We are not powerless: History and acts of compassion for Gaza

Ayesha Naseem, UK
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Jorge Fernández Salas | Unsplash

Amidst so much uncertainty in the world, it is easy to feel powerless and helpless.

‘How can I help the Palestinians?’

‘What will my retweeting and reposting on social media do?’

‘I am thousands of miles away; what will my condemnation do?’

‘I am neutral; I have no opinion on this, and this is a complicated matter as it is.’

These are some of the comments and questions people often make to try and avoid a conversation on what’s happening in Gaza. Reflecting of detachment and individualism, this mindset stems from the idea of “minding one’s own business” and the belief that “no one owes anyone anything” in this world until something directly affects such a person.

Islam, which is a religion of moderation and balance, teaches against such attitudes and mindsets. In the Holy Quran, Allah the Almighty places repeated emphasis on the importance of enjoining justice. Compassion and kindness for all of humanity, especially for those who are oppressed or vulnerable, are also crucial aspects of Islamic theology.

Compassion for Humanity – A primary teaching of Islam

In the Holy Quran, it is stated:

وَمِمَّنۡ خَلَقۡنَاۤ اُمَّةٌ يَّہۡدُوۡنَ بِالۡحَقِّ وَبِہٖ يَعۡدِلُوۡنَ

“And of those We have created there are a people that guide men with truth and do justice therewith.” (Ch.7, V.182)

In the Five-Volume English Commentary of the Holy Quran, it has been explained:

“What it [this verse] means is that among God’s creatures there are men who not only themselves are rightly guided and practise justice but also enjoin others to do the same; and the verse hints that it behoves other people to follow their example…” (The Holy Quran with English Translation and Commentary [1947], Vol. 1, p. 853)

From this, a simple lesson is learnt; that is, we cannot simply ignore or shut our eyes towards injustice in the world just because it is not directly affecting us or harming us.

Furthermore, the Promised Messiahas stated on one occasion:

“The perfection of man’s faith lies in the emulation of Allah’s perfect attributes.” (Malfuzat [1984], Vol. 10, p. 339)

Attributes of Allah: O’ Merciful and O’ Compassionate

If we study the attributes of Allah the Almighty, two specific attributes are of relevance here. These are:

“Yā Rahīm – O Merciful! – يا رحيم”

“Yā Ra’ūf – O Compassionate! –  يا رؤف”

Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra explained the difference between mercy and compassion and stated:

“The difference is that Al-Rahīm (The Merciful) is more general, whereas Al-Ra’ūf (The Compassionate) is more specific. Mercy is in response to both happiness and suffering, but pity is a response to seeing someone suffering and wanting to remove that hardship. Pity is a part of Mercy. Pity is specifically the feeling of sympathy and love resulting from seeing someone in pain. (“Names of Allah: ar-Rahmān, ar-Rahīm, ar-Ra’ūf, al-Barr, al-Latīf, ar-Rafīq, al-Waliyy, al-Wadūd, al-Hādī”, www.alhakam.org)

About emulating Allah the Almighty’s attributes, the Promised Messiahas also stated:

“In other words, one should follow to the best of one’s ability the various perfect virtues and attributes that exist in Allah and try to dye oneself in the hues of God Almighty. For example, forgiveness exists within God Almighty; man should also forgive. There is mercy, compassion, and benevolence. Man should also be merciful, compassionate, and benevolent with people.” (Malfuzat [English], Vol. 10, p. 435)

These insights inform a believer that he cannot be ignorant or unaffected by the suffering of others. Not only this but alongside compassion and concern, a good believer would also be the voice for those who are vulnerable and are enduring oppression or any kind of injustice.

Israeli government’s open and transparent display of oppression of Palestinians

The Israeli government, alongside its Western and European allies, continues to claim that this war is against Hamas and that it is only in retaliation to the Hamas attack on Israeli civilians on 7 October. Yet, in the age of social media and smartphones, daily and hourly updates from the Palestinians in Gaza continue to challenge the truth of these claims, showing the unprecedented scale of destruction to civilian infrastructure and civilian life itself. Residential buildings, schools, colleges, universities, churches, mosques, refugee camps, and hospitals have all been targeted and destroyed in Israeli airstrikes.

None of that has come without an immense cost to civilian life. According to the Gaza Health Ministry, more than 27,000 Palestinians have been killed, half of whom are children. This death toll does not include those still under the rubble or those who were buried in mass graves without identification. By the time this piece is published, the death toll mentioned above may be outdated. In fact, we may stop receiving regular updates on figures because of a lack of resources and manpower to determine the extent and number of the lives lost.

This is the scale of human and material destruction. These numbers, therefore, are not normal, nor should they be normalised.

History testifies that dehumanisation and desensitisation of oppression give birth to an indifferent and complicit society. If we want to protect our world and our values as humans, we must see and witness every atrocity that is being committed against a population that is defenceless and cornered.

Witnessing historical times calls for the preservation of history

One may ask, how can we humanise suffering and how can we be an active part of ensuring “Never Again” and not just use it as any other slogan? This question is answered by a question of history itself. That is, how did the world learn about the atrocities of the past?

The answer is also history. Speaking, writing, archiving, documenting, and photographing are all acts of keeping a record of what’s happening around us. In the past, people relied on government papers, official statements by world leaders, exchanges of letters, personal diaries, journals and so on. With the advancement of the internet, smartphones and social media in the current age, live images, videos, tweets, blogs, letters to editors, interviews with newspapers and news channels via online phone calls, and emails to Members of Parliament or State Representatives are all enhanced acts of writing and recording history.

God-willing, when all this ends, it is all these forms of records and pieces of evidence that historians will compile, study and research. All of this will be used by prosecutors as evidence for accountability and justice. 

Gaza’s archive centres, libraries, universities, and museums have been destroyed by the current Israeli aggression. Local journalists and reporters on the ground have been risking their lives while recording, photographing, and documenting the sheer horror that is on display in Gaza. Up until now, over 100 journalists have been killed. Everywhere in Gaza “smells like death” – these are the exact words of people who have recently visited the Strip or are still there, trying to hold onto survival.

This makes it even more imperative and incumbent on the international community to record and preserve the evidence and accounts of suffering and oppression inflicted on the Palestinians. Yet where seeing universities, archive centres and libraries be reduced to dust with the most horrific forms of weapons should awaken the academic community across the world, what we are witnessing is a loud silence. This is partly due to censorship imposed in universities in the West.

But if academics and researchers cannot voice their opinions or concerns based on their understanding of the world and its history, then what is left for the professions they represent?

The act of bearing witness

The proclamation of faith in Islam literally translates as:

اَشْہَدُ اَنْ لَا اِلٰہَ اِلَّا اللّٰہُ وَ حْدَہٗ لَا شَرِيْکَ لَہٗ وَ اَشْھَدُ اَنَّ مُحَمَّدًا عَبْدُہٗ وَ رَسُوْلُہٗ

“I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship except Allah. He is One and has no partner. And I bear witness that Muhammad is His Servant and Messenger.”

In Islam, the act of bearing witness has deep wisdom and meaning. The very proclamation of belief in faith is one where a believer admits being a witness to Islam’s truth.

The Holy Quran also emphasises the importance of bearing witness; it is said in Chapter 4, verse 136 of the Holy Quran:

يٰۤاَيُّہَا الَّذِيۡنَ اٰمَنُوۡا کُوۡنُوۡا قَوّٰمِيۡنَ بِالۡقِسۡطِ شُہَدَآءَ لِلّٰہِ وَلَوۡ عَلٰۤي اَنۡفُسِکُمۡ اَوِ الۡوَالِدَيۡنِ وَالۡاَقۡرَبِيۡنَ ۚ اِنۡ يَّکُنۡ غَنِيًّا اَوۡ فَقِيۡرًا فَاللّٰہُ اَوۡلٰي بِہِمَا ۟ فَلَا تَتَّبِعُوا الۡہَوٰۤي اَنۡ تَعۡدِلُوۡا ۚ وَاِنۡ تَلۡوٗۤا اَوۡ تُعۡرِضُوۡا فَاِنَّ اللّٰہَ کَانَ بِمَا تَعۡمَلُوۡنَ خَبِيۡرًا

“O ye who believe! be strict in observing justice, and be witnesses for Allah, even though it be against yourselves or against parents and kindred. Whether he be rich or poor, Allah is more regardful of them both than you are. Therefore, follow not low desires so that you may be able to act equitably. And if you conceal the truth or evade it, then remember that Allah is well aware of what you do.”

Being witnesses for Allah means that one should bear witness truly for the sake of God and in strict accordance with His injunctions.

Bearing witness to the existence of Allah the Almighty and bearing witness to injustices in the world may seem like two matters that are poles apart. One might even claim they have no link to each other. But Islam not only helps us identify a link but in doing so, allows Muslims the room to be of service to humankind and the universe because of their belief in God.

A firm and sincere belief in Allah the Almighty would mean understanding His Existence. By improving one’s standards of worship and understanding of Islam through the Holy Quran, a believer comes to realise the importance and attention Islam gives to the rights of mankind and the incredible responsibility Muslims are assigned with to always be on the side of justice.

In an address to the members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IIra stated:

“In truth, all prophets guided their people towards a certain way of thinking based on the needs of their time and circumstances. Accordingly, the Promised Messiahas also instilled hope in the people of the world. By hope, I do not mean a sense of easiness that makes a person free of worry, or [hollow] optimism bereft of action, or [empty] supplications marked by helplessness.

“Rather, I am referring to that hope which arises from knowing that God has indeed endowed human beings with all the subtle strengths, hidden capacities, and inherent faculties necessary to fulfil their primary purpose [in life] – that is, to attain the nearness of God. It was to this end that human beings were created with such phenomenal powers, strengths, and capabilities.” (“The purpose of the advent of the Promised Messiahaswww.alhakam.org)

Conclusion: Khilafat-e-Ahmadiyya – the beacon of hope

On 31 October 2023, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community launched the #VoicesforPeace campaign under the guidance of Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih Vaa to raise awareness about the oppression of the Palestinians and to urge governments and world leaders to end this war and aggression.

As the Promised Messiah’sas Khalifa, Huzooraa has been at the forefront of leading his Jamaat to be the voice of justice and peace.

Through this campaign, Ahmadi Muslims across the world have organised events with non-Ahmadi guests, including politicians, academics, and professionals, to raise awareness about the devastating situation in Gaza and the critical need for peace in the world. Ahmadi Muslims have also been using the medium of social media to spread the solutions Islam presents for peace and have also contacted their local leaders and politicians to urge them to support calls for a ceasefire.

Therefore, by documenting what’s happening, by initiating conversations to bring awareness, and by being on the right side of history, as is said, we are fulfilling our rights owed to the Creation of God Almighty. This is why there is always something we can do. We may be politically powerless, but we are powerful with belief and prayer.

Indeed, it is the belief in Allah the Almighty that can inspire and move a believer to go out of his way to be of use and help to mankind so that his God can be pleased with Him. Ultimately, this is the hope that the Promised Messiahas came to spread, and this is the hope we have to emulate today. The hope we have to keep alive today.

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