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CRUCIBLE: Arab Humanitarian Crisis

QUEZON CITY (MindaNews / 06 Sept) — The good news is that the sense of humanity among individuals and families remains vibrant across the world. It continuously resonates in situations where there are conflicts or where there are needs to extend humanitarian assistance to civilians and war victims including distressed peoples looking for shelter and safe places.

It is shown, as we said previously, among individual Indonesians, Malaysians and Thais extending helping arms to distressed Rohingyans even as their governments remain ambivalent on the issue.

It is also shown more vividly as Turkish families, Hungarians, Serbians and many individuals and neighborhoods in Europe extending assistance to distressed peoples particularly Syrians, Kurds, and other Arabs and Africans running away from conflict areas in many parts of the Middle East and Africa.

“Where is humanity?”

Recently, the image or photo of a Kurdish boy who was drowned and washed ashore in Turkey dramatized the extent of humanitarian crisis in the Middle East today. World leaders could not help but express docile sentiments. Displaying helplessness, they could only shed crocodile tears amid spiraling number of war victims and refugees most of whom are women and children suffering immensely while many of them drowning at seas. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan could only ask: where is humanity?

Perhaps, we could say, that on the level of individuals, man’s sense of humanity remains the same. It has not changed since then until our time. Man remains to have the same human nature with innate values of mercy and compassion. S/he carries the universal Divine Breath. The Qur’an says: “and breathed in him something of His spirit (Sajda: 9).” That Breath is the source of human mercy and compassion. These values could just change when nafsu l-ammara or lower self drags him or her to take animalistic traits or what the Qur’an refers to as sarru d-dawab or the worse of beast. But if we will decipher or uncover that sense of humanity there is in every individual’s heart the Divine Light, which springs mercy and compassion.

The question of President Erdogan can take new bearing however when we look at individuals as collective or when we take the perspective of state. That sense of humanity could be clouded with many layers of factors like national interests, power, and so on and so forth.

Due to such varying factors and interests, many Muslim and European states remain ambivalent in extending assistance to people in distress despite, as we said, the principles of siyar or Islamic international relation and International Humanitarian Law. This is the reason why there is an appalling failure of state institutions in addressing today’s humanitarian crisis in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Zakah, sadaqah

No wonder, the Qur’an hardly speaks of entities, say, political entities like state as source of man’s salvation or that could help every needy individual. The Qur’an always use such exhortation like yaa ayyuha n-nas or “O mankind” or yaa ayyuha l-ladheena aamanuu or “O you who believe” when calling people in pursuit of good, of compassion, of mercy. For instance, in Suratu l-haj, the Qur’an says:

“O you who believe! Bow down, prostrate yourselves, and adore your Lord; and do good that ye may prosper (Haj: 77).”

The word “khayr” or good encompasses a wide stretch of human acts that may fall under all categories that are considered good. It includes the extending of assistance especially to people in need.

Two core concepts are very much familiar with us: zakah (alms-giving) and sadaqah (charity). These are very rich sources of principles about giving and helping others. Zakah, as you know, is one of the pillars of Islam. The nisab or recipient of zakah includes those who are in need, the orphans, the wayfarers, and so on. Even if zakah is more specific, as it is obligatory, sadaqah is boundless. It can be given anytime, in any situation especially to people in need. Thus, siyar is not short with concept and principles that are actually the anchor of extending humanitarian assistance to people in need, to people in distress, and so on.

If you look at the trend of Syrians, Kurds, Yemenis, and other Arabs and Africans running out from the Middle East to Europe, many of them are not taking shelter in nearby rich Arab/Muslim countries. They would rather leave their homeland, trek mountains and take even a slim chance to cross turbulent seas if only to reach Greece, Turkey, Italy, Germany, and other European countries. This trend speaks of something fundamental about the Arab world.

If you have circles of relatives with you who are in need but would rather seek assistance and flee instead of asking help from you, we could say there is fundamentally wrong with your relationship with your kin and relatives. Why are rich Arabs so silent, so unmoved with the magnitude of humanitarian crisis in their midst? Why are they allowing Germany, Canada and other Western countries doing the rescue of Arab war victims and refugees while they are hardly lifting a finger?

We could only assume while extending assistance remains in the hearts and minds of individual Arabs whether Muslims or Christians, it is a different story among Arab states and regimes. This is the reason why their own people are not taking shelter in their own backyard.

In fact, the more we quote hadith (prophetic saying) that purports higher principle of extending assistance to distressed people, the more a glaring contradiction looms wide before us. For instance, ahadith of Prophet (SAW) says:

“One who helps a fellow Muslim in removing his difficulty in this world, Allah (SWT) will remove the former’s distress on the Day of Judgment. He who helps to remove the hardship of another will have his difficulty remove by Allah in this world and in the Hereafter.”

We ask: where is the essence of this hadith of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) given the kind of response among Arab governments and Muslim states to distressed people of Syria, of Kurdistan, of Iraq, of Yemen, and many others? [MindaViews is opinion section of MindaNews. A khutbah (first part, with revision) delivered at UP-Institute of Islamic Studies on 04 September 2015. Julkipli Wadi is Professor of Islamic Studies, University of the Philippines].

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