Nine passengers were killed this past weekend when a ship in a humanitarian flotilla delivering aid to Gaza was commandeered by the Israeli military in international waters. A total of 682 civilians participating in the flotilla, which carried 10,000 tons of aid, were physically injured, detained in Israel, deported, or killed on their mission to provide aid to a population that has been under a blockade since 2007. The passengers came from far and wide: Algeria, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Kuwait, Malaysia, Norway, Palestine, Serbia, Sweden, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States. They were mothers, fathers, elderly, youth, diplomats and human rights activists. Some left their spouses, others their jobs and homes, their families and loved ones, all to answer the cry of an oppressed people.
As I read about the flotilla and the obstacles the passengers were facing, a particular hadith came to mind:
“Whoever amongst you sees anything objectionable let him change it with his hand, if he is not able, then with his tongue, and if he is not even able to do so, then with his heart, and the latter is the weakest form of faith.” (Muslim)
How many times have we heard this saying of the Prophet Muhammad? Whether at the masjid, a conference, or on college campuses, this and similar sayings are frequently thrown around by passionate and pious speakers. We’ve become very accustomed to nodding our heads upon hearing them, but how many of us have actually gone beyond the “latter?”
I look back at what I did this Memorial Day weekend and can’t help but feel somewhat ashamed. The passengers of the Gaza humanitarian flotilla had no religious obligation to defy the orders of one of the world’s strongest militaries. They did so because they felt the human urge to help their fellow man. We live in a community where the criticism of Israel is taboo, and the defense of the Palestinians and their right to have basic human necessities is an offense. But humanitarian injustices, in Gaza or anywhere else, are injustices. We shouldn’t be afraid to point them out because we don’t want to be subjugated to uncomfortable stares or harsh reprimanding by our bosses, teachers, or government officials. Would we rather watch the news and sympathize with the oppressed in our hearts than to take a stand?
There’s nothing wrong with despising unjust actions in your heart, but there’s more that Muslims can and should do. So-called “Muslim” nations should have been doing what those heroic 682 internationals did this weekend. Despite the fact that lives were lost, I don’t doubt that the Free Gaza Movement will attempt to return to the Gaza shores. They have a dedication and determination that we must learn from, regardless of the consequences. The consequences that we would face pointing out an injustice and helping our brethren cannot be compared to the fate of the Palestinians and others suffering from other political injustices around the world.
The hadith is our call to action. It is our moral duty to do more than sit back and watch others struggle. We are supposed to strive to ensure that our neighbor lives with the same rights and necessities that we are so fortunate to have. We pray, we fast, we give to charity, but what happened to “help thy neighbor?” Whether the recipients of our struggle are white, black, young, old, Muslim or non-Muslim shouldn’t matter.
It’s not like we don’t have the opportunity to stand against justices. They’re happening all around us. Every time we turn on the television or flip through a magazine, we see glimpses of the lives of oppressed people all over the world. There are the persecuted Tibetans, the war-torn Iraqis and the devastated Haitians. There are ruthless killing campaigns in the Democratic Republic of Congo, atrocious war crimes occurring in Sudan, and people going hungry in Niger, Peru and the Philippines. If you need a human crisis to focus on, take your pick. They’re all around us, and the less-fortunate are crying out for help. Unfortunately, their cries are being ignored.
I understand that doing more than the “latter” is difficult for most of us. It’s not easy to take time out of work, family and recreation to think about someone living across the world, or even a neighbor that is right next door. We are so consumed with our own lives that we agonize over sparing a few minutes to help another. We worry about being ostracized by those that may oppose our stances. We fret over our families that worked for years to build comfortable lives for us in this country, and what they may think of our words and actions. As Muslim Americans, we have a very difficult decision to make. Do we accept our national perspective on foreign policy, or do we take what our beloved Prophet Muhammad said to heart and do more than just despise injustices with our hearts and minds? Let’s try to learn from the members of the flotilla. We can all hope to be as brave as they were, and come to action when we are called, no matter where we see injustices taking place.
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