Munavara Ghauri, UK
Yet again the story of a nerve agent attack in Salisbury, UK, targeting a former Russian military officer and double agent, Sergei Skripal, has resurfaced. It was in March 2018 that this extraordinary incident sent shockwaves throughout the world. The chemical weapon attack occurred in the most innocuous of places, a small, medieval city with a bustling farmer’s market, a pretty cathedral, and a population of only 62,000. Set amongst the rolling hills of sleepy Wiltshire, Salisbury has a very low crime rate. Now, as the two Russian suspects of that attack have been implicated in another attack on an ammunition depot in the Czech Republic, the UK Prime Minister is pushing for a bill to be passed to protect British citizens from similar foreign attacks.  The bill would enforce all foreigners working for foreign governments in the UK to register their identities.
Of course, the Novichok attack will always stay with me because I live in Salisbury, about a mile away from where double agent Sergei Skripal lived. The toxic but undetectable nerve agent was malevolently placed on the front door handle of the house of the Skripals. Homes are what we consider our safe havens and when they are violated it reminds me as a Muslim that in reality, it is only with the mercy and protection of Allah Almighty that we can remain safe. This is something I reflect on as I recollect how on that fateful day when the Skripals were poisoned, my son had visited his local gym at around 7 pm. He could have gone at any time but thankfully, he chose the evening. It was only 3 hours earlier that the poisoned Skripals had collapsed on a park bench that was just 100 meters from my son’s gym and were rushed to the hospital. Had my son walked past the Skripals, he would have been at risk of contamination. Indeed, when my son went to the gym that evening, he noticed that the bench had been cordoned off and there was a police presence in the area. However, it was only the next day that the Police realised the enormity of the Novichok attack and that they were dealing with the first chemical attack in Europe since the Second World War. 
Novichok, or ‘newcomer’ nerve agents, target neurons in the peripheral nervous system and are thought to be 5-10 times more deadly than the more commonly known sarin gas.  They have been banned globally by the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention. A research paper supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that they cause ‘seizures, respiratory paralysis, bradycardia, coma and death’ and that, ‘The fact that Sergei and Yulia Skripal survived poisoning from a Novichok agent is a testament to the astute diagnostic skills of the responding clinicians.’  Fortunately for the Skripals, Salisbury District Hospital enjoys excellent facilities and with a small local population it had the resources to provide the specialist care the Skripals required for several months, in order to survive.
Several months later, another woman was not so lucky. Dawn Sturgess was unwittingly exposed to the Novichok agent when her boyfriend picked up what looked like a perfume bottle in our local park and gifted it to her. In reality, it was a second sample of the Novichok which the two Russian suspects, Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, are thought to have callously thrown away. Dawn Sturgess died in July 2018. Lawyers seeking justice for her family argued that ‘Those who masterminded the plot from Moscow could have led to many hundreds of deaths’ and that the perfume bottle had been sealed so tightly that ‘it would have remained deadly for decades.’
Hence, it seems that the residents of Salisbury were saved from a far greater catastrophe. It was something that made me thank Allah Almighty, Who has Himself declared that He is Al Mu’min and Al Muhaimin – The Bestower of Security and The Protector in chapter 59 verse 24 of the Holy Qur’an.
It is by the remembrance of Allah and prayers that Muslims believe that they can evoke the Protection of Allah Almighty. The Holy Prophet(sa) of Islam once taught a prayer for protection when he was asked for an exceptional prayer by a companion, Anas bin Malik(ra). In response, the Holy Prophet (sa) taught Anas (ra) the same prayer for 3 days:
اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَسْأَلُكَ الْعَفْوَ وَالْعَافِيَةَ فِي الدُّنْيَا وَالْآخِرَةِ
‘O Allah, I beg Your forgiveness and protection in this world and in the world Hereafter.’ 
The Holy Prophet (sa) was to teach this concise but all-encompassing prayer to his companions Abbas (ra) and Ali (ra) as well, stating that after accepting the truth there is nothing greater than Allah’s Protection. 
The Holy Prophet’s (sa) life itself demonstrated how Allah manifested His Protection for His beloved messenger on a daily basis. To mention only one incident of a multitude, there was one occasion when the Holy Prophet (sa) and his companions decided to rest under the shade of some trees whilst on a journey. The Holy Prophet (sa) hung up his sword on a branch of a tree and lay down to rest underneath it. A bitter enemy had been following the party and when he saw the Holy Prophet (sa) resting, he took his opportunity and grabbed the Holy Prophet’s(sa) own sword and pointed it at him. The Holy Prophet (sa) woke up in surprise as the malicious man chided, ‘Who can save you from me?’ However, the Holy Prophet (sa) responded with perfect serenity, ‘Allah.’ The man was dumbstruck by the conviction and faith of the Holy Prophet (sa) and consequently dropped the sword. Thereupon, the Holy Prophet (sa) picked it up and now pointed his sword at his attacker and asked him the same question, ‘Who can save you now?’ The terrified man uttered, ‘No one.’ Hearing this response, the Holy Prophet (sa) said, ‘Why do you not say ‘Allah?’ The Holy Prophet (sa) asked his adversary what he felt should be done to him. When he responded, ‘Be a generous captor,’  the Holy Prophet (sa) let the man go free. Such was the supreme confidence of the Holy Prophet (sa) in the Protection of Allah Almighty, that he felt no need to capture a violent enemy.
In truth, it is through prayers and good deeds that Muslims believe that they can elicit Divine Protection to guarantee their safety and wellbeing. The Holy Prophet (sa) also guided that ‘Prayer averts misfortune.’  What the Novichok attack taught me is that the human race is incredibly vulnerable and transient and that without some Greater Being to assist us, we are at a loss. So, I feel very blessed as a Muslim to be reassured that Allah المهيمن – The Protector, is there for me if I remember Him.
About the Author: Munavara Ghauri BA (Hons) Eng Lit, is married with 3 children and works as a School Librarian. She is currently serving as the Branch Leader for the Bournemouth Women’s Auxiliary Organization of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and is an Editor for the Women’s Section of The Review of Religions.
- The Times, April 19th, 2021, p1.
- Peter R Chai & co. Novichok agents: a historical, current, and toxicological perspective https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/24734306.2018.1475151?scroll=top&needAccess=true
- PRAYERS, compiled by Hafiz Muzaffar Ahmad, trans by Bushra Ishrat Sheikh, p112.
- Rashid A Chaudhry, Stories from Early Islam, Islam International Publications Ltd, 1990, p63.
- Muhammad Zafrulla Khan, Wisdom of the Holy Prophet, Unwin Brothers Ltd, 1981, p81.