By Shabina S. Khatri
When the bombs first began dropping over Beirut in July, I reacted with disbelief. Grieved to see such a beautiful city, one that I had visited and fallen in love with just a few years ago, reduced to rubble – again – I wallowed in self-pity, eating ice cream and feeling sorry for the pathetic state of the Muslim ummah.
This went on for about a week, until I realized that drowning in depression and despair would not solve any problems – neither here at home, nor in the Middle East. So in the ensuing weeks, I found myself running more and praying more, seeking solace in sweat and sunnah. Pushing my own physical and spiritual limits was the least I could do, given that my exhausted brethren overseas have little choice but to push through theirs. Of course, if I fail, I only suffer a blow to my ego. If they fail, they suffer a far worse fate.
We would do well to remember that, as we fall asleep in our comfortable beds and eat our fresh food and goof off in our safe parks and masajid. The truth is, we, the American Muslim community, have no right to pull the victim card in this situation. We’re not hungry, we’re not homeless, and we’re not helpless. Alhumdulillah.
We all know the hadith – if you see a wrong, you should first try to stop it with your hands. Since for most of us, booking a ticket to Lebanon and getting involved in any type of relief effort on the ground isn’t really an option, we are left with two other choices – stopping the wrong with our tongues, or at the very least hating it in our hearts. I think we’ve got the latter down to a science. But that’s because wringing our hands is so much easier than being productive, than putting ourselves on the line and speaking out when we see wrong being done.
It’s been hard for me to articulate my thoughts on this war (to call it an “ongoing crisis” seems inappropriate and insensitive). As a journalist, I have made a choice to effect change from the inside, through media portrayals, and not political activism. But, as Martin Luther King Jr. once said, there comes a time when silence is betrayal.
He was referring to Vietnam, but I believe his words are just as relevant today. The loudest amongst us have been great at hosting rallies and writing letters. But generally speaking, the majority of us seem to have gone positively mute. It’s as if we’ve convinced ourselves that it’s ok to sit back and turn off the TV sets as long as we hate what’s happening with our hearts. But in the deafening quiet, no progress is made. Neither inside nor outside have we helped.
So, why the silence? Fear, perhaps. Of speaking up but sounding foolish, or uneducated, or anti-Jewish, even. But there are easy ways to remedy these concerns.
To catch up on current events, all one really has to do is log onto BBC or a myriad of other online news resources. Do that, and you’d be amazed to find that, through our silence, we are tacitly supporting the death of hundreds of innocent civilians. It is our tax dollars, after all, that are funding the missiles and smart bombs dropping all over Lebanon. It is our media that report the issues with antiseptic language so that news of death and destruction and bloodshed don’t pierce our hearts and move our feet.
Regarding the anti-Jewish charge, it’s very simple to avoid that label – Don’t be anti-Jew.
Don’t pull a Mel Gibson and heap the horrors of the world onto one people’s shoulders. But – don’t be afraid to criticize Israel’s military transgressions, either. It is possible to do this without being a bigot, as a number of Jews are also appalled with how this war has been progressing, and how it, if anything, only seems to be eroding Israel’s security and safety.
In a nutshell, a wrong is a wrong. Terrorism, whether state-sponsored or loosely organized, is terrorism. So when a Hezbollah rocket kills an Israeli family, that’s wrong. When an Israeli missile destroys a Lebanese village and its occupants, that’s wrong, too. Hate these atrocities in your heart, but also denounce them with your tongue, because like in Vietnam, like what is happening in Iraq, the end of the violence hinges on the turning tide of public opinion.
This war won’t stop until we make it unpopular, and it won’t be unpopular until we speak up and discuss these issues with our neighbors, co-workers, friends and family members. It’s true, we are separated from what’s happening by many continents and oceans. But despite the physical distance, we remain bound by our responsibilities. As some of the world’s most privileged and influential Muslims, we have no right to turn away and hang our heads and give up. Those unfortunate enough to reside near the bloodshed may be justified in doing so, but we are not.
I’ll conclude with a few Divinely inspired passages. InshAllah they’ll provide some sparks of hope for those of us who have been feeling nothing but hopelessness. The first is an exhortation from the Talmud, the book of our cousins:
Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.
And the second is from the Qur’an, a reminder that no matter what we do, the future lies in the hands of our Creator – for to Him we belong, and to Him we return.
If Allah (SWT) helps you none can overcome you, and if He forsakes you, who is there, after Him, that can help you? And in Allah (SWT) (alone) let believers put their trust (3:160).