As the glorious month of Ramadan dawns on Muslims around the world, greetings, congratulations and well wishes inundate social media and telecommunications networks. The simple explanation that Ramadan , although distinguished by the dry fast , is far more vast in effect and implication. It is a month of spiritual refreshment, enlightenment and introspection. The abstinence from food and spouse is a means of strengthening control of self and the retreating whispers of desire and volition. However, there is a macro aspect of Ramadan which is often not focused on as strongly as the micro aspect of self. The macro aspect is the increase of charity, community development and humanitarianism.
It is this particular aspect which draws one to reflect on the status of the Ummah at present and the needs of the community which extends beyond the Muslim term. For many in the world, the greatest challenge is insecurity. Insecurity related to safety, food insecurity, insecurity related to medical care and most importantly the insecurity related to shelter. At the end of 2015, the United Nations Human Rights Commission released horrifying statistics which revealed that 63 500 000 people were displaced. To rationalise these figures, it would be 24 people being forced to flee each minute. The ghastly images of the Alan Kurdi were a moment which shattered the glass box of materialism which encapsulated many of us and much of the world. It induced a realization that something is broken in the world and that many are battling to survive whilst many continue to live in luxury oblivious of the plight of their fellow Man.
As the pictures across Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Myanmar, Central African Republic, Libya ,to name a few, began to deteriorate even further , the global populace and particularly the Muslim community gave in to feelings of despair, hopelessness and defeat. Much of the refugee problem can be traced back to foreign interventions and military campaigns under the banner of ‘democratic wars’. The US military invasion of Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia are some of the clearest examples of militarisms whilst Myanmar required deeper inspection which leads one to note that it was China and Russia who blocked a United Nations Security Council statement on the ethnic cleansing of the Roghinya people in March 2017. The hand of militarisms is evident in many if not all of the listed countries.
As a Muslim, the month of Ramadan is one of reflection both introspection as well as pondering on the condition of people around the world. Do we succumb to despair in the face of such brutality and hopelessness ? Is there any light to guide us from this darkness ? The most sterling example in a period of such deep sorrow and grief is to look at the history of the Prophet Muhammed SAW. We often forget that in the early days of Islam many of Muslims were refugees in Abyssinia under the protection of King Negus. The story is narrated that when the King heard the verses in the Holy Book the Quraan relating to the miraculous birth of Jesus Christ (May the Blessing of the Almighty be upon him and his honorable mother Mary) he was moved to tears.
Surah 3 Verse 45
[And mention] when the angels said, “O Mary, indeed Allah gives you good tidings of a word from Him, whose name will be the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary – distinguished in this world and the Hereafter and among those brought near [to Allah ].
Surah 3 Verse 46
He will speak to the people in the cradle and in maturity and will be of the righteous.”
Surah 3 Verse 47
She said, “My Lord, how will I have a child when no man has touched me?” [The angel] said, “Such is Allah ; He creates what He wills. When He decrees a matter, He only says to it, ‘Be,’ and it is.
It is often forgotten that the Messenger of the Almighty, the Prophet SAW himself was a refugee. He fled persecution from the people of Makkah. Across the oceans of sand and mountains he travelled to the people of Yathrib later known as Madina. The Prophet, an orphan, having lost everything he held dear in this world from his beloved mother, Uncle, grandfather and his wife Khadeeja was forced to flee to Yathrib. But in the story of great adversity there is great hope.
The people of Madina embraced the Prophet SAW with the heart-warming Nasheed:
O the white moon rose over us
From the valley of Wada’
And we owe it to show thankfulness
Where the call is to Allah
O you, who were raised amongst us
Coming with the words to be obeyed
You have ennobled this city
Welcome O Caller to God’s way
It was in Madina that the Prophet SAW and his companions found sanctuary and hope was rekindled.
It is at this point that it would be appropriate to summarise the important lessons to be drawn and attempt , albeit weakly, to connect same to the present circumstances. It is vital for Muslims particularly those on the outside of conflict zones not to fall into the trap of despair. The Prophet SAW was known for his positive outlook and his complete faith in the Creator. Indeed the promise of Allah SAW is true:
Surah 94 verse 5
For indeed, with hardship [will be] ease.
The story of the Prophet SAW is not one of ease and complete bliss. It is one of adversity, difficulty and tests of character, spirituality and appropriateness. It is from the Prophet’s own experiences as a refugee that we derive hope and the primary hope comes from the promise of the Almighty.
However, that does not absolve those on the outside of these tragedies from responsibility. As the people of Madina did, they provided support to the Prophet SAW and his companions in various ways. Not only with aid but with sustainable projects which resulted in independence. This forms a crucial principle which must be imbibed in the Muslim community for both the local community and beyond. The second crucial aspect is that the people of Madina supported the Prophet SAW and his companions to establish justice. This was premised on the fact that they were aware of the condition of the refugees from Makkah as well as the threat posed by the Quraish, yet they advocated for justice as embodied by the Prophet SAW. This can be summarised as advocacy in the modern age. What do we advocate for becomes the question. We must advocate for the system which produces refugees and injustices to be eliminated and replaced with justice. In this age the advocacy revolves around the unhinging and dismantlement of colonial projects which include but are not limited to occupation, dehumanisation, systemic inequalities and militarisms. It is self-satisfying to address the symptoms in isolation such as poverty, insecurities of food, shelter, safety whilst failing to address the core systems creating such injustices. It comes as no surprise that the first command to the Prophet SAW was Iqra – recite. To vocalise. To Speak. It therefore becomes the most powerful tool in changing the status quo.
The darkness of the tumultuous night is manageable provided we never lose hope in the light of dawn.