It has taken me a couple of days and lots of inner inquiry to come to some kind of peace and respond appropriately to the recent horrific events in Christchurch, New Zealand. Not the least of my need for time in response is that we are currently in the month of Rajab and preparing for the coming of Ramadan. During this time we should be especially careful of our delicate hearts and souls, introspection is so important as we examine our motives and responses
I am sure that by now you have heard the news about the shootings inside two Mosques in New Zealand. At the time of this writing, the news reports that 49 people have died and “dozens” more are injured, some of them very seriously. We offer prayers and our heart-felt condolences to the families, friends and community of those injured and murdered. Indeed you and I are also part of that community, the community of human beings. And for those whose souls have departed we offer the prayer for them to return to their ultimate home in the presence of the beloved –
We pray for those departed from this world will be raised to a high station befitting of their martyrdom in this world by the forces of hate and extremism.
As I think about this I am also reminded of two other things regarding treatment of those who oppress us in any way. My first memory is anecdotal. I believe there is the wisdom of Hadith behind this story but I have learned it as an illustrative story.
This is the story of our beloved Rasul Allah (saw) who, as he walked the streets of Mecca would often pass by the house of a certain woman. Invariably when he would pass by her house she would throw her household garbage out the window onto him. She did this for a long time, her own expression of some of the Meccan population’s disdain for him (saw). But one day he had occasion to walk by her house and no garbage was thrown out on him. This made the Prophet inquire about the old woman and he came to know that she was sick. The Prophet went to visit her and offer any assistance she might need.
This goes to show the manner in which we should be aware of the state of our oppressors – in other words we need to show them the utmost compassion. They are human beings, just as we are and they have illnesses and troubles we may not be aware of.
Now of course we cannot allow such odious oppression the likes of which threaten our existence and the Muslim Ummah. So in balance, but not in opposition, is another Hadith which begins to illustrate our possible relationship and responsibility in relation to the oppressor:
Anas ibn Malik reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Help your brother, whether he is an oppressor or is oppressed.” It was said, “O Messenger of Allah, we help the oppressed, but how do we help an oppressor?” The Prophet said, “By seizing his hand.”
In another narration, the Prophet said, “By restraining him or preventing him from committing injustice, for that is how you support him.”
Grade: Muttafaqun Alayhi (authenticity agreed upon) according to Al-Bukhari and Muslim
عَنْ أَنَسٍ رضى الله عنه قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم انْصُرْ أَخَاكَ ظَالِمًا أَوْ مَظْلُومًا قَالُوا يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ هَذَا نَنْصُرُهُ مَظْلُومًا فَكَيْفَ نَنْصُرُهُ ظَالِمًا قَالَ تَأْخُذُ فَوْقَ يَدَيْهِ
وفي رواية أخرى قال تَحْجُزُهُ أَوْ تَمْنَعُهُ مِنَ الظُّلْمِ فَإِنَّ ذَلِكَ نَصْرُهُ
2312 صحيح البخاري كتاب المظالم انصر أخاك ظالما أو مظلوما
2584 صحيح مسلم كتاب البر والصلة والآداب باب نصر الأخ ظالما أو مظلوماSource: Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 2312, Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 2584
When we look deeply into this hadith it becomes obvious that we, as human beings have a moral obligation to prevent oppression. While we tend to the needs of and comfort those who have been oppressed, we tend to the needs of our oppressors by “seizing their hand” which means to prevent them from committing this oppression, and in this way we help them. But why do they need helping at all? And here is where we must be willing to look deeper.
I would point out the first narration in partial explanation. In that narration it was important to see that when Rasul Allah (saw) discovered that the woman had fallen ill, He then went to her to see what, if anything he could do for her. He did not show her hate but rather showed compassion for her even though she had caused him trouble. In this way he took the opportunity to help her cease her acts of oppression on him because, and this is the part that I left out above, she was so impressed by his action of caring about her that she accepted him (saw) as a prophet of God and entered Islam.
So if we are confronted by oppression we have two responsibilities. First we have the responsibility of caring for those who have been oppressed. That may mean physically protecting them from further harm, or it may mean providing medical care or food or shelter for them following an act of oppression or a continuing such act. Once we have seen to the needs of the oppressed, our second responsibility is to make certain that this is not repeated. That is the act of restraining the oppressor from committing further injustice.
This restraint can come in many forms in today’s world but the one I am advocating comes from a compassionate heart. I say this because of another responsibility that we have, and that is to our own soul’s peace. We must try to have compassion for the oppressor in order to help in a deep way without succumbing ourselves to negativity. Negativity will never advance our attempt to help but rather will only serve to increase those aspects of the situation that will continue the oppression.
When we are compassionate we try to learn the real source of the desire to oppress. This stems from a disease of the heart of some kind. There are probably as many ways to discover this as there are people in the world but we must persist and do so with our open heart. Looking deeply into another person’s trials and challenges is difficult but very necessary for us to see the way to seize their hand. This may sound very metaphorical but it is real. All of us face events in our life that form our personality. Some of us are able to resist the effects of negative events and rise above or use them to go forward in our journey. Others of us may feel caught in the quagmire, and some may not even be aware of how these events have shaped their thoughts and action.
With deep inquiry into our own experiences we can empathize and understand motivations of others – even those whom we might find repulsive. It is not our job to judge how a person has arrived at the state they are in, but it is important for us to understand that – the oppressor is oppressed by his/her need to oppress others. And when we stop them from oppressing, rather than hating them, we are helping them by freeing them from whatever it is that is oppressing them.
It is understood that this is not easy. It does not come naturally to most of us, we have to look and learn and listen to what is happening under the surface. This requires trust in ourselves and to Allah (swt). Knowing that there is nothing in existence that does not happen without His (swt) knowledge is helpful because it lets us know that when we even think about how we can help someone, Allah (swt) is aware of that. The road may still be difficult but we can be encouraged just by knowing that we are guided on the straight path.
Each of us will choose to react to these recent events in our own way. Some may feel it is most important to give to charitable causes that will help the physical condition of the people who were directly affected. Some may choose to lobby the governments for more control of guns that are used in these terrible acts of terrorism. Some may choose to seek out the networks of extremists and terrorists and try, in some way, to undermine their existence and influence. Still others may choose to try and change what they perceive as a broken part of society that causes such behavior. Others may choose to work on the individual basis, looking for the illness in the heart of the people, and what caused that illness.
I think all of these actions are highly commendable. They all can help us in the struggle against oppression and injustice, as long as they are done with the intention of helping both the oppressed and the oppressor. The only action that is not advisable is non-action.
But I would leave you with this, hopefully helpful, reminder – if something causes us to hate, then it is still oppressing us and the oppressor is not stopped, therefore not helped, and has succeeded.