Shifting from passive observer to active reformer
In the midst of the atrocities taking place in Gaza and the subsequent shock and pain we are experiencing at a human level, I tried to look back to the verses of the Quran and the Prophetic Sunnah to seek guidance and clarity on understanding this catastrophic situation and the lessons we can take to help us respond, as believers:
Tests for Muslims living outside of Palestine
The people in Gaza are being tested with loss of life, fear, hunger and death however, we are also being tested at different levels.
Our test is at multiple levels: how we respond to the immediate killing of innocent civilians in Palestine, stand up for the freedom of people from oppression and apartheid, and promote goodness and justice without unfair and baseless allegations of extremism or anti-semitism being levelled against us for opening a discussion and wanting a dialogue.
The line between Truth and Falsehood
When we were young, we were always taught the basic principle by our parents to never lie, cheat or steal and to always speak the truth. If something went wrong, we were taught to call it wrong with that voice of truth echoing at the back of our minds. Islam encourages us to do good, to speak the truth and uphold justice. Today, however, we find that the line between truth and falsehood has been blurred.
When one nation commits a crime against another by killing its innocent civilians, a crime against humanity, and violation of humanitarian law, the world should call it a crime, however, not only do some countries allow the crime to take place but actively support it.
How are we currently feeling?
We’ve all watched with profound anger and grief, images of children near exploding bombs, bodies of rescued children being rushed to hospitals, mothers in bereavement, doctors breaking down in hospitals. While social media has helped to open our eyes and hearts to the catastrophe in Gaza, it has left us with deep pain and grief.
As an Ummah but also as human beings, we are experiencing trauma, and a sense of devastation. We feel a deep pain coupled with an utter sense of helplessness. We have cried at odd moments in our day, some of us feel anxious watching the images, others find it hard to imagine that all this is happening to innocent children and women. How does one grapple with it all?
How does Allah Almighty want us to respond to this crisis?
1) Allah talks about the Muslihoon or the reformers in society.
And your Lord would not have destroyed the cities unjustly while their people were reformers. (11:117)
In this verse, Allah Almighty talks about Reformers and He uses the word, Muslihoon (reformers) rather than Saalihoon (righteous) ones. The Saalihoon are those who do good but their actions are limited to themselves.
Who are the Muslihoon?
The Muslihoon go a step further. They are activists and the ones who create the change. Their righteousness is not just for their own selves and their own families but they open the space in the community for change to happen. Their actions are a ripple effect which goes out to the community and wherever they go.
Allah Almighty commands us to be from the Reformers that if we see corruption and oppression in society, we must act to change it. He mentions many nations that were destroyed because the people allowed the injustice to continue.
What Reform are we talking about?
Reform means to improve someone or something by removing or correcting the faults and the problems. Reform takes time and requires a long-term vision.
Any process of reform takes time, for instance, Britain introduced a number of reform movements in the 1800s. One of the most famous reforms was the Suffragette Movement that started in 1880 by Emmeline Pankhurst which led to the creation of the law that allowed women to vote in parliamentary elections in 1920s. Other movements include the Civil Rights Movement in America which started in 1954 and ended in 1968 and called for abolishing legalized racial segregation and discrimination especially against African Americans. Some of these movements took 10-20 others took 40 and 50 years. They started by identifying a single problem and worked consistently until the change grew over time and the problem was resolved. Who knew that women who had no rights would be allowed to vote one day.
Recent events have shown us the disparity between right and wrong and how one side of the narrative has been pushed so strongly that it has truly suppressed and falsified the truth and the narrative of the other side. This is a long-term battle. As Muslims, what will we do about this problem? How can we change this narrative and be able to say courageously and without being penalized that if something is wrong and unjust, it should be corrected and not allowed to go unaccounted for?
History is giving us another opportunity to change things. With the on-going oppression in Palestine, thanks to social media, we have experienced a wave of changing public opinion and a shift in people’s understanding of the issue of occupation versus the occupier. How can we capitalise on this momentum? What reforms can we envision that favour the truth and uphold the justice and state the truth as fair and crime as falsehood.
- Educate and Empower our children. We need to teach and encourage our children that they should work hard to change things for the betterment of the future of the Palestinian people as well as for the good of their own future. We need to look at legislation in this country and be able to speak up if we want change to happen. Our children need to be involved in the legislative process to be able to influence change and leadership on issues that matter to the Palestinian people and also to promote the voice of truth, justice and to promote good. No matter what field they belong to, they should always try to think how they will serve humanity, give back to society and promote justice not just for the Palestinian people but for all.
- Rule of Law: We are living in a country that is renowned for its Rule of Law. There are many countries where we cannot promote change or make any impact because we are not allowed to protest or speak up. We should try to get involved in the democratic process and be able to apply the Rule of Law, to support humanitarian and just causes.
- Engage with civil society: Engaging with civil society is an important value not just to be able to speak about injustice against the Palestinians or other nations but it is ingrained within our Islamic values to serve others and do good. As Muslims we have done really well in building our own communities through creating madrasas, building mosques and community centers, and programs for children. How can we extend, the universal good values that Islam promotes, to other communities. As members of a global and multi-cultural society, it is important that we invite, engage and interact with members and leaders of other communities, via conversations, collaboration on community-based initiatives and volunteer efforts with elderly care, soup kitchens, cleaning our streets, mental health, and many more.
2) Allah commands us to stand against the injustice
We’ve been commanded in many places in the Quran to enjoin good and forbid evil and to stand with justice.
The Quran says,
“Allah enjoins us to do justice and goodness and generosity towards relatives. And He forbids immorality, injustice and oppression.”(16:90)
Allah Almighty commands us to not just stand with justice but DO justice. If we see oppression, we should try to change it and correct it, using our knowledge and wisdom.
Furthermore, the Prophet (peace be upon him) explicitly told us in a hadith:
On the authority of Abu Sa`eed al-Khudree (may Allah be pleased with him) who said:
I heard the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) say, “Whosoever of you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then [let him change it] with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart — and that is the weakest of faith.” [Muslim]
What steps can we take towards creating justice for the Palestinian people. Those of us who feel that it is sufficient to just feel bad about it or to make dua only, should remember that this condition comes when the other two conditions cannot be fulfilled.
Using our Hands: Write
The first of these conditions calls to change the justice through actions. One of the things that people respond to really well is when you write to them. We’ve seen it work and people do respond to letters. When we see something unjust on the media or on a website, we should point it out and say it’s wrong.
To get to a stage where you can articulate your thoughts coherently, when writing a letter to an MP, school, media, etc requires you to be able to do the research and be familiar with what’s happening in the news. This is where it is so important for us to do our homework, to read, know the background, research the history and to know both sides of the story. This will help you state your point clearly and succinctly. We need to develop the habit of reading and gaining knowledge from different sources as well as gain the art of using the pen.
Using our tongue:
Empowering ourselves with knowledge is critical in order to have conversations with people without getting emotional and being able to speak from a place of proof and conviction. We are being bombarded in the media often with false narratives over and over again where people can get aggressive in trying to convince the media that their narrative is the right one. To be able to speak up and speak the truth means we will have to empower ourselves with proper knowledge as well as wisdom and that will only come once we start to read and educate ourselves and know how to address the questions.
Allah may not ask us whether we changed the problem but if we struggled to make the effort.
Using our skills and talents:
Each of us has a unique skill and talent which we can use to contribute towards standing for justice and creating a voice for those who are oppressed. Identify your unique talent and skill, whether its knitting or crocheting for the sake of supporting Palestinian fairtrade, writing a poem or a story of the brave women in Gaza, a story about the children of Gaza, a blog on Palestine, bringing people together from other faiths and communities in an inter-faith dialogue, and many more.
3) Do not despair
Surah Ale Imran, talks about the incident of the Battle of Uhud when the Muslim army suffered a defeat. If some of you remember, the Battle began with Muslims having the upper hand. A group of archers from the believers were stationed on a hill and told not to abandon their positions and to safeguard themselves should the enemy attack from behind. When the disbelievers had dispersed and it appeared that they had retreated, the Muslims thought they had won the battle and the archers on the hill, left their positions and ran down to collect the spoils of war. As soon as they left, the enemy attacked them from behind and they pounced upon a small army of Muslims who tried to stop them. They enemy continued fighting them down the hill and the fate of the battle was reversed. The companions had clearly disobeyed the command of the Prophet (peace be upon him).
When the enemy was overpowering, the Prophet (peace be upon him) was open to attack and one companion Abu Dujana had turned his body into a shield taking all the incoming arrows while Sa’ad bin Abi Waqqas stood by the Prophet (peace be upon him) shooting arrows in his defence. The Prophet (peace be upon him) was injured and the battle led to casualties of some of the bravest Sahaba.
Meanwhile, a rumour dispersed that the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) had been martyred on the battlefield and it weakened the resolve of the companions to fight.
There were a number of lessons for the believers from the battle and one of them was to strive in their Iman and to not disobey the Messenger (peace be upon him). Allah tested the believers as He says in the following verses,
“Among you there were some who were desired the world and others who desired the Hereafter. Therefore, He made you flee from them, that He might try you. Yet now He has forgiven you. Allah is Lord of Kindness to the believers.” (3:152)
Following the battle, the believers were dismayed and shocked over their own mistakes especially as they had claimed victory in the Battle of Badr. The loss at Uhud was a blow to their morale. Then, Allah Almighty revealed the following verse,
Do not lose heart and do not grieve, and you are the upper-most if you are believers. (3:139)
Here, He boosts their morale, appeals to their iman and reminds them that no matter what mistakes they made in the past and how hard the enemy tried to win over them, they musn’t despair and remain strong. Despair can turn into apathy which in turn can make us feel numb, heedless to the pain and suffering of others and unable to take action.
At times like these when world leaders are standing watching the killing of thousands, and the aggression from the enemy increases, we may feel sadness, defeat and despair. Allah Almighty is warning us not even think about going into that spiral. The incident of the Battle teaches us that sometimes we will win and sometimes they will win but, in the end the muslims will be victorious as long as they have belief.
We can see tremendous strength and Iman in the way the Palestinians have tried to keep their faith in the face of calamity. What can we learn from them? Allah appeals to our sense of courage and strength. What more strength can we gain than the examples of the men and women who have been struggling for their independence over the last 100 years.
Another important lesson from the verse above is that numbers don’t matter when you are a believer. As long as you have faith, you will have the upper hand. We find the proof of this in the examples of the Battle of Badr when the Muslim army was a mere 300 compared to 1000 of the Quraysh. The Muslims attained victory as Allah supported them with His angels.
Allah Almighty reminds us that the criteria for success is to have strength of iman especially when you are being tested. If you believe, you will be victorious.
Results are from Allah and our job is to make the effort.
4) Seek Help in Patience and Prayer
And seek help in patience and As-Salat (the prayer) and truly it is extremely heavy and hard except for Al-Khashi’un (2:45)
During times of calamity, we continue to turn to Allah Almighty holding our hands and asking Him to send His Mercy.
Capitalise on the moments of the acceptance of dua (prayer) especially at the time of tahajjud, the golden time for the acceptance of duas. We also have to have faith and trust in Allah’s plan and His wisdom. This is part of our faith in the Qadr of Allah.
Don’t fall into despair because the Ceasefire hasn’t come. Keep persevering and making duas after every salah because you just don’t know when that dua will be accepted and in what form it will be accepted. Perhaps your duas are being accepted with people changing in their public opinion, with people opening up the Quran, converting to Islam because they are watching the faith of the mothers who accept Allah’s will despite their children being killed. Duas can change the hearts of people to see the truth and support the just cause of the Palestinians.
Patience is really hard because you have to swallow a lot of pain and still be steadfast in trusting Allah’s will. The verse says it is hard except for those who are humbly connected with Allah, those who have that spiritual connection, that tranquillity with Allah. You can witness the patience in the people of Gaza where their Iman has reached another level. I recall the story of the man from Gaza who wrote that even though it felt to them like it was the Day of Judgement, their hearts were full of tranquillity as if they are sitting with the Prophet (peace be upon him) and his companions. That despite the bombs exploding at night, they were in peace and in ridda (pleased) with Allah’s will.
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