3. We are able to pray, exchange views, and learn together even online. Here, it is important to check the duration and methods, and courage – be confident to try something new.
4. Digital visibility in the Internet is a must for religious communities. Here, we need to consider: What do we already have and how can we make it visible? Do we want that at all?
5. Will everything become “normal” again when the pandemic is over? Or are there aspects and tools which we should continue to consider and use?